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Siletz Bay Music Festival concert to honor conductor Yaacov “Yaki” Bergman

Two February performances of "My Words Are My Sword" will celebrate Black History Month and the memory of the long-time festival conductor, who died in September.

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Yaacov “Yaki” Bergman conducts the Portland Chamber Orchestra and poet Darius Wallace in a performance of “My Words Are My Sword.” Photo by Joe Cantrell, courtesy of Siletz Bay Music Festival
Yaacov “Yaki” Bergman conducts the Portland Chamber Orchestra and poet Darius Wallace in a performance of “My Words Are My Sword.” Photo by Joe Cantrell, courtesy of Siletz Bay Music Festival

Four months after the death of symphony conductor Yaacov “Yaki” Bergman, the Siletz Bay Musical Festival will part with tradition, presenting for the first time outside the summer festival season a major production that is not a fundraiser. The performance will both celebrate Black History Month and honor Bergman.

My Words Are My Sword was written by poet and actor Darius Wallace and composed by Jasnam Daya Singh, Portland-based pianist and composer. Bergman, who conceived the piece as an orchestral work, brought the two together, said Jain Sekuler, festival board chair and production manager. He conducted 2022 performances by the Portland Chamber Orchestra and the Walla Walla Symphony, she added.

The festival will put on two performances Feb. 9: a 1:30 p.m. performance free of charge to students, and a second one at 7 p.m. Tickets to that concert are $40 for adults and $15 for students. Both performances will be held at B’nai B’rith Camp in Otis. The evening performance will also feature a separate piece honoring Bergman, titled Maestro, written by Wallace and composed by Singh. Raúl Gómez-Rojas will conduct both concerts, joined by Wallace and Singh.

My Words Are My Sword “came together during COVID as a direct response to the George Floyd murder and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Sekuler said. “Yaki was so moved by that, that he needed to do something. He thought knowing what Wallace and Singh do, it would be a perfect collaboration. The three of them worked together on Zoom to create this piece.”

Initially, there was talk of presenting My Words Are My Sword for the festival in August, but looking to broaden the festival offerings, it was decided to make it a separate event, Sekuler said.

Yaacov “Yaki” Bergman, pictured here in 2018, died in September 2023. He was a conductor for the Siletz Bay Music Festival, the Walla Walla Symphony, and the Portland Chamber Orchestra, among others. Photo by: The Photography Studio, courtesy of Siletz Bay Music Festival
Yaacov “Yaki” Bergman, pictured here in 2018, died in September 2023. He was a conductor for the Siletz Bay Music Festival, the Walla Walla Symphony, and the Portland Chamber Orchestra, among others. Photo by: The Photography Studio, courtesy of Siletz Bay Music Festival

When the work premiered, Bergman called it “one of the freshest, most unvarnished and relevant new works we could share with our audience in times of so much division and hunger for hope and reconciliation.”

He went on: “The work explores the magical word ‘if’ and how true liberation grows from an understanding of the manifestation of self within body, mind, soul, and spirit, specifically toward a people but universally towards all. The term ‘blackness’ is redefined through story, monologue, characterization, poetry, and song, as it addresses current issues with the buried history of Black bravery and excellence.”

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Sekuler describes the piece as an amalgamation of styles, words, and music “to make it a total experience.” Singh plays piano, while Wallace is the poet-actor on stage, talking about the Black experience in America. “He uses the words of Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Malcolm X, Sekuler said. “There’s a hip-hop element and jazz section. The symphonic music is more classical…. It’s an incredibly powerful piece.” 

The February production was in the works before Bergman died Sept. 20 at age 78, with Wallace contracted to perform in February.

“I was going to work with Yaki to make it all happen,” Sekuler said. “After he got sick, we got involved in trying to get the festival put together. We didn’t have time to talk about this performance, and he said, ‘Oh, we have plenty of time.’ Then we didn’t, because he was gone. The details were not in place when he left this Earth, but he did know this was going to happen. I’m sure he is somewhere stirring the pot. I think he is making it happen.”

Although My Words Are My Sword is a one-day performance, it’s been a much bigger endeavor than the festival organization expected, Sekuler said. “It’s a really meaningful project on so many levels, not just because of Yaki, but because it’s really an important story to tell.”

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pup Gus.

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