All Classical Radio James Depreist

Music News: Director Departures and Other Transitions

An Oregon music legend passes, leaders of the state’s two top orchestras move on, and other news in Oregon music.

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Royce Saltzman, co-founder of the Oregon Bach Festival, upon OBF’s 40th Anniversay.

One of the giants of Oregon’s musical landscape, Royce Saltzman, died April 3 at age 94. Besides co-founding (with longtime artistic director Helmuth Rilling) what became the Oregon Bach Festival in 1970 and serving as its executive director for more than three decades, Saltzman was also president of the American Choral Directors Association, founding member and president of the International Federation for Choral Music, a board member of Chorus America, advisor and mentor to many, many other choral music institutions worldwide. Beginning in 1964 until his retirement, he also served on the faculty of the festival’s parent, the University of Oregon, where he was a beloved music professor. 

“This is a moment of true heartbreak for our festival, the university, and the entire choral community,” said Sabrina Madison-Cannon, Dean of the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance. “Royce was a giant in his field, highly regarded for his decades of commitment to music and education. His passion reverberated across international borders and through multiple generations.”

If his name is unfamiliar to some readers, that’s not only because he’d retired (for the second time) from OBF in 2007, but also because for all his renown in the choral music world, Saltzman never sought the spotlight. He always foregrounded Rilling and the artists whose work and careers he nurtured as he led the festival to become one of Oregon’s pre-eminent international cultural institutions, while always maintaining its focus on education. OBF components Saltzman helped create, including the Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy, the Berwick Academy and the Organ Institute, remain fixtures at UO.

“I first took notice of Royce around 1990 in an OBF Messiah at Christmas, which he conducted,” remembered author, former NPR classical music reviewer, and longtime OBF attendee Tom Manoff. “It’s important to remember that Royce was not only a gifted administrator but also a fine musician.He was determined to keep OBF at a world-class level, and was equally responsible in that regard as Rilling.” 

At its peak under Saltzman, the annual summer festival presented several dozen concerts over three weeks, along with workshops, classes, lectures and much more. It grew so important that, in one of those bureaucratic maneuvers common in academia, the Festival eventually left the UO Music School and became its own independent power center within the university–though it’s recently moved back in with its parent and is once again a program of the School of Music and Dance. 

I interviewed Saltzman extensively for an Oregon Quarterly feature in 1996, and the toughest part was getting past his soft-spoken, even self-effacing matter-of-factness so that I could appreciate just what a gracious powerhouse he was. His personal warmth, many international contacts, expansive vision, and passion for choral music drew scores of supporters, both financial and volunteer, and their efforts helped put UO and Eugene on the world cultural map. I talked to at least half a dozen festival staffers in reporting that story, and covered the festival for a decade under his leadership, and cannot remember anyone ever giving a negative impression of the man or his work. He was a real legend at the UO and in Eugene, and that enduring affection is apparent in the testimonials posted by the university.

The Bach Festival will honor its founder this summer, and ArtsWatch will have more to say about Saltzman then as well. 

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More Transitions

Two other current directors of Oregon’s major music institutions are also departing. This month both Oregon Symphony executive director Scott Showalter and Eugene Symphony ED Scott Freck announced their resignations. 

Freck led ESO to some notable successes in his 11-year tenure, focusing on making its concerts more accessible and inventive, including extensive multimedia components, and forging extensive community partnerships. He’ll become an independent arts consultant, and also “likely work part-time for a large and well-established multinational arts consulting organization.” With the orchestra commencing a search for a successor to music director Francesco Lecce-Chong, it should have a new ED in place by next fall to prepare for a new leadership team.

Showalter’s decade at the helm of OSO saw the orchestra broaden its concert offerings to include “poppier” contemporary music such as hip hop and video game scores, co-commission some new works addressing 21st century issues like homelessness, and expand its season. He also helped raise revenues by 65 percent, and balance its budget (pandemic year excepted). Like Freck in Eugene, he steered OSO and its 45-member staff through turbulent times for all classical music institutions. 

Showalter told ArtsWatch contributor James Bash that “he is stepping down from the position because he wants to take a break from the job. It’s a 24/7 commitment. He is looking forward to getting away from it and reassessing what he wants to do.” After his successor is named later this year, Showalter will stay involved with OSO in a new role as executive advisor to the board of directors.

As two Oregon classical music executives depart, another arrives. Portland Baroque Orchestra this month hired Hilary Butler as its new ED. PBO’s announcement cited the Pacific Northwest native’s “over 18 years’ experience working with performing arts organizations as an administrator, performer, and director, most recently as Executive Director of Westrick Music Academy in Princeton, New Jersey,” and previous work running Chicago’s Bella Voce chamber choir, and at other schools and theaters. Also a singer and conductor, she’ll team up with newly appointed PBO artistic director Julian Perkins to lead one of Oregon’s most valuable music institutions into its 40th anniversary season.

And bringing the news back to Bach, the Oregon Bach Festival announced that it’s absorbing the music school’s annual Musicking conference devoted to the study and staging of historical performance practice. Musicking’s founder, UO music prof Marc Vanscheeuwijck, retired last year, so the conference has now found an appropriate new patron that also embraces the HIP approach to Baroque and earlier music.

Kudos

Cappella Romana founder/music director Alexander Lingas will lead the Byzantine Chant Ensemble in King Charles’s Coronation at Westminster Abbey on Saturday, May 6. The new monarch wanted to honor his late father, Prince Philip, by including the Greek Orthodox music he admired in the ceremony, and his wish was Lingas’s command. The Portland-born scholar, a longtime London resident, knows that world as well as anyone, and assembled the choir from among the many singers who’ve sung with Cappella and other choirs that specialize in Byzantine music and/or have served as cantors or educators in cathedrals, schools and parishes in the UK and Greece.

