MUSIC

Looking for Leadership

Oregon Bach Festival artistic director finalists offer three dramatically different visions of the festival’s future

When Roger Saydack lived on a bare bones graduate student budget at the University of Oregon in the mid-1970s, the only way he could afford to hear classical music live was what’s now called the Oregon Bach Festival’s Discovery Series concerts. Following along in a score from Smith Family Bookstore, he’d catch a strong performance of a Bach cantata for $2, explicated by one of the world’s experts on Bach, festival director Helmuth Rilling. 

The festival maintained its attraction for Saydack, a longtime Eugene lawyer, who three decades ago served as president of its board of directors, and went on to be involved in other classical music institutions like the League of American Orchestras, working with about 35 orchestras, opera companies and classical music festivals around the US in artistic leadership searches in various ways. He led the Eugene Symphony’s searches that successively produced probably the strongest crop of young, rising music directors of any midsized American orchestra: Marin Alsop, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, and Giancarlo Guerrero, who all won acclaim and moved on to positions with bigger orchestras.

Roger Saydack, leading Oregon Bach Festival's artistic director search.
Roger Saydack, leading Oregon Bach Festival’s artistic director search.

Now, Saydack is bringing those skills back to the Bach Festival he’s long cherished, leading the search committee charged with finding a successor to Matthew Halls, the talented young artistic director controversially ousted in 2017 by the festival’s then-executive director, who was herself dumped after a backlash against Halls’ never-explained departure. 

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Lincoln City theater owner aces celebrity name game

Bijou Theatre’s Betsy Altomare met plenty of musicians when she worked for Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard

In these strange days, I’m game for pretty much anything that might inspire a few grins, and lately that’s coming, often as not, from Facebook, where I spend entirely too much time.

One recent “game” going around asks for the names of five (or sometimes 10) celebrities you’ve met, including one that’s a lie. Then it’s up to your friends to guess which one that is.

I listed Joe Cocker, Wally Lamb, Ty Burrell, David Ogden Stiers, and Tippi Hedren.

I met Cocker when I interviewed him at his wife’s café in Crawford, Colo., a little town about 70 miles southeast of Grand Junction. He was shy, friendly, and constantly in motion. I had lunch with Stiers as the guest of a friend who bid on the meal for a fundraiser. Wally Lamb — just as nice as you might imagine — read from one of his novels at the Denver Woman’s Press Club, and I met Hedren when I interviewed her for a story for The Oregonian. She was friendly but disturbed that I wasn’t taping our conversation. She said she had canceled interviews over a lack of recording. But she let me go ahead and later thanked me for getting it right. You can guess from the above whom I never actually met — I’ve always loved that he was raised in the Rogue Valley, where I also lived for a couple of years.

My list, however, pales next to Betsy Altomare’s. Betsy and her husband, Keith, own and operate the Bijou Theatre in Lincoln City. Although the Bijou is closed for now, you can still get their famous popcorn and stream movies from their virtual theater.

Betsy Altomare remembers meeting Paul Newman when she was 16 years old. He did not give her an autograph.

But about that list. Altomare named nine celebrities she met and one she didn’t.  They are: Elton John, David Bowie, Lenny Kravitz, Tina Turner, Neil Young, Sarah McLachlan, Cameron Crowe, Paul Newman, John Entwistle, and Bruce Springsteen. How did she meet all those famous people? Turns out she worked at Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, and also did marketing for music trade publication HITS Magazine.

Who was your first?

Altomare: Paul Newman. When I was 16, a bunch of actors — Newman, Joanne Woodward, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Jacqueline Bisset — came to sign a petition at a Santa Monica Beach parking lot to stop off-shore drilling. Me, my best friend, and my dad went to see all the Hollywood stars. I caught Paul Newman going into his bus and I asked for an autograph. He said, “No, I don’t believe in that sort of thing.”

What was the most surprising encounter?

I guess maybe Elton John. I was a huge Elton John fan when I was a teenage girl. When I was 25, he came into Tower and I was too shy to talk to him. He went across the street to a video store after the record store. I followed him. That’s when I finally went up to him and told him I loved his music and got his autograph.

