News & Notes: Oregon classical music

Recent news in Oregon classical music

As the music season gets underway, here’s a recap of some of the news that transpired in Oregon classical music over the past few months.

New Music

• Portland composer Kenji Bunch continues to fulfill the promise we detected when he returned to his hometown after building a solid career in New York for the previous two decades. His music has been all over Oregon stages since then, he’s working with the Oregon Symphony, FearNoMusic and Portland Youth Philharmonic, and now, he’s written a new piece for a new piano competition sponsored by that most forward looking of Northwest orchestras, the Seattle Symphony. All nine contestants will play the piece in next week’s contest, with the winner scoring not just a $10K prize but also other prizes, including the chance to perform at the SSO’s opening night concert September 19 and with the orchestra next year.

Kenji Bunch

Kenji Bunch

• Bunch also composed a new symphony, Dream Songs, his third, for the Grant Park Music Festival. None other than Oregon Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar conducted the world premiere in June. Let’s hope the OSO, which has devoted only a shamefully tiny fraction of its total playing time to Oregon music during his tenure, will treat Oregonians to it soon.

• The OSO did release a new CD of music by long dead American composers, none of them Oregonians, in January. We’ll have a review later. But the orchestra squandered another in a long line of opportunities to put new Oregon music in front of a vast, diverse Oregon audience when it again turned its back on its own homeland and played almost entirely music by long- dead Europeans at its annual Waterfront Concert this month; despite accepting tens of thousands of dollars in subsidies for the concert from Oregon taxpayers, it played not one note by an Oregon composer. An orchestra that actually cared about its community’s creativity might use some of that taxpayer-provided largesse to commission a new work from an Oregon composer for each of these Oregon-financed concerts. After 10 years, it could fill a CD with new Oregon music from the Waterfront. And the world would have a whole bunch of new orchestral music by Oregon composers.

• Jacksonville’s Britt Festival has commissioned New York City’s Michael Gordon, the quintessential urban composer, to write a piece about Oregon’s pastoral treasure Crater Lake, a place he’d never been. Very cool to see visionary Britt artistic director Teddy Abrams making such a commitment to new music. He’s definitely doing a lot to connect orchestras to contemporary culture. And judging by the conversation below, Gordon seems to be approaching his task conscientiously. But why not choose a composer who had actually visited the place and written music about the state — like one from, oh, I don’t know, maybe Oregon?

New Blood

• Portland Baroque Orchestra appointed Marcia Kaufmann this month as its executive director and PBO veteran Andrea Hess as director of operations. Kaufmann comes to PBO from Colorado’s Breckenridge Music Festival, where she served as executive director.

Portland Cello Project founder and artistic director Douglas Jenkins passed the bow in May to PCP stalwart Skip vonKuske (who has his own solo career via his Cellotronik project and a long resume of accomplishment in Portland music.

Portland cellist Skip vonKuske.

Portland cellist Skip vonKuske.

Metropolitan Youth Symphony’s extremely promising young music director Andres Lopera moved up to assistant conductor with Marin Alsop’s old band, the Colorado Symphony, this week. “He brought new artistic depth, expanded MYS’ outreach to low-income students, fostered relationships with the Oregon Symphony and other organizations, and developed opportunities for MYS students to work with professional musicians from around the country,” the Portland orchestra’s announcement stated. William White was appointed interim music director, and PSU prof and former Third Angle New Music artistic director Jeffrey Peyton recently took over the job of conducting the concert orchestra, one of ten MYS ensembles. He also leads the PSU Concert Band.

Oregon Symphony violinist Ines Voglar performing in the Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, 198?

Oregon Symphony violinist Ines Voglar performing in the Youth Orchestra of Venezuela.

• Portland’s other youth orchestra,  Portland Youth Philharmonic, appointed Oregon Symphony violinist and former FearNoMusic artistic director Inés Voglar Belgique as Young String Ensemble conductor.

Opera Theater Oregon celebrated its tenth anniversary by going back to the future, bringing back visionary 2006-2011 artistic director Katie Taylor, who rejoins her successor, Erica Melton, who stays on as music director. The company is reformulating its vision for its second decade and will relaunch later this year.

• Chamber Music Northwest stayed with its old artistic leadership, extending artistic director David Shifrin’s contract to the festival’s 50th anniversary season, 2020 — almost 40 years after he started. But Shifrin has hardly been stuck in the old. “In the last five seasons alone he has introduced us to Club Concerts in alternative venues, dramatically expanded our commissioning and support of new music, launched our first ever Winter Festival and a new New@Noon contemporary concert series, and initiated unique collaborations combining chamber music with contemporary dance,” effused CMNW executive director Peter Bilotta. “This year, he has led us into an unprecedented number of collaborations with Northwest Dance Project, the Oregon Bach Festival, BodyVox, Tango for Musicians at Reed College, Portland Youth Philharmonic, and more.”

• CMNW also announced a new partnership with Portland’5 Centers for the Arts (Portland5) to co-present four concerts this season, including the great mandolinist, singer, bandleader and new Portlander Chris Thile in October and three other inventive shows.

