March Music Moderne preview: 

A River Unites Us


Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble performed at Bamboo Grove in 2012. Photo: Brian McKee, a former member and bassoonist

Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble performed at Bamboo Grove in 2012. Photo: Brian McKee, a former member and bassoonist

By GARY FERRINGTON

Composers and musicians from opposite ends of the Willamette will celebrate new connections between two river communities when the Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble  (ECCE) and the Contemporary Portland Orchestra Project (CPOP) join forces for a March Music Moderne concert on March 8 at Portland’s AudioCinema studios.

Organized by ECCE director Andrew Stiefel, OCF members John Goforth and Matt Zavortink, and CPOP composers Jay Derderian, Lisa Lipton and artistic director Justin Ralls, the  New Music Co-Op: Inaugural Assembly includes 21 performers and 11 composers and features premiers of new music composed just for this occasion. 

The Contemporary Portland Orchestra Project, founded in 2011, is intent on connecting audiences with today’s young West Coast composers. The Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, one of six University of Oregon groups organized and run by School of Music and Dance students, has performed new music composed in a variety of configurations ranging from soloists to large ensembles. Made up of honors instrumentalists and composers, ECCE has, since 2005, premiered more than 60 new compositions in venues around Oregon. This inaugural collaboration received funding from a grant from New Music USA, one of only 60 awarded out of 1,618 project proposals it received.

“Our organizations have a shared mission — to support emerging voices in contemporary music through new collaborations and innovative concert experiences — so working together has given us a chance to broaden the reach and impact of our work,” Stiefel told ArtsWatch via email. “We hope this will be the first of many collaborative concerts between our organizations and the new music communities in Eugene and Portland. Strengthening regional collaborations increases the reach of our music and allows more people to participate in creating a vibrant musical community in Oregon.”

New Music From Upstream

The Portland concert will showcase new works by participants in the Oregon Composers Forum (OCF), a group of composition students at the University of Oregon and who have studied with School of Music and Dance faculty Robert Kyr, David Crumb and Terry McQuilkin.

David Eisenband was strongly influenced by thoughts of dancing when he composed Three Dances for String Quartet. “Each instrument has an extensive passage which I conceived of as music for solo dancers,” he writes. “The first movement is titled Blues as it uses a modified blues form, the second features the bowing technique bariolage, and the third is a joyous finale.”

Oregon Composers Forum members Alex Bean, Matt Zavortink, Andrew Stiefel, David Eisenband, John Goforth, David Sackmann, and Nayla Mehdi. Photo: Robert Kyr.

Oregon Composers Forum members Alex Bean, Matt Zavortink, Andrew Stiefel, David Eisenband, John Goforth, David Sackmann, and
Nayla Mehdi. Photo: Robert Kyr.

John Goforth’s Three Preludes explores the relationship between the two lowest instruments of the string family. “In the first prelude, the cello and bass descend into waves of resonance that begin to falter and eventually evaporate as they emerge and overpower the resonance from which they surfaced,” he explains. “In stark contrast to the first, the second prelude is quick and light with the cello and bass dancing around one another. The third prelude, the longest of the set, uses dramatic expanding gestures to return to the resonance of the first prelude.”

David Sackmann calls Rainier Monster Slayer “a fun little scherzo for violin, alto saxophone, and cello loosely based on an old advertisement I ran across in a bar.” While featuring all three instruments in unique ways, it places emphasis on the alto saxophone. The piece attempts to explore some of the interesting sounds that comes from this fairly unorthodox combination of timbres, while painting a fun and sometimes over-the-top picture of a hero’s journey (battling the “Rainier monster” as depicted in the ad) that finds its peak in a short alto saxophone cadenza towards the end. Video interview.

(Addison) Kei Hong Wong reflects upon his Macau childhood when discussing his Dances for Solo Violin. “The first movement mimics the lullaby my mom quietly sang to me when I was a baby,” he remembers. “It was sung in the afternoon while my dad was at work and my sister and brother were at school. The fast second section reflects a joyful festival celebrating the Chinese New Year when the streets are full of laughter, blessings, fire works, and dragon dancers.”

Foxglove, for solo flute, is based on composer Matt Zavortink’s friend’s favorite word. “It’s the juxtaposition of soft, fricative sounds (“f” and “v”) at either end with an awkward to pronounce string of consonants in the middle (“xgl” — try saying this part slowly) that has its appeal,” he explains. “The piece’s timbral palette is directly derived from these sounds and the mouth positions required making them. Additionally, the letters of the word were used to create a seven-note motive that gives rise to all of the piece’s pitch material through simple fragmentation and transposition.” Video interview.

Nayla Mehdi says her short would it have been for trumpet and electronics focuses on a moment missed. Composed of subtle complexities, it is intimate in nature, “calling for a more sensitive listening.” Video interview.

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New Music From Downstream

The concert includes three compositions by CPOP members.  Justin Ralls explains that the title of his composition, Sat chit ananda, is Sanskrit for “being, consciousness, and bliss,” noting that the piece is minimalistic and perhaps spatially oriented and contains improvisatory elements for the ‘bliss’ section à la the minimalism jams of old.

Jay Derderian‘s [REDACTED], scored for amplified solo viola and fixed media (“tape”), is about “what we hold within — whether out of fear, necessity, social custom, or ineffable reason — we assimilate into the fabric of ourselves,” he posts. “Our memories and experiences inform the basis of our sense of self. The traces we leave around us — our interactions, words, photos — become the fabric of our lives, our outer sense of self, and along this process emerges our lives, experienced.”

Sam Resing ‘s fun piece for bassoon, She Doesn’t Know, “exploits registral differences to create several independent melodic lines that join together to create rich counterpoint,” he writes. “The opening rhythmic figure serves as the foundation of the piece, and all of the remaining material is derived from it. In addition, gradually changing harmonic cycles in each voice help propel the movement forward.”

The inaugural assembly of CPOP and ECCE concludes with a community performance of Frederic Rzewski’s Les Moutons de Panurge and Terry Riley’s minimalist 20th century classic In C. Everyone is encouraged to bring their own instrument — voice, a trumpet, a guitar, a toy piano, or just a bucket and a pair of sticks — and join in.

Tickets are $7 in advance or $10 at the door. Discounted student/senior/military tickets are available at the door for $5 with ID. Tickets may be purchased online, and ticket sales will be donated to the Portland Community Music Center. Composer video interviews are available on the ECCE site.

Gary Ferrington is Senior Instructor Emeritus, Education, at the University of Oregon. 

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

4 Responses.

  1. Gabito says:

    Great article! Very informative. Good to see the collaboration of Eugene and Portland in the new contemporary music scene.

  2. bob priest says:

    Molto fantastico, workin’ the West Coast Trail.

    MMM includes music from Vancouver & Victoria, BC, Seattle, PDX, Lake Oswego & Eugene.

    All aboard . . .

  3. Jay says:

    Woo-hoo! This is going to be fun.

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