Cascadia Composers review: Northwesterners look to the east

Oregon performers shine in Asian-influenced music by Oregon composers.

Story and photos by GARY FERRINGTON

Northwest composers have long been influenced by the poetry, music, and culture of countries across the Pacific. “Looking East” was therefore a fitting theme for a concert hosted by the Cascadia Composers group in Eugene’s First Congregational Church on Friday, October 17th. The hour-long program of new music, organized by Eugene composer Paul Safar, featured works by Mark Vigil, Derek HealeySafar, and Tomas Svoboda.

Mitsuki Dazai performs Tomas Svoboda’s haunting Autumn on the koto.

Mitsuki Dazai performs Tomas Svoboda’s haunting Autumn on the koto.

Mitsuki Dazai introduced Portland composer Tomas Svoboda’s rarely heard Autumn (Op. 110),  written between 1982–83, by noting that the late koto master Yoko Ito Gates had commissioned the composition as a solo work. Svoboda, reflecting upon the Japanese acceptance of the natural process of aging and the completion of a life cycle, chose the theme of autumn. The composition has three movements, each reflecting a different aspect of seasonal change: early, middle and late autumn. Dazai, a master of the zither-like stringed instrument, performed with skill and passion this meditative and at times vigorously complex rhythmic composition.

Watching dragonflies and butterflies skimming across the Siletz River rekindled Eugene composer Mark Vigil’s interest in Japanese music and poetry. The result of this inquisitiveness was his composition Dragonfly Idyll/Butterfly Idyil performed by Jeff Parsons (harp), Dazai (koto), Safar (piano), and Daniel Heila (alto flute). Heila’s featured performance captured the fluttering flight of these delicate creatures above the water.

Flutist Daniel Heila captures the flight of Butterfly and Dragonfly skimming the water.

Flutist Daniel Heila captures the flight of butterfly and dragonfly skimming the water.

Safar’s descriptive  Cat on a Wire featured Portland Cello Project member Kelly Quesada along with Andrew Teem (dumbek) and Ken Sokolov (zills). Quesada’s dynamic lively and spirited playing brought to life a score focused on felines in motion. Originally performed as an aerial dance at Cherry Blossom’s Cat and Bird Vaudeville Show in 2009, this was its first concertullscreen=”allowfullscreen”>

Soprano Nancy Wood’s expressive voice, dance-like hand gestures, and body movements across the stage emotionally expressed the loneliness felt in the cold of night after killing a “yellow green spider crawling on a red rose” in Safar’s Spider for soprano and piano, based on a haiku text by Japanese poet Masaoka Shiki.

The performance of former University of Oregon professor Derek Healey’s Three Songs from The Silvered Lute: a Wang Wei Song Album featured Wood with Safar (piano). The songs, “The Ravine,” “The Grove of Dark Bamboo” and “The Empty Mountain” were based on text by Wang Wei, an 8th century Chinese poet and translated by the composer. The program noted that the piano portion was influenced by Chinese instruments such as the gu zheng, Qin, yang ch’in, and the erhu. The piano effectively created an Eastern soundscape reflective of these instruments rarely heard in the west.

The title centerpiece for the evening’s concert was Safar’s The Warbler Sings, a new song cycle composed this year with text from the haiku of Matsuo Bashō (1644 – 1694) and performed by David Bender (trumpet and flugelhorn), Nathan Waddell (double bass), Safar (piano) and Wood (soprano), for whom the it was written. The piece engaged my need for attentive listening with haiku text such as “Pond frog plop” or “Winter downpour even the monkey needs a raincoat” combined with Safar’s acoustic plucking of the piano strings and momentary statements, sometimes abstract and at others jazz-like, by other instruments. The Warbler Sings was made possible through a 2013–14 Composer of the Year Award from the Oregon Music Teachers Association.

This was the second Cascadia Composers concert that I’ve had the opportunity to hear in Eugene. The event was well attended by 35–40 people of mixed ages and demographics who thoroughly demonstrated their appreciation for the opportunity to hear new contemporary classical music. Post-concert catered refreshments of Thai food delights and an opportunity to speak with the composers and performers added an extra sense of camaraderie to the evening’s experience.

I sense that there is an emerging new music connection between Portland and Eugene. This week, Third Angle New Music Ensemble will be performing the work of three UO-trained composers in Portland as part of its Studio Series. Early next year works by UO Composer Forum members will be featured in a Portland concert by soprano Esteli Gomez. Like the flowing waters of the Willamette, let new music bring Oregon’s cultural centers closer together.

Gary Ferrington is Senior Instructor Emeritus, Education, at the University of Oregon.

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2 Responses.

  1. Brandon says:

    Are they looking at New York? Asia is to the West of here, if they are looking in that direction afterall.

    • It’s true! I thought hard about that before writing the headline, but the title of the concert was actually “Looking East,” so you’ll have to take it up with Cascadia Composers.

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