PCS Coriolanus

Music News & Notes: a founder fallen

The passing of Cascadia founder David Bernstein, and other leadership transitions.


Cascadia Composers founding president David Bernstein.

Just months after the death of one of Oregon’s greatest composers, Tomas Svoboda, the state’s contemporary classical music scene suffered another grievous loss last week with the sudden passing of Cascadia Composers founder David Bernstein. A true mensch of Oregon music, Bernstein leaves his adopted state a rich legacy of music and an enduring institution that continues to enrich our artistic environment. ArtsWatch will post a full tribute to Bernstein in coming days.

Leadership transitions

One of Oregon’s most prolific and valuable contemporary classical institutions, 45th Parallel Universe, is looking for a new, full-time executive director as violinist Ron Blessinger steps down from what’s been, up to now, a half-time role to focus on the increasing demands of playing with 45th Parallel and with his other band, the Oregon Symphony—both of which have now resumed full post-pandemic performing schedules. 

Since taking leadership in 2017, the former Third Angle New Music artistic director spearheaded an impressive era of growth for the 14-year-old 45th Parallel, which now encompasses several performing ensembles and stages dozens of concerts each year in the Portland area and can now afford to hire a full-time ED. 

Ron Blessinger. Photo: Jacob Wade.

Blessinger told ArtsWatch he’s proudest of “the hustle and ingenuity and grit we showed by presenting 54 online concerts during the pandemic. We distributed over $70,000 to musicians who’d been laid off from their orchestras that year.” He’ll continue to focus on spearheading a couple of major projects per year with 45th Parallel.

Portland Taiko has chosen Tiffany Tamaribuchi as its new artistic director. Along with being a virtuosa player, Tamaribuchi has a long track record as mentor, teacher, and ensemble leader. The Sacramento native founded that city’s first taiko ensemble, Taiko Dan, and also created Jodaiko, its first all-women taiko ensemble. She studied and performed often in Japan—including at the home of taiko, Sado Island—and toured with the first international taiko performance group from Japan, Ondekoza, pounding the big odaidko drum, and winning a major national Japanese competition on that instrument in which she was the only woman competing against 22 men. 

You can see Tamaribuchi and other top female taiko drummers in action in Finding Her Beat, a 2022 documentary film, in a benefit screening for Portland Taiko September 30 at Portland’s Hollywood Theatre.


PPH Passing Strange

Music director Teddy Abrams is leaving Jacksonville’s summer Britt Festival Orchestra after a decade at the helm. Long seen as a rising star in conducting circles (and maybe an eventual successor to Michael Tilson Thomas at the symphony in Abrams’s previous home of San Francisco), Abrams has also won acclaim as music director of the Louisville Symphony during the same period.

In both positions, he brought in new music by leading American composers as well as his own works, and steered the Britt Orchestra through recent challenges posed by fire, smoke, and pandemic. This summer’s classical concerts featured a sterling mix of music by American composers current and classic, along with a few Euro-standards.  

Teddy Abrams conducting Britt Festival Orchestra in Jacksonville. Photo by Josh Morell.
Teddy Abrams conducting Britt Festival Orchestra in Jacksonville. Photo by Josh Morell.

In this season of director transition announcements, the Nashville Symphony also reports that much-admired former Eugene Symphony music director Giancarlo Guerrero will be moving onward and presumably upward after the 2026 season.

In more orchestra transitions, the storied Boston Symphony Orchestra has plucked its new executive director Chad Smith from his similar position at the LA Philharmonic. Why does this matter to Oregon? Might not … but then again, one of Smith’s former execs at the LA Phil was Scott Showalter, who left to run the Oregon Symphony — from which he just retired. Might he be a candidate for Smith’s old job? “For now, Scott remains focused on his work for the Oregon Symphony and ensuring a smooth transition to his successor,” OSO spokesperson Russell Kelban told ArtsWatch.

Scott Showalter.

Educational evolutions

Portland’s Young Musicians & Artists, which coordinates music education opportunities for kids and teens, announced the departure of executive director Neal Spinler. 

