Alice Hardesty

Alice Hardesty has served on the boards of Friends of Chamber Music in Portland and Chamber Music Concerts in Ashland, where she also put in her time on the Ashland City Council. She has an eclectic approach to writing, with publications appearing in places like Technology Review, The Washington Post, The Ashland Daily Tidings, Street Roots, and several poetry journals. Her book-length memoir, An Uncommon Cancer Journey, was a finalist for the 2015 International Book Awards. Visit her website at bachopress.com.

 

A Healing Journey Through Song

Baritone Christòpheren Nomura and Ashland’s Heart of Humanity series

At the end of a recent concert at Southern Oregon University, some of the audience left in tears. Certainly, all were deeply moved by baritone Christòpheren Nomura’s voluptuous rendering of a program spanning the centuries from early Romantic to the present moment. The January 12 concert, “With Malice Toward None, With Charity For All,” was the second in the three-concert Heart of Humanity series presented by Anima Mundi Productions, a non-profit arts organization in Southern Oregon.

Baritone Christòpheren Nomura with accompanist Daniel Lockert at Hearts of Humanity. Photo by Chava Florendo, courtesy of Anima Mundi.
Baritone Christòpheren Nomura with accompanist Daniel Lockert at Heart of Humanity’s January concert in Ashland. Photo by Chava Florendo, courtesy of Anima Mundi.

The organization’s mission is to “create, promote, and produce new musical works that harness the power of the arts to stir the soul, foster community, and address urgent social and environmental problems.” Co-founders composer Ethan Gans-Morse and poet Tiziana DellaRovere believe that the arts provide a vehicle for healing, and that when a person’s soul is healed and their heart is touched, a piece of the entire world is healed because we are all connected. 

Oregon ArtsWatch contributor Gary Ferrington has written about the first concert in this series, Peace Through Music, as well as the composer-librettist team’s two operas (see Ferrington’s “Finding Hope Through Music” and “Composer Ethan Gans-Morse: Music as Social Voice.”) 

Toward intimacy on the concert stage

This concert series represents a shift away from large performances like opera to the concert stage, which the producers have designed to be more intimate and interactive than the usual concert setting. Mr. Nomura accomplished their intent skillfully with humor and charm, chatting about the music between numbers and leaving the audience lights part-way up so that he could see faces. He talked about several of the pieces and told relevant stories, some of them self-deprecating anecdotes from his own life. At the end of the concert there was a discussion period, for which most of the audience stayed.

Continues…

Musical Fire in the Rogue Valley

Southern Oregon music festival features three weeks of classical music new and old

The Rogue Valley is home to the Britt Music and Arts Festival, which takes place in July and August every summer. The Britt Festival Orchestra’s music director, Teddy Abrams, is hugely popular among music lovers here and in his home city of Louisville, where he directs the Louisville Orchestra. That affection is reciprocated, he assures us. “I immediately fell in love with Jacksonville, with the region, and with the orchestra from the first time I came here to conduct. That was seven years ago, the year before I started my first season as music director. I’ve been associated now with this festival for a good solid percentage of my life if you think about it.” Fortunately for Southern Oregon, Abrams has renewed his contract for four more years.

Young Teddy

While some of us might say that seven years is only an eye-blink, when you’re just 32 that’s a good percentage of your life. Abrams started his musical career early. He was improvising on the piano at age three, beginning lessons at five, and got interested in conducting after attending a San Francisco Symphony concert at age nine. He began studying conducting and musicianship with Michael Tilson Thomas at the age of twelve. At sixteen he started a bachelor of arts program at the San Francisco Conservatory for Music and went on to the Curtis Institute of Music and later to the Aspen Music Festival and School. At both of the latter institutions he was the youngest conducting student ever accepted, and he is currently the youngest conductor of a major orchestra in the U.S. By now he has conducted orchestras around the world, and he also performs frequently as a pianist and clarinetist. And, in his spare time, he composes!

Mission and challenges

I’m sure Teddy Abrams has been labeled “wunderkind” sometime along the way. But unlike many prodigies, his flame continues to burn brightly, and his creative energies are unstoppable, proof of which lies in the successful rejuvenation of the Louisville Orchestra and in the number and quality of the programs he has created for the Britt Festival Orchestra.

Continues…

Terry Longshore: percussion and collaboration

Southern Oregon professor and percussionist makes music from a vast range of influences and instruments

The rumor in Southern Oregon is that Terry Longshore can play anything. In addition to innumerable conventional percussion instruments, he also plays buckets, trashcans, sculptures, washing machines, mix-masters, and a variety of plants including the cactus. He also composes and records extensively. Key words to describe his work could be “inter-disciplinary, multi-media, collaborative, co-creative.”