• Portland’s All Classical KQAC radio hired Suzanne Nance as program director and on-air host. The award-winning broadcaster, soprano, actor and arts ambassador has produced and hosted dozens of radio and TV programs and documentaries, including hosting the afternoon drive-time radio show on WFMT Chicago, hosting the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s internationally syndicated broadcast series and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s nationally syndicated radio series, hosting the Grant Park Music Festival series, serving as music director and morning host for MPBN (Maine) and more. She takes the mike in Portland this month.

Cappella Romana sang Schnittke and more at Portland's Trinity Cathedral.

Cappella Romana

• Cappella Romana is the latest Oregon music institution to pursue young blood — in the notoriously aging classical music audience — by starting a program to encourage younger listeners. The Portland choir’s new Taverna membership program allows participating 21-40 year old listeners to buy cheap tickets, get discounts at post-concert events at nearby bars. The choir donates one ticket to Carpe Mundi students and graduates (first generation college students) for every one bought by a Taverna member.

Hamilton-Happy_rehearsalFriends of Chamber Music’s Under 35 ticket package gives listeners under that age discounts on a three concert package and admission to “Happy Hour with Hamilton,” the venerable Portland cellist Cheifetz.

New Horizons

• Hillsboro trombonist Matthew Brown, Portland violinist Emily Kim, Canby violist Ellie Phillips, and Ashland oboist Gabriel Young were among 62 students from 27 states and two foreign countries chosen by the National Symphony Orchestra for its Summer Music Institute, which provides intensive coaching, private lessons, rehearsals with pros, classes, seminars, performance opportunities at the Kennedy Center and a July performance at the US Capitol.

• Metropolitan Youth Symphony members Cammie Lee, Barry Fowler, Daniel Scoggins and Justin Huang performed with Miami’s New World Symphony in a February Town Hall/Side-by-Side Concert conducted by music director Michael Tilson Thomas.

• Tigard violinist Fumika Mizuno was one of 114 teenage musicians from 37 states selected via audition by Carnegie Hall for this summer’s edition of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.

Third Angle New Music traveled to New York in June to participate in Bang On a Can’s annual Marathon.

Portland's Third Angle New Music performed at the Bang on a Can Marathon.

Portland’s Third Angle New Music performed at the Bang on a Can Marathon.

• The University of Oregon Chamber Choir continued its European competition winning streak in May, placing second in Germany’s 2015 Marktoberdorf International Chamber Choir Competition. Directed by UO prof Sharon Paul, it was one of only ten choirs from around the world selected to participate, one of two from the US, and the only American student choir invited. The singers also toured Germany and Austria, performing nine shows. The group also won top honors at competitions in 2011 in Tallinn, Estonia and 2013 in Cork, Ireland.

New Bucks

New Music USA gave UO music prof (and former eighth blackbird flutist) Molly Barth a grant for her Duo Damiana’s debut recording, Adventurous Repertoire for Flute and Guitar, with guitarist Dieter Hennings.

Chamber Music America awarded the Shedd a Presenter Consortium for Jazz grant to bring Northwest composer Wayne Horvitz’s new project, which sets Northwest poet Richard Hugo’s texts to original music, to Eugene in October. The show is also coming to Portland.

• The Oregon Cultural Trust awarded the Eugene Concert Choir a grant to commission a new choral-orchestral work from Portland composer Joan Szymko called Shadows & Light, dealing with the experiences of people with memory loss and those around them. Eugene Vocal Arts premieres it next April in Eugene.

• The Oregon Community Foundation granted Eugene Opera $50,000 to double the number of its season productions (from two to four) and fund a new staff position.

• Opera America awarded nine opera companies, including Portland Opera, grants to build their audiences. According to the announcement, “Portland Opera will create a traveling performance cart inspired by the food truck aesthetic. The cart’s foldout platform will be a performance stage and its chalkboard menu items will be the operatic specials du jour — arias, duets and ensembles performed by charismatic young singers for the crowds that will gather. Attendees will be provided with a “takeout menu” highlighting upcoming activities, the mainstage opera schedule … specially priced tickets, a rehearsal invitation, introductory materials and a preview CD.“

• University of Oregon alumni Phyllis and Andrew Berwick donated $6.5 million to the school to build a permanent home for its Oregon Bach Festival — a two story, 14,000 square foot building next to the School of Music and Dance that will house offices, meeting space, and a rehearsal space for the festival’s new Berwick (yep) Academy orchestra and other OBF musicians, as well as rehearsal and performance space for other music school students. The $8.7 million building will open before the 2017 festival.

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

3 Responses.

  1. Jeff Winslow says:

    It takes some effort to imagine a composer less likely to be creatively resonant with Crater Lake than Michael Gordon. (Not that I blame him for accepting the commission; he’ll no doubt enjoy himself and will probably even write a respectable work of some sort.) I can’t imagine what possessed the Britt Festival. Possibly they thought, since Gordon titled one of his works “Timber”, he’d feel at home in the local clearcuts.

    The State of Jefferson talks big about independence, but when it comes to action they purse their lips for the New York cultural juggernaut’s behind, same as everyone else.

  2. James Bash says:

    Yep, the Britt Festival missed a big chance to put a composer from the Pacific Northwest in the forefront. Somehow this oversight has got to change. We have some fine composers here!

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