Delgani Quartet preview: Cascadian perspectives

Eugene ensemble premieres Benjamin Krause’s celebration of Cascade mountainscape


Delgani String Quartet artistic director Wyatt True and composer Benjamin Krause have a natural history. The violinist had performed Krause’s Uv’Chein Variations for violin and piano (2012) while both were students at the University of Oregon, and True later commissioned him to compose The Activity of Sand and Movie Music for Portland as part of his 2015 Oregon Multimedia Project.

So when the Eugene quartet received a grant from the Oregon Community Foundation’s Creative Heights Initiative to provide the score to a video documentary inspired by the towering mountain peaks visible from the Dee Wright Observatory atop the Mckenzie Pass, True suggested that Krause, currently visiting professor of music at Indiana’s Valparaiso University, was a natural choice. The other ensemble members — violinist Jannie Wei, violist Kimberlee Uwate and cellist Eric Alterman —agreed.

Oregon’s Cascade Peaks. Photo: Terry Kneen.

“We wanted it to result in something tangible that could be enjoyed by people throughout the state who would otherwise not be able to hear the music in concert,” True explains, “perhaps by people more interested in nature than string quartets, or students learning about the Cascades in school.” That was natural, too: actively engaged in performances throughout the Pacific Northwest, the ensemble frequently commissions new works for string quartet and has developed an extensive educational program.

Krause’s new String Quartet No. 1 “Cascades,” which premieres this month, supplies the musical component to Delgani’s Cascade Quartet Project, which connects music to landscape through composition, performance, and documentation. The quartet premieres the four-movement, 25 minute piece in Salem October 29, followed by November performances in Eugene and Portland.

Composer Benjamin Krause.

Benjamin Krause’s music is widely performed in the U.S. and internationally. He holds degrees from Valparaiso University (B.M.), the University of Oregon (M.M.) and Rice University (DMA). He is currently Visiting Professor of Music at Valparaiso University where he teaches composition, theory, orchestration, and jazz combo. His music can be heard on his SoundCloud and website. In his Cascades quartet, “the movements are based on various aspects of the McKenzie Pass, specifically the views from the Dee Wright Observatory. Each movement takes on a different impression or vantage point,” Krause told ArtsWatch.

The first movement, Lava Fields, establishes many of its themes and moods. “On my own trip up to the observatory, the views were mainly of misty, desolate lava fields stretched out for what seemed like miles,” he recalls. The second movement, Crater and Crevice, zooms into the lava fields and depicts the rough, jagged terrain “with lots of shifting accents, angular passages, and fast tempi.”

Lava field framed by Dee Wright Observatory window. Photo: Terry Kneen.

The third movement, The Trees are Castaways, is the lyrical heart of the quartet. “I was struck by the solitary, brave trees jutting out occasionally from the rocks, which reminded me of lone figures adrift in a violent sea,” Krause says. “There’s a sense of hopefulness and beauty about this despite the forbidding terrain.”

Krause describes the final movement, Those Distant Monuments, as almost a “prequel” since it evokes the feeling of ascending the mountain and looking up into the distance, at the many mountain peaks, such as the Sisters and Mount Jefferson, normally visible from the pass — the “distant monuments” of the title.

Delgani plans to combine their recording of Krause’s quartet (made last month at Eugene’s Gung Ho Studios) with video, planned for shooting next summer, of the ensemble performing against the backdrop of the Three Sisters and other surrounding Cascade peaks. The resulting musical documentary will be enhanced with information about the geological formation and historical significance of the mountains provided by the Cascade Geographic Society.

Delgani will premiere the Krause score during its October 29 Salem concert and perform it again on November 5 and 7 in Eugene. The piece is part of a program theme celebrating the American Landscape that also will include the late, long-time Seattle-based composer Alan Hovhaness’s 1936 String Quartet No. 1 (which is thematically connected to his famous 1955 second symphony, Mysterious Mountain) and Antonín Dvořák’s American Quartet inspired by the composer’s 1890 visit to America.

When the music video is completed next year, it will become part of a multi-media exhibit at the Cascade Geographic Society’s Oregon Country Settlement, a living history village located at Rhododendron on the slopes of Mount Hood. The society also plans to incorporate it into an installation at the Wy’East Museum on Native American History and Culture during the 2017-2018 season.

Delgani String Quartet recording Krause’s “Cascades” quartet at Gung Ho Studios, Eugene.

Editor’s note: Listen to audio excerpts from Krause’s String Quartet No. 1, “Cascades.”

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.

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