By GARY FERRINGTON
Last winter, members of Eugene’s Delgani String Quartet were browsing the Eugene Holiday Market when they encountered an actor performing Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. They were so riveted by Rickie Birran, from Man of Words Theatre Company, that they immediately knew they wanted to collaborate with him someday.
That spring, Delgani performed Eugene composer Paul Safar’s Moonfish in a special concert of the composer’s work. “We loved Paul Safar’s music on its own, but we thought he was especially great at using music to complement and help convey text,” recalled Delgani founding member Kelly Quesada in an ArtsWatch email interview. It seemed a natural fit, when the ensemble commissioned Safar to compose a piece for its next season, to invite Birran to recite selected texts from sources such as The Wind in the Willows, Don Quixote, Beowulf, and Paradise Lost, set to Safar’s music as well as that of earlier classical composers.
That January 16, 2016 “Man of Words” concert, the second in the quartet’s upcoming season, exemplifies the Delgani Quartet’s 2015-16 four-concert series celebrating Oregon art. Founded last year, the ensemble aims to create new multidisciplinary works of art that are distinctly Oregonian and will exist beyond the scope of these performances, so each performance this season will feature a collaboration with at least one Oregon artist from the realms of music, theater, and the visual arts.
Delgani’s first full season is as contemporary as it is collaborative. For its inaugural November 17 “New Beginnings” concert, the ensemble has commissioned a work by Oregon composer Terry McQuilkin to be performed in addition to the first quartets by Mendelssohn and Prokofiev. “We contacted many composers across the country, but commissioned Terry simply because we all really enjoy his music!” Quesada explained. “While at the University of Oregon, our violinists Wyatt True and Jannie Wei heard Terry’s piece Celestial Fantasy performed by their teacher Fritz Gearhart and were very impressed with the piece and the string writing.”
It will also perform “Estampie,” by Portland-born composer Lou Harrison from his String Quartet Set and leading contemporary American composer Jennifer Higdon’s Sky Quartet, inspired by landscapes of the western U.S. The season also includes music by two more American composers, George Gershwin and William Grant Still, along with Boccherini, Pujol, Ginastera, Prokofiev, and Mendelssohn.
Ashland guitarist James Bishop-Edwards, whom the group knew from his work in the Jefferson Baroque Orchestra, joins Delgani in its “Twenty-Two Strings” March 29 concert which includes music by celebrated composers Boccherini and Pujol for guitar and strings, combined with the great 20th century Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera’s first quartet in celebration of his 100th birthday.
The fourth and final program on May 21, “American Portrait,” is a multimedia explosion, with music enhanced by images and video produced by Eugene-based visual artist Mike Bragg. “In addition to being a talented visual artist,” Quesada wrote, “Mike has worked with us behind the scenes as our organization was just getting started, and he has been invaluable in getting our nonprofit off the ground.”
The fledgling quartet has soared since then, selling out its April 2015 debut concert, being invited to perform at the Oregon capitol, and winning a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust that helped fuel its upcoming season, which includes performances in Silverton, Junction City, Roseburg, and Ashland, in addition to its currently scheduled concerts in Eugene.
“A large part of our mission is to bring music to those who might not have the means to attend a concert, so we are also in the midst of planning outreach concerts to rural areas, schools, correctional facilities and retirement homes.” Quesada wrote. She hopes that “these collaborations will expose Oregonians to new and exciting artistic experiences through intimate performances that bring them closer to the artists involved.”
Sidebar: hear an interview with the Delgani Quartet on KLCC radio.
Read Brett Campbell’s Eugene Weekly feature on the quartet.
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. Photos courtesy Delgani String Quartet.
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