Elton John, however, did give Altomare an autograph.

Was he friendly?

He was polite. He had bodyguards with him. It was the biggest record store on the West Coast. Elton John was known to just close down the record store and do his shopping. His song writer, Bernie Taupin, used to come in regularly, and I would help him. He would bring a list and we would help him find the records.

Neil Young?

He was a character in the movie, Human Highway.  It was pretty silly. My boyfriend and I got tickets to the premiere and premiere party and he was there. It was in a big warehouse and they had these games related to the movie. He was very, very polite. I asked for his autograph and he said, “You know, let’s wait a second.” There were a couple of guys across the room and there was something going on, and he walked over to them, then he came back and signed it.

What was the most memorable?

Probably having dinner and riding in a car with R.E.M. My boyfriend, now my husband, worked for the record company that represented R.E.M and the Go-Go’s. I was invited to go to a dinner with R.E.M. members Peter Buck and Mike Mills.

Wait, that’s not on your list.

I know, but I only had room for 10.

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MusicWatch Monthly: Send the fool further

A leap of faith and a speculative symphonic season

We have to admit that it was very tempting to do a hoax column today. We might have crafted fake season announcements, reviewed boxed sets that don’t exist, written a biography of an imaginary composer, released a phony recording of Bach’s seventh cello suite. Everything is canceled anyways, might as well have some fun and lob a little laughter into the void.

But we’ve all had enough fake news, don’t you think? It’ll still be fun to talk about all that imaginary stuff, but we’d prefer to approach it as an exercise in forecasting where music–and especially “classical” music–might go next. To get started, we’d like to veer into occult history to talk about The Fool and The Oldest Custom in the World.

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Covideo

Oregon music organizations respond to corona culture cancel with livestreaming

On Wednesday, March 11, Cappella Romana executive director Mark Powell faced a tough decision. The Portland vocal ensemble had a performance scheduled for that Saturday. But the coronavirus now threatened all concerts. Gov. Kate Brown had just prohibited public gatherings of greater than 250 people, half the attendance the group was expecting. And with the virus spreading and responses racing, even that might change. But the group had already rehearsed its performance of Tchaikovsky’s Divine Liturgy, singers from around the country had already arrived to join the Portland-based performers, 500 seats had already been sold, and the venue, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, couldn’t add a second performance if they wanted to split the audience in half.

Powell called his counterpart at Portland Baroque Orchestra (where he also used to work), which also had a concert coming up that weekend. “I was just going to call you,” PBO’s executive director Abigail McKee replied. With news arriving of concert cancellations around the country, the orchestra had just decided to livestream their Friday performance and had secured portable video equipment and a videographer. Would Cappella Romana like to use them for their Saturday show?

Powell leapt at the offer, canceling Saturday’s live performance. PBO in turn made the same offer to yet another Portland music group, Big Mouth Society, for its Sunday afternoon concert. All three wound up livestreaming their shows for the first time, and all declared the unexpected streaming experiment a resounding success. A week later, Portland taiko/dance ensemble Unit Souzou also livestreamed a show, by which time circumstances had changed in this rapidly evolving crisis.

With other Portland performing arts organizations also now planning to livestream events during the crisis, this month’s streaming experiments offer lessons pertinent long after 2020’s virus crisis and Great Culture Cancel have passed.

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Solidarity through song

Voices from the front: Aquilon Music Festival founder Anton Belov brings a community of singers together through Facebook Karaoke

The pop culture reference point of the moment is Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 thriller Contagion, which is surely streaming into quarantined homes at some kind of record. That COVID-19-inspired resurgence of popularity is justifiably shared with Albert Camus, whose 1947 novel The Plague rendered a pandemic.

For our purposes, however, the most salient line from an artistic rendering of pestilence may be found in Mary Shelley’s little-known novel, The Last Man, published in 1826. Yes, that Mary Shelley. Eight years after she unleashed Frankenstein, Shelley tried her hand at a literary pandemic.