As a Professor of Music at Southern Oregon University, Longshore draws students from all over the world, many of whom have embarked on distinguished careers themselves. He has concertized internationally, and it seems that every week or so he is forming a new duo or group with a new theme. His current ensembles include Left Edge Percussion, Caballito Negro flute and percussion duo,  Left Edge (multi-media), and the flamenco groups Flamenco Pacifico and Dúo Flamenco, all based in Southern Oregon and traveling extensively.

Terry Longshore

Longshore’s groups have performed frequently in Portland as well as Ashland. His duo, Caballito Negro with flutist Tessa Brinckman performed the music-with-poetry piece, Alone |Together, in February 2018 at Abbie Weisenbloom Presents (see Matthew Andrews’ ArtWatch review). Last September, Caballito Negro included flutist Elizabeth McNutt, Portland Percussion Group co-founder Chris Whyte, and SOU graduate percussionist Jared Brown to perform John Luther Adams’s evocative Songbirdsongs, first in Ashland, and later in Portland, and he’s involved in a major Ashland concert this Tuesday featuring new music by Oregon and Mexican composers. Longshore and and I recently met for a chat at ReMix, one of Ashland’s favorite coffee houses.

Continues…

Sounds beyond Shakespeare

Southern Oregon offers surprisingly rich range of classical music attractions

It may come as a surprise to Portlandia that there’s something in Ashland besides Shakespeare. During my years in Portland, whenever I would say that I intended a visit to Ashland, my friends would always ask, “What plays are you going to see?” My usual response was, “I’m not going to the theater, I’m going to a concert.”

Having lived in Ashland for 16 years before moving to Portland, I’d seen plenty of plays, but my heart was firmly located in the musical scene. In fact, the little cities of Southern Oregon boast musical performances that could be considered big-city league. And there’s something good to hear and see all year, so one has alternatives to the “smoke season.”And now that I’ve moved back to my Ashland roots, I’m deeply embedded again.

Caballito Negro

The Oregon Center for the Arts (OCA), connected to Southern Oregon University, is an umbrella organization for several music presenters and arts organizations in the Rogue Valley, including the Tutunov Piano Series, the JPR One World Series, the Schneider Museum of Art, and the newly developed ShakespeareAmerica program. Other musical groups include Chamber Music Concerts, Caballito Negro (read the ArtsWatch profile by Matthew Andrews), and Left Edge Percussion, the latter two having performed in Portland. Here are some particulars about them.

Rogue Valley Symphony

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of maestro Martin Majkut‘s tenure as Music Director of the the Rogue Valley Symphony. The orchestra is composed of 70 professional musicians, most of whom live in Southern Oregon, but several commute from further locales. They present a series of six “masterworks” concerts each year plus holiday and family concerts, in Ashland, Medford, and Grants Pass venues. Dr. Majkut’s arrival gave an electric boost to an otherwise sleepy provincial orchestra, which now attracts major soloists, such as Peter Serkin and Jeffrey Biegel. The orchestra commissioned five new pieces for its 50th anniversary last year, including How Can You Own the Sky? a symphonic poem by Oregon composer Ethan Gans-Morse honoring the Native Americans of Southern Oregon. (See the ArtsWatch article by Gary Ferrington). Maestro Majkut has dubbed the 2019-2020 year “The Season of Women” with all female soloists. Further information and tickets: www.rvsymphony.org or 541-708-6400.

Rogue Valley Symphony. Photo: Christopher Briscoe.

Chamber Music Concerts

Full disclosure – Before moving to Portland I had served on the CMC board for many years, and since returning to Ashland this past summer I’m on the board again. Back in 1993, newly arrived in Ashland and having been spoiled by marvelous music in the Washington D.C. area, chamber music is where I found the world-class performances I longed for. Founded in 1984, CMC brings groups from all over the world to perform in SOU’s acoustically excellent recital hall. Artists have included Angela Hewitt, Jon Nakamatsu, Julianne Baird, the late Sanford Sylvan, and the Emerson, Pacifica, and Takacs Quartets, to name just a few. The twelve-concert season includes eight evening concerts and four matinees, all with different programs.

Minguet Quartet performs in Ashland April 26. Photo: Frank Rossbach.

Next year’s stellar line-up includes the celebrated vocal ensemble Tenebrae, as well as the Elias String Quartet, the Faure Piano Quartet, and Brooklyn Rider as CMC’s Exploration Concert. Information and tickets: www.chambermusicconcerts.org or 541-552-6154.

Continues…

Verona Quartet: musical conversations

Young, diverse string quartet performing this week at Chamber Music Northwest succeeds through strong communication and connection

It’s a good thing the Verona Quartet members are young and energetic, because they’ve been getting quite a workout in Portland this month.As part of Chamber Music Northwest’s 2018 Summer Festival, they will play Haydn, Beethoven, and Brahms at Portland State University’s  Lincoln Hall on Tuesday, Shostakovich’s Quartet #3 at northeast Portland’s  Alberta Rose Theater on Wednesday, and this Saturday and Sunday at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium they will take part in the all Dvorak program that closes the 2018 Summer Festival. They’re also participating in various community outreach activities.

