Delgani Quartet preview: Celebrating American sounds and scenes

String quartet's debut season finale blends music and images with music by American composers

by GARY FERRINGTON

Editor’s note: In its inaugural season, Eugene-based Delgani String Quartet has performed to sold out venues, commissioned new music by Oregon composers Paul Safar and Terry McQuilkin, and collaborated with oral interpreter Rickie Birran and guitarist James Bishop-Edwards.

For its final concert, American Portrait, visual artist Mike Bragg joins Delgani in paying homage to American composers Lou Harrison, William Grant Still, George Gershwin and Jennifer Higdon on May 21 at Sprout!, a regional food hub, marketplace, and entertainment venue in downtown Springfield.

Delgani Quartet. Photo: Bridie Harrington.

Delgani Quartet. Photo: Bridie Harrington.

ArtsWatch has been following this exciting new ensemble from its premiere of new works by Oregon composers in November, to its early spring concert featuring contemporary music of Latin America. As the group wraps up its first full season, we asked artistic director True about the ensemble’s inaugural year and its season-ending concert.

Celebrating American Music

Wyatt True: American Portrait was inspired by the Oregon Multimedia Project for violin and piano that I was working on during much of 2014/15 and also by our friendship with Mike Bragg. We love the idea of music with photography and film and feel it creates a real experience for the audience—it’s a concert we would want to go to!

2_Mike_Bragg

Guest artist Mike Bragg Photo: Delgani Quartet.

Mike specializes in all kinds of visual art but has recently been involved with aerial drone footage. Expect expansive views of the Southern Willamette Valley and the coast but also close-up nature shots.

Coming across Jennifer Higdon‘s Sky Quartet convinced us to pursue this project because Higdon’s piece is inspired by the Western sky. In the program notes from her website, Higdon says: “When I began composing Sky Quartet, I envisioned the wonder and immensity of the Western sky. Every time I’ve been west of the Mississippi, I’ve always marveled at that exquisite canvas of blue and clouds. This work paints musical portraits of the sky in various stages: start of a day, the rapture of its “blueness,” a storm-wrenched fury, and its vast immensity.”

Higdon’s words, along with the music itself, almost require photography or video accompaniment in performance. The music will be accompanied by lots of sky imagery, or course, and especially time-lapse photography. This piece is really the cornerstone of the whole evening.

Portland-born Lou Harrison’s String Quartet Set is a fabulous piece and one that represents an American composer paying homage to European compositional traditions. William Grant Still‘s Lyric Suite is a beautiful work that is reminiscent of the southern United States—Still was born in Mississippi and grew up in Arkansas. George Gershwin‘s Lullaby, a lesser known work by one of our country’s most famous composers, will offer a final calm after the energetic Higdon quartet.

Lou Harrison at his strawbale house in California. Photo: Eva Soltes

Lou Harrison at his strawbale house in California.
Photo: Eva Soltes

The program includes works that geographically cover the entire United States from New York to the deep South to the West Coast. The program also features works that are very different from each other—a feature that is entirely American!

Looking Back

Delgani String Quartet’s inaugural season was better received than we could have possibly imagined. The support from the Eugene community was fantastic. Not only were we able to successfully produce four season concerts, but we played on numerous other concert series from Ashland up to Hillsboro. We performed additional concerts at the Walters Cultural Arts Center in Hillsboro, Green Springs Inn in Ashland, First Presbyterian Church in Roseburg, MarshAnne Landing Winery in Oakland, Silverton House Concerts in Silverton, and on other small concert series here in Eugene and Junction City.

Many of these concerts included educational programs. We presented programs for students in the Douglas County Youth Orchestra (Roseburg), Sheldon High School (Eugene), and Pinehurst Elementary (Ashland). Later this month we are visiting out-of-school youth at the Looking Glass Riverfront School and Career Center. We are also interested in adult education, visiting numerous retirement communities and also presenting a private string quartet appreciation class to a group of adults at an art gallery here in Eugene.

Delgani: Kelly Quesada (cello), Wyatt True and Jannie Wei (violins) and Kimberlee Uwate (viola). Photo: Delgani Quartet.

Delgani Quartet: Kelly Quesada (cello), Wyatt True and Jannie Wei (violins) and Kimberlee Uwate (viola). Photo: Delgani Quartet.

Our most extensive program has been the residency at Springfield’s Academy of Arts and Academics. We have been visiting the Academy every two weeks since February to work with composition students on new works for string quartet. The residency will culminate in a public performance at Wildish Theater on May 31 at 7 pm with all proceeds supporting the music program at the Academy. This residency was supported by the Oregon Community Foundation, Oregon Arts Commission, Springfield Arts Commission, and Springfield Education Foundation.

We have plans to continue a lot of these collaborations next season and also to expand. Kelly Quesada, our cellist, will be relocating to Chicago late this summer. We have been working since March to find her successor—no easy task! However, since beginning our search, we have received fifteen applications from all over North America. We have invited five finalists to visit Eugene from New York, Houston, Fort Collins, and Montreal. I believe the interest in the cello position from all across the country is a testament to the success of our first season and a testament to the Eugene community. This community is really known for loving and supporting the arts!

The Delgani String Quartet performs American Portrait at 7 pm Saturday, May 21 at Sprout!, 418 A Street, Springfield. Tickets: $22 in advance and $25 at the door. Student tickets at 50% off. Tickets are available at www.delgani.org or (541) 579-5882.

Salem debut of the Delgani String Quartet performing American Portrait at 3 pm Sunday, May 22 at Prince of Peace Episcopal Church, 1525 Glen Creek Rd. NW, Salem. Tickets: $18 in advance and $20 at the door. Student tickets at 50% off. Tickets are available at www.delgani.org or (541) 579-5882.

Culminating performance from Delgani’s 2016 residency at the Springfield Academy of Arts and Academics with new music by student composers at 7 pm Tuesday, May 31, Wildish Theater, Springfield. $8/$5 at the door and all proceeds benefit the music program at the Academy.

Gary Ferrington is a Senior Instructor Emeritus, Instructional Systems Technology, College of Education, University of Oregon. He is an advocate for new music and serves as project coordinator for Oregon ComposersWatch.

Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch! 
Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

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