In one section, she laments on the passing of what today we’d call the humanities: “Farewell to the arts, to eloquence,” she wrote. “Farewell to music, and the sound of song… !”

Ah, but Shelley wasn’t on social media.


OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT


Anton Belov, founder of the Aquilon Music Festival and a Linfield College music professor, recently launched Facebook Karaoke. Photo courtesy: Linfield College

The “sound of song” is alive and well in Yamhill County, thanks in part to the efforts of Aquilon Music Festival founder Anton Belov, who this week began teaching his spring term classes at Linfield College online. Earlier this month, I stumbled upon a video of him on Facebook singing Sunday Morning Coming Down, a Kris Kristoffersen song that was included in Ray Stevens’ final album, Have a Little Talk With Myself, for Monument Records in 1969. Johnny Cash later recorded it for a hit on Billboard’s country chart.

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Portland’s All Classical teams with Linfield College

Yamhill and Polk county residents will have clearer listening to the classical radio station beginning Thursday

Starting Thursday, Yamhill and Polk county residents will have an easier time listening to classical music on the radio. FM station All Classical Portland is integrating Linfield College’s campus radio station into its network, meaning the signal of 24-hour classical music and arts programming will be much clearer for the 100,000 people who live in McMinnville and surrounding communities.

The donation of Linfield’s KSLC 90.3 FM to All Classical Portland was, according to a press release, initiated by McMinnville college students.

1955 Toshiba Vacuum Tube Radio. Masaki Ikeda/Wikimedia Commons
All Classical Portland fans would not actually be able to hear their station on this 1955 Toshiba vacuum tube radio, because it is AM only. But isn’t a thing of beauty? Photo courtesy: Masaki Ikeda/Wikimedia Commons

ICAN, the station’s International Children’s Arts Network channel, also will be available to residents of Oregon’s Wine Country through All Classical Portland’s HD2 channel. It offers noncommercial entertainment and educational programs for children through age 12.

In the press announcement, Joe Stuart, a Linfield student and KSLC’s general manager, said: “Although student radio has been a staple of the college experience for decades, we at KSLC are excited about this new era of digital student media that will help journalism students inform and engage with their community in the constantly evolving modern media landscape.”

Roughly 3 million listeners across Oregon and Southwest Washington have access to classical music on the FM dial through All Classical Portland’s current broadcast coverage. The existing signal already reaches Yamhill County, of course, but depending on weather and other conditions, the quality can be spotty.

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MusicWatch Weekly: The Apocalypse will be livestreamed

As world ends in slow motion, musicians struggle in solidarity

First of all, how are you? Eating enough? Staying inside and entertained? Called your friends and/or family lately? Good.

Let’s start by collectively admitting that we’re Not Doing Alright. It’s been a busy two weeks since last we spoke, dear reader: schools closed, concerts canceled, tours derailed, musicians laid off, stay-home orders issued, force majeure clauses invoked. We’ve been comparing notes with our fellow Gen X-ers and other overthirties, folks who experienced 9/11 and its aftermath as adults, and we’ve all reached the same conclusion–this is weirder by far.

Nobody knows what the hell is going to happen next, and as we scramble to make sense of it all we find ourselves grasping for new definitions of “musical activity” in general and “music journalism” in particular. We’d like to quote words from Oregon ArtsWatch Executive Editor Barry Johnson’s Mission Statement, which have recently comforted us:

The arts remind us that we are in this together. That we aren’t alone in our particular thoughts and feelings. That things can be made right and whole, if just for a moment. They remind us that the individual can do great things, and so can individuals acting together. And somehow, they resolve the great tension of American life, that between the rightful autonomy of the individual and the responsibilities that come with belonging to a group. We can’t imagine a good outcome to our dire problems—as a community, a nation, a planet—without the complex lessons the arts teach us.

We believe that the processes of discovery, explanation and discussion of journalism have an important role to play in all of this. An “informed citizenry” extends to cultural matters, and that is the mission of Oregon ArtsWatch—to help those of us in this particular culture share support and create arts and culture that respond to our needs.

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