The Verona Quartet performs at Chamber Music Northwest this week.

Not that their Oregon schedule is unusual. The Verona Quartet is a full-time ensemble — chamber music is what they do, and they do a lot of it away from home. The quartet has given concerts and residencies in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East. This is their eighth week on the road this summer.

Like every string quartet whose players I’ve ever interviewed, the Verona is particularly attracted to contemporary music. Among the new works it’s commissioned is one by Michael Gilbertson, which was recently chosen as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Another, Julia Adolphe’s Star-Crossed Signals, was inspired by the signals used to communicate between ships at sea. The Verona will perform it for the New at Noon concert in Lincoln Recital Hall at Portland State University this Friday.

Abigail Rojansky, the Verona Quartet’s violist, is adamant that “classical” music should not be considered old fashioned and stagnant, but that it is constantly changing, as is our understanding of it. The young ensemble’s makeup reflects that process of change.

On a perfect Portland summer evening last week, I chatted with Rojansky at a courtyard picnic table at Reed, the quartet’s current lodging. The Verona’s multinational touring schedule mirrors the group’s diverse backgrounds: two men, two women, four nationalities. Rojansky grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, first violinist Jonathan Ong is from Singapore, second violinist Dorothy Ro is from Nova Scotia, and cellist Jonathan Dormand hails from Yorkshire, England. To make things easier they call Dormand “J.D.”  When I ask if any of them are married, she smiles and says no. “And the next question,” she offers, “is if any of the members of the quartet are ‘together,’ and the answer again is no.”

Continues…

Bright Sheng interview: cross-cultural emissary

The Shanghai-born American composer, whose music is featured at Chamber Music Northwest this weekend, explores and extends Chinese music traditions

Bright Sheng is a pianist, conductor, and composer of music in various genres, including opera, orchestral, and chamber music. He’s also a teacher and musicologist, having studied both Eastern and Western music extensively. His resume includes heavy-duty recognition, such as the Guggenheim Fellowship and the MacArthur “Genius” award.

This weekend, as part of its Behind the Cultural Revolution series, Chamber Music Northwest presents two performances of Sheng’s opera The Silver River and other compositions. I spoke to him last week.

Bright Sheng

Born in Shanghai, Sheng was nearly ready for music school when the Red Guard took away his piano and sent him to the the province of Qinghai in Eastern Tibet. Fortunately, the seven years he spent there were not wasted. His hosts found out that he could play the piano (the only piano there), and he became the local musician and entertainer. With no teacher or books, he taught himself music theory and made an intensive study of the local folk music. After the Cultural Revolution, he made up for lost time. He got a B.A. at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, left for the U.S. and earned a doctorate in composition from Columbia University where one of his mentors was Leonard Bernstein.

The name, “Sheng,” means “grand,” and “Bright” is the actual translation of his Chinese name, “Liang.” He explained with a chuckle, “I didn’t really want a Western name, so I chose ‘Bright’ and I think it helped with my career because it sticks.” He’s lived up to his name.

Continues…

Benvenue Trio preview: Viennese action

Historically informed trio debuts an important addition to Oregon's classical music scene

April marks the debut of the Portland Baroque Orchestra’s newest member: the Ruth Rolt fortepiano. Its player is Eric Zivian of the Benvenue Trio, whose other members are violinist Monica Huggett (also PBO’s artistic director) and PBO cellist Tanya Tomkins.

The fortepiano brings an important addition to Oregon’s music scene. It’s a rarer — and to many ears, more precious — keyboard instrument than its modern successor. “If I had my way, they wouldn’t have extended the development of the piano past 1850!” Monica Huggett told Vancouver Classical Music. “A fortepiano or a period piano (such as an Érard or Broadwood) balances so well and allows all the primary colors of the music to surface.” And Zivian says the fortepiano has more character than the modern piano.

Benvenue Fortepiano Trio performs Friday in Portland. Photo: Sisto Flores.

The Ruth Rolt fortepiano allows PBO to bring repertoire that Oregon has rarely heard before. For example, PBO will include in its next season one of Mozart’s last piano concertos played by Zivian on the Rolt fortepiano. This Friday, April 6, the Trio plus its new member will perform works by Mozart, Haydn, Hummel, and the Hungarian composer Józef Koschovitz at Portland’s First Baptist Church.

William Rolt and Portland poet Judith Barrington donated the Ruth Rolt fortepiano to the Portland Baroque Orchestra, in memory of his mother and her sister, respectively. Poet, memoirist, writer, and teacher Barrington, who could be considered the fortepiano’s aunt, is well known to the Oregon literary community, but not many Oregonians know about her late sister the concert pianist. You could say that love brought this precious instrument to Oregon — a pianist’s love for early classical music, for this instrument’s special qualities, and for Oregon.

Continues…