By GARY FERRINGTON
The beauty of Oregon’s sweeping landscapes from the Pacific Ocean to the high desert country has long inspired artists — perhaps none more than photographer and University of Oregon professor emeritus Don Hunter. Even in his 90s, Hunter was a one-person show, packing three projection screens, six projectors, and sound equipment into his station wagon and setting out across the state and beyond to share with audiences his Oregon story programs comprising multi-image, music and narration. When age made it impossible for him to take his show on the road, Hunter donated his collection of 150,000 colored slides to the Lane County Historical Society in 2010
When Eugene violinist Wyatt True discovered the Hunter collection, he was inspired to explore the idea of of combining photographs of Oregon with music. He conceived an evening of original music for violin and piano with projected imagery, and submitted the idea in a funding proposal to Mu Phi Epsilon, a professional music fraternity. When he was awarded the MPE’s Beth Landis Violin Scholarship in 2013, True commissioned Oregon composers Benjamin Krause and J.M. Gerraughty to write new works for violin and piano inspired by four distinct Oregon land- and cityscapes: Portland, the Willamette Valley, sand dunes, and the high desert. Violinist True and pianist and David Servias, accompanied by projected photographs, will premiere both new works on October 25 at Oregon State University (where Dr. Servias teaches) and the University of Oregon on October 27.
True, who directs Eugene’s Delgani String Quartet, had been listening to a lot of music by recent UO graduates when considering composers for his project. “At the time, I was working on a piece by Benjamin Krause for violin and piano Uv’chein Variations, while Gerraughty’s music was introduced to me by a friend,” he wrote in an e-mail. Both Krause and Gerraughty write music that is unique, accessible, and descriptive — all aspects of a compositional style that are important for this project.”
“As the project evolved,” True recalls, “we agreed upon landscapes as the inspiration for a four-movement work with two compositions written by each composer. The resulting four pieces are the movements that form a larger work, although each can stand alone.”
Krause’s Movie Music for Portland combines a “simple melody on top of off-beat and varied rhythmic activity which is reminiscent of time passed given the jazz references and also because many of the harmonies have lonely qualities to them,” True explains. “It’s not necessarily a sad piece but it does create feelings of nostalgia, especially when combined with the black and white photos of the city.” The Activity of Sand is both fluid and crystallized. “He writes extensive harmonics in the violin part and motives that twist and turn upon themselves,” True adds. Coos Bay photographer Chris Malone edited his beautiful dune photos specifically for this piece.
Gerraughty’s The Air is a Chamber is tonally cold and rhythmically hazy but nevertheless has a clear drive and climax, “sort of like when the sun breaks through in the Willamette Valley,” True explains. “His ‘The Earth is a Cell’ is raw and dance-like, using extended technique on both instruments.” Gerraughty notes that “the title is an evocation of the way in which the floor of the desert cracks and flakes, sloughing like dead skin.”
True believes that the four pieces effectively depict the photos they accompany. Although True had originally considered the use of Don Hunter’s photographs as an inspirational resource for the composers, he let the composers choose sources that best met their needs.
Rounding out the 50-minute concert is Alexander LaFollett’s first sonata for violin and piano. Although not commissioned for this project, True notes, “Alex sent me this sonata out-of-the-blue one day and I immediately thought it would be a great addition to the Oregon Media Project. While it is not performed with photography, it complements a concert of excellent works entirely by UO graduates.”
The Oregon Multimedia Project multimedia concert happens at Oregon State University’s Benton Hall Rm. 303, Sunday October 25 at 3 pm, and at the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall, Tuesday October 27 at 7:30 pm, and live-streamed over the Internet. Both concerts are free.
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.