Another Portland music education organization, Friends of Noise and Oregon’s Rock n Roll Camp for Girls have announced what the corporate types might call a merger-acquisition in which the nationally renowned Rock Camp will become a program of FoN, and yet another Portland music ed institution will also benefit. Founded in Portland in 2001, Rock Camp now boasts more than 100 camps in North and South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. “Under the agreement terms, Rock Camp will donate its assets, including cash on hand, musical instruments and equipment, curriculum, trademarks, and intellectual property to Friends of Noise and will also make a meaningful donation to My Voice Music, a Portland 501c3 whose youth and young adult programs include MVM Studios, Summer Rock Camps, after school programs, and satellite sites at therapeutic centers, juvenile detention centers, schools, and other youth organizations,” according to the press release. 


Cascadia Composers May the Fourth

One of Oregon’s most important global music performing arts and education organizations, RASIKA School of Music and Arts, has at last reopened after its long pandemic shutdown. It had already resumed presenting performances. Vidwan Deepu Nair will be the resident performer and teacher of Carnatic vocal, violin and flute music at Hillsboro and Beaverton locations.

OrpheusPDX’s second season, which begins next month, also marks the debut of the chamber opera company’s new Pathways mentoring program for emerging opera artists. The program pairs five young professionals or student performers and designers with the established pros involved in the annual summer program’s two operas.

“They’re actively involved in the on-going creative planning and rehearsal process—observing, questioning, actively participating, being allowed to make mistakes and learn from them—all under the guidance of an established professional mentor,” said General and Artistic Director Christopher Mattaliano, who has taught at the Juilliard School, Yale, Princeton and the Metropolitan Opera. “There’s no better learning experience.”

This year’s quintet of mentors includes Nicholas Fox, who conducts this summer’s first production, Mozart’s The Royal Shepherd August 3 and 6, and Oregon Symphony associate conductor Deanna Tham, who’ll conduct the company’s second and final production, Nico Muhly’s Dark Sisters (Aug. 24 & 27), along with other participating instrumentalists and designers.

Oregon Symphony Associate Conductor Deanna Tham. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Oregon Symphony Associate Conductor Deanna Tham. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Getting your foot in the door, getting those first few connections can often be the most difficult steps for emerging artists,” Mattaliano said. “I recognize how fortunate I was to work under the guidance of major artists early in my career, and I’m committed to providing those kinds of connections and experiences for the next generation.”

If that’s not enough summer opera for you, check out Portland Opera’s Opera a la Cart mobile performance venue that brings live opera performance directly to Portland area farmers markets, city parks, neighborhood festivals, street fairs, wineries and other public events. Designed and built by architecture students at Portland State University, the cart features a fold-out stage and a “menu” of operatic specials of the day to be sung by local artists. You can check out this summer’s pop-up program, which runs through September, here. And Astoria’s Cascadia Chamber Opera opens its three-show summer season in August with a lineup that includes a double bill of original one-acts by Eugene composer Ashley Hastings.

Opera a la Cart performance at Hoyt Arboretum in July 2021. Photo by Mike Drewry, courtesy of Hoyt Arboretum.
Opera a la Cart performance at Hoyt Arboretum in July 2021. Photo by Mike Drewry, courtesy of Hoyt Arboretum.



Seattle Opera Barber of Seville

Third Angle New Music scored a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support commissioning new compositions to be premiered in the Portland new music organization’s 2024-5 season. The new works will celebrate the diversity of the disability spectrum and Portland’s natural spaces.

Portland Chamber Orchestra has been awarded a $20,000 grant from the Marie Lamfrom Charitable Foundation. The funds will support the orchestra’s performances and educational outreach efforts as it mounts its 76th season.

 All Classical Portland will celebrate its 40th anniversary in several events beginning on the classical music radio station’s airwaves August 1; a summer open house Aug. 6 at the station’s current studios in the Portland Opera building (including live music); and a concert in Portland’s Irving Park Aug. 24. As ArtsWatch reported in May, the station will be moving to new studios in downtown Portland next year.

Finally, if you’re interested in original Oregon music and performance with a social conscience, check out Big Mouth Society’s The Common Opus this Sunday at Portland’s Winningstad Theater.

Got more Oregon music news? Let us know at music@orartswatch.org!

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Photo Joe Cantrell

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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