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A year of hope and resilience

Eugene's Oregon Composers Forum is taking its Music Today Festival online – with more than 60 new works.


It has been a year of hope and resilience for the University of Oregon Composers Forum (OCF) whose members first met one another online in September and have continued to meet virtually. This cadre of undergraduate, master and doctoral composition majors are engaged in planning and producing the 2020-2021 Music Today Festival, a biannual event celebrating contemporary composers and musicians. Most every concert since the festival’s founding in 1993 has been held in the UO School of Music and Dance’s venerable Beall Hall. This year, because of the pandemic, all performances have been pre-recorded and webcast to audiences around the world.

Wyatt True, Eric Alterman and Kimberlee Uwate,of the Delgani String Quartet, rehearse new music for string trio by OCF composers. Photo by Gary Ferrington.
Wyatt True, Eric Alterman and Kimberlee Uwate,of the Delgani String Quartet, rehearse new music for string trio by OCF composers. Photo by Gary Ferrington.

The festival’s first four concerts, now archived on YouTube, presented an initial challenge for those used to having their music performed before a live audience. The composers not only wrote music for a soloist (often themselves) or a duo, or trio, but then filmed the performance following covid guidelines.

The composers also had the choice–given their music would be webcast–of including a visual component. This option was suggested by Composition Chair Dr. Robert Kyr, himself a filmmaker, who encouraged composers to explore weaving together a tapestry of their music with moving and still image sequences of their own creation.This resulted in a compilation of multimedia musical pieces that were then carefully edited by Kyr and Graduate Employees into concert length video programs.

Webcasting continues this spring with four new concerts featuring music written by OCF composers for performance by members of the Delgani String Quartet, Grammy Award winning soprano Esteli Gomez, the UO Saxophone Studio, and a special program of solo and ensemble pieces under the mentorship of guest composer Matt Browne

The fifth concert in the New Music Today Festival will be webcast on Friday, April 30th at 4:30pm (PDT) featuring Delgani’s Wyatt True (violin), Kimberlee Uwate (viola) and Eric Alterman (cello) performing new works written for string trio by OCF composers Mitchell Davey, Abby Kellems, Mark King, Jacob Lee, German Lopez, Joanne Na, Jonathan Sherpa and Wei (Veronica) Zhang.

The Delgani musicians, as artists-in-residence, have been collaborating with OCF composers since the beginning of the year. An initial task was to workshop the musical ideas each composer had composed. This feedback, provided from a performer’s perspective, was very helpful as the composers learned about the complexity of string playing techniques and the technical limitations and possibilities of composing for cello, violin, and viola.

The forum has been fortunate to work with Delgani, known as one of Oregon’s finest ensembles dedicated to cultivating an appreciation for chamber music through its unique and innovative programming and its collaborative outreach efforts such as this year’s residency with the OCF.

Grammy Award Winning soprano Estelí Gomez to premiere new music for voice. Photo by Gary Ferrington
Grammy Award Winning soprano Estelí Gomez to premiere new music for voice. Photo by Gary Ferrington

The sixth concert features soprano Estelí Gomez, an Assistant Professor of music at Lawrence University, who has been a long time friend of the Oregon Composers Forum. Gomez, known for her ability to interpret early and contemporary repertoires, has annually guided OCF composers in writing for voice over the past ten years and in that time has premiered 80 new pieces for voice. 

During her usual week-long residences on campus, Gomez has held reading sessions with each composer in which she has shared her experience and expertise about composing for voice. This year, such interaction is being accomplished through long distance Zoom conversations.

Unlike her live public performances of years past, this residency will end with a pre-recorded performance premiering  seven new works for voice and self-accompanied piano composed specifically for Gomez by Daniel De Togni, Alex Didier, Kathryn Edom, Hannah Fulton, Mark King, Wally Plada, and Jonathan Sherpa. The Music Today Festival’s sixth concert will be webcast on Friday, May 14 at 5:00 pm (PDT).

The final two concerts of the Music Today Festival are still in the planning phase. Concert seven will include the webcast of new music for saxophone on Saturday, May 15 at 7:00 pm (PDT) composed by Mitchell Davey, Sarah Jordan, Abby Kellems, Jared Knight, Joanne Na, and Ziwei Wang, performed by members of the University of Oregon Saxophone Studio under the direction of Professor Idit Shner

The OCF has had a long tradition of working with the School of Music and Dance performance studios. Such collaborative efforts greatly enrich the composers ability to write for a diversity of instruments with input directly from the musicians for whom the music is composed.

Guest composer Matt Brown mentors OCF composers in a Zoom workshop session. Photo by Gary Ferrington.
Guest composer Matt Brown mentors OCF composers in a Zoom workshop session. Photo by Gary Ferrington.

The final concert will take place in early June (check the School of Music and Dance Event Calendar for date and time). Composers Rongong Chen, Jonathan Dinsfriend, Jacob Hinson, Sarah Jordan, Jacob Lee and Wally Plada have had the pleasure of working with New York based composer Matt Browne; a guest artist in residency courtesy of the Eugene Symphony’s educational outreach program. He has not only workshopped the pieces that will be featured, but has also provided the forum with an informative masters seminar in which he shared his music and approach to composition.

Dr. Kyr shared with ArtsWatch that “the pandemic has given us the opportunity to create new forms of art through imagination, determination, and a more creative use of technological resources. This is one reason why our 2020-2021 concert series is called Music of Hope and Resilience and offers contemporary music videos that aim to be more engaging than conventional live-streamed concerts.”

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By the end of Music Today Festival 20-21, more than 60 new works created by University of Oregon composers will have premiered and webcast. Kyr adds,”Music reaches into us in ways that nothing else does, and more often than not, it has a healing effect on individuals and communities. Especially during the pandemic, it continues to be a transformative force within our lives, serving as a source of inspiration and spiritual illumination.”

Members of the Delgani String Quartet, Estelí Gomez, and Matt Browne appear as University of Oregon School of Music and Dance Vanguard Workshop and Concert artists. The Vanguard series features nationally prominent artists who in addition to a public concert, hold workshops in which they read, rehearse, and record music composed for them by members of the Oregon Composers Forum. Information about Music Today Festival 2020-2021 concerts is available on the Oregon Composers Forum Facebook events page.

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Gary Ferrington is a University of Oregon Sr. Instructor Emeritus whose career spanned over 30 years as the College of Education’s Instructional Systems Technology program director. He has been, since retiring in 1998, actively involved in the Eugene arts community serving for nine years on the Board of Directors for the Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts Center where he also coordinated its online and print public relations efforts. Since the closing of the center during the Great Recession he has committed himself to advocating for the performance of contemporary music and dance. He is a volunteer with the Eugene Ballet Company and is an advocate for the UO School of Music and Dance programs in music composition, Intermedia Technology, and jazz studies. His articles for Oregon ArtsWatch, focusing primarily on music, dance and occasionally theatre in Eugene, can be found online at artswatcharticles.blogspot.com.

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