News & Notes: Catching up on Oregon music and dance news

Oregon Symphony gets out of the concert hall; University of Oregon awards; community support for Oregon composer

Symphony musicians chat with the crowd at Classical Up Close.

Symphony musicians chat with the crowd at Classical Up Close. Photo: Joe Cantrell.

Around the country, orchestras are connecting with their communities (particularly members who don’t already frequent their concerts) through various outreach and education programs. Led by Resident Conductor Paul Ghun Kim, the Oregon Symphony this week concluded its “Concerts on the Go” series in Portland-area schools. Last week, orchestra members played a concert built around Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf at two schools whose districts have committed to keeping music in the schools: North Clackamas School District’s Verne A. Duncan Elementary and David Douglas School District’s Gilbert Heights Elementary School, where two young Suzuki students played short violin solos. Yesterday, more than five dozen orchestra member performed a different concert at St. Mary’s Home for Boys that showed “the healing power of music” and the fact that young Oregonians can make a career in making music.

Oregon Symphony  members performed at Portland's St. Mary's School.

Oregon Symphony members performed at Portland’s St. Mary’s Home for Boys.

In another admirable community connection program, tonight (Wednesday), members of the Oregon Symphony Players Association head over to Brunish Hall in the unpronounceable Portland5 Centers for the Arts in an event co-sponsored by MetroArts, Inc., principal percussionist Niel DePonte’s arts education organization. They’ll perform music by Bach, Telemann, Portland’s own Kenji Bunch (what a great example for young Oregonians of how it’s possible for an Oregon native to make a successful life in music!) and more. Oregon Public Broadcasting’s April Baer will ask the musicians questions from listeners and audience members.

It’s the second of eight evening programs the orchestra musicians will present over the next week and a half in the return of last year’s free Classical Up Close programs; they’re also perpetrating “blitz” events in various spaces around Portland, including one at the downtown Powell’s Books last week, others at Portland City Hall and Portland State University and, today at noon, at the Symphony ticket office, 923 SW Washington St, featuring the splendid cellist Nancy Ives, with more to come.

Aaron Levere performed at Portland’s Old Church last year.

I attended a couple of last year’s Up Close concerts and marveled at the attentive audience response. So many seemed eager to ask questions about the music, questions they’d probably felt too shy to ask in other settings, and the musicians proved welcoming, friendly and encouraging. They also delivered some attractive performances. It was a tremendous treat to see just how hard trombone master Aaron Lavere (normally confined to the farther reaches of the stage at the vast Schnitzer Concert Hall), for example, had to work to play (with pianist Cary Lewis) a thrilling contemporary (imagine that!) sonata by one of my favorite American composers, Eric Ewazen. Lewis and violinist Ines Voglar played some pretty Prokofiev; violist Charles Noble and cellist Heather Blackburn contributed some lovely Brahms and then joined hornist Joseph Berger, violinist Greg Ewer, and violist Joël Belgique in Mozart’s delightful Horn Quintet. Commendable efforts of this kind do a whole lot to demystify the too often off-putting archaic classical music experience, and put the orchestra’s best assets its fabulous, often personable players close enough to really appreciate their artistry and effort. Bravo to all!

Still another means of bringing music closer to the community returns next month, too. We’ll tell you more about it later, but for now, here’s a teaser.

Composer Andrew Stiefel.

Composer Andrew Stiefel.

Collegiate Kudos

Eugene composer Andrew Stiefel has won the Zvi Zeitlin Memorial International Composer’s Competition Grand Prize for his The Day is On Fire for flute and string quartet. Stiefel’s composition will be performed on May 23 in Connecticut and in South America in August by the distinguished Cuatro Puntos chamber ensemble, which organized the competition, and will also be recorded and released on a Cuatro Puntos album.

Stiefel, who is completing his graduate studies in composition at the University of Oregon, directs the Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, and has served as the Assistant Director of the Oregon Bach Festival Composers’ Symposium, and plays viola in the turnEnsemble.

The Day is on Fire was written as chamber music for new friends after I completed a cross-country move from Texas to Oregon,” Steifel writes. Dramatic shifts in location always have a way of transforming our outlook, whether or not we are setting roots down in a new place or merely passing through on a vacation. This piece, then, is about personal transformation and the community that is found in performing music together.”

Listen to February’s premiere performance of The Day is on Fire by the Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble. — GARY FERRINGTON.

Another alumnus of the UO School of Music & Dance, Jesse Jones (who also received his Bachelor’s degree from Eastern Oregon University and is now a music prof at the University of South Carolina), is one of 13 emerging composers whose original scores for orchestra have just been chosen (from over 400 submissions) for readings and performances by the New York Philharmonic and American Composers Orchestra (conducted by Portland Opera music director George Manahan) as part of the inaugural NY Phil Biennial. A composition by still another promising young UO music alum, Brandon Scott Rumsey, was named as an Honorable Mention in another ACO competition, the Underwood Readings. Rumsey is completing his master’s degree studies in Music Composition at the University of Texas and begins doctoral study at the University of Michigan next fall.

Choreographer Rachel Winchester.

Choreographer Rachel Winchester.

Another UO artist, choreographer Rachel Winchester, a candidate in the UO’s master of fine arts in dance program, has won the nation’s highest collegiate dance honor for GIRL POOL, an original work for six dancers, which was chosen by the Northwest Regional Conference of the national association. Winchester’s work will be performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., June 4-7.

Based on the short story by Kurt Vonnegut, GIRL POOL refers to the all-female typing pools common in midcentury American offices. “The opportunity to perform this work at the Kennedy Center is an enormous honor,” said Winchester. “The cast and I are excited to represent the UO Department of Dance on the national stage.”

Community Support

In sadder news for Oregon’s creative community, the fine composer Mary Wright, a long-time Portlander who moved to New York to work in visual art, has just come back to Portland for the last stages of her struggle with terminal cancer, and her friends are seeking help from the community to ease her transition.

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