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“Yes, all the family is very excited,” Lingas told ArtsWatch’s Daryl Browne. “My father especially so, since he was in England for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II as part of the Royal Canadian Navy’s delegation to the inspection of the fleet. The press in Greece is also fascinated by the selection of Byzantine chant for the Coronation, leading to a series of interviews that I gave live on national television and radio. As for myself, I remain deeply honoured to have been asked to help realise His Majesty’s desire to offer a tribute to his late father in this way. I am very much looking forward to joining a small group of colleagues from the UK and Greece to chant at this historic event.”

Speaking of Cappella Romana, the Portland-based choral ensemble is also launching a publishing company for scores, scholarship, and pastoral materials related to and celebrating the ecclesiastical music of the Orthodox Church. Its premier publication, Byzantine Chant: The Received Tradition, A Lesson Book, is written by Cappella’s associate music director, John Michael Boyer, who’s also Protopsaltis of the Metropolis of San Francisco.

Cappella Romana brings Ivan Moody’s “Greek Liturgy” to the Pacific Northwest April 28–30.

Jazz Journalists Association named Portland broadcaster, journalist and musician Yugen Rashad one of its 36 annual Jazz Heroes for 2023. The keyboardist’s Saturday afternoon interview show has been a fixture on Portland’s KBOO radio for three decades. 

Opera America named OrpheusPDX General and Artistic Director Christopher Mattaliano one of 75 key figures who have shaped American opera over the past 50 years. The magazine compiled oral histories from interviews with those selected, including the longtime erstwhile Portland Opera leader. Watch Mattaliano’s interview here:

Washington National Opera named Katherine Goforth the inaugural recipient of the True Voice Award, which celebrates artists who identify as transgender or nonbinary. Goforth, who teaches at Vancouver’s Clark College, has appeared with many orchestras and opera companies, including Portland Opera and Renegade Opera, and advocated for trans performers. She’s also serving as dramaturg and stage director for Opera Theater Oregon’s upcoming opera about Sacajawea, Nu Nah-Hup.

Salem tenor Joseph Sacchi received one of seven $2,000 Encouragement Awards in the 51st annual George London Awards, one of the most prestigious competitions for young American and Canadian opera singers. You can stream it on George and Nora London Foundation YouTube channel.

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PDX Jazz’s young Jazz Ambassadors are participating this weekend at the University of Idaho’s venerable Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. which features dozens of top jazz artists, hundreds of student performers, and workshops and other events. The students, from Beaumont Middle School, scored first place honors at last spring’s National Jazz Festival.

All Classical Portland radio, which increasingly nurtures Oregon musicians as well as broadcasting classics, announced its new lineup of in-house artists. Prominent pianist Maria Garcia will extend her current residency; 16-year-old composer/pianist/violinist Amir Avsker will be the 2023 Young Artist in Residenc; and 18-year-old cellist and vocalist Catherine Hartrim-Lowe, 16-year-old violinist Ellie Kim, and 17-year-old violinist Timothy Lee are the 2023 Young Artist Ambassadors. You’ll be hearing all of them over the air, on the intertubes, and around PDX this year.

A 2012 recording of a Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Concerto for Clarinet and Chamber Orchestra performed by David Shifrin and the Northwest Chamber Orchestra has been inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress. Clarinet virtuoso Shifrin, the emeritus longtime artistic director for Chamber Music Northwest, led CMNW’s 2004 Portland live performance recorded on the Delos label. Zwilich, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for music, turns 84 on April 30, and is still making music–including a newly released cello concerto in a Santa Rosa Symphony performance led by Eugene Symphony music director Francesco Lecce-Chong. 

Portland composer/singer Damien Geter’s new song cycle COTTON, inspired by the photography of Philadelphia artist John Dowell, premiered in February at Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral.

Another new composition inspired by visual art, Portland composer and percussionist Andy Akiho’s Sculptures, premiered at Omaha, Nebraska’s Holland Performing Arts Center in March. Oregonians can hear the orchestral work, which responds to a giant Jun Kaneko sculpture in Nebraska, at the Oregon Symphony in November, and another Akiho composition, this one inspired by architecture, at this weekend’s OSO shows, as well as a conversation between Akiho, who is the orchestra’s composer in residence, and fellow composer and OSO artistic partner Nathalie Joachim onstage at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre Friday.

Dark Future 

This month’s annual Ten Grands concert, which pianist Michael Allen Harrison created to raise funds for music education (more than $4 million in over 20 years), may have been the last at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. A press announcement cited “the pandemic, problems with downtown, rising costs and low attendance” in recent performances, after years of early sell outs. 

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Colin Meloy is a busy guy, what with parenting, writing music, performing with the Decemberists, and basically repping Portland to the indie rock world. So it’s perhaps understandable that he enlisted songwriting help from ChatGPT.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

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Brett Campbell is a frequent contributor to The Oregonian, San Francisco Classical Voice, Oregon Quarterly, and Oregon Humanities. He has been classical music editor at Willamette Week, music columnist for Eugene Weekly, and West Coast performing arts contributing writer for the Wall Street Journal, and has also written for Portland Monthly, West: The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Salon, Musical America and many other publications. He is a former editor of Oregon Quarterly and The Texas Observer, a recipient of arts journalism fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (Columbia University), the Getty/Annenberg Foundation (University of Southern California) and the Eugene O’Neill Center (Connecticut). He is co-author of the biography Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick (Indiana University Press, 2017) and several plays, and has taught news and feature writing, editing and magazine publishing at the University of Oregon School of Journalism & Communication and Portland State University.

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