brian mcwhorter

Coping with catastrophe

Eugene conductor, composer and music professor Brian McWhorter on how the pandemic is affecting musicians — and how they might respond

By TOM MANOFF

Musicians who have worked with Eugene conductor/ composer Brian McWhorter (and I’m one, though briefly) will attest not only to his high level of musicianship, but also to his creative and theatrical energies, which inspire colleagues and audiences. McWhorter is music director for Orchestra Next and Eugene Ballet, and in 2006 joined the faculty of the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance. 

He’s just started a new podcast that features some of the Orchestra Next musicians in performance and in dialogue with Eugene community members.

Brian McWhorter. Photo by Glen Waddell.
Brian McWhorter. Photo by Glen Waddell.

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Suzanne Haag plays with fire

"The Firebird" tests the former Eugene Ballet dancer's transition from performer to choreographer

By GARY FERRINGTON

On a recent flight home to Eugene, former Eugene Ballet dancer Suzanne Haag struck up a casual conversation with the man seated next to her. He asked her the questions non-dancers usually ask: What are pointe shoes made of? What’s a typical workday like? Then he asked her what it was like to retire after dancing with the company for 15 seasons, and whether she had any regrets. It wasn’t the first time she has fielded that question, Haag told ArtsWatch: “I keep getting asked ‘How do you feel, you know, now that you are done?’”

In retrospect, she said, there are things she might have done differently: working out and practicing more on her days off, asking for additional feedback and guidance on how to improve, seeking different roles.  But, she concluded, “… that’s not regret, just my older, more experienced self assessing my work.”

As the plane prepared to land, Haag acknowledged to her seatmate that while her life in dance was indeed about to change, it wasn’t about to end. Reflecting on her career made her realize that she had been preparing for this transition since she was a young dancer.

Suzanne Haag (left) coaches Reed Souther and Yuki Beppu in "Surrounding Third." Photo by Antonio Anacan
Suzanne Haag (left) coaches Reed Souther and Yuki Beppu in “The Surrounding Third.” Photo by Antonio Anacan.

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“Gr*mmy Show”: spoofing the stars

Saturday’s University of Oregon variety show provides an evening of comedy, theater, and music.

A few years ago, jazz pianist and University of Oregon music professor Toby Koenigsberg approached trumpeter and fellow faculty member Brian McWhorter to help him create a mixed genre concert series he was trying to put together. McWhorter suggested a show in which Grammy-nominated songs were performed right before “Music’s Biggest Night.” But by the time the project was ready to go in 2014, McWhorter found that he could no longer play trumpet due to a performance injury.

Koenigsberg and McWhorter host the Gr*mmy Show Saturday.

That didn’t stop them. With Koenigsberg’s encouragement, McWhorter, who is recognized on and off campus for his wit, sense of humor, and more than a bit of showmanship, realized he could emcee instead of playing. And that decision turned the project into “a kind of variety show, with comedy, theater, and music all included,” Koenigsberg recalls. The UO School of Music and Dance’s satirical production of the “Gr*mmy Show,” a zany, fun-filled evening with McWhorter as MC and Koenigsberg as musical director, was finally ready for primetime. (They changed its original name from “Grammy Show” after The Recording Academy sent the team a cease and desist letter.)

Wrong song Jack. Photo: Gary Ferrington

The Gr*mmy Show has evolved into a much-anticipated evening of variety acts. Show-stopping edutainment sketches have always been included, such as a humorous analysis of the seemingly complex voting process for Grammy award winners, and exploring the “fun side” of Schenkerian analysis — a music theory subject as exciting as burnt toast. Academicians always tend to get a good ribbing on this night as when music theorist Jack Boss “mistakenly” began to pontificate about the musical structure… of what he would quickly learn from emcee McWhorter was the wrong song.

Stage band performs nominated songs. Photo: Gary Ferrington

Balancing out the humorous academic side of the evening is the performance of many musical selections nominated for the Grammys, including not only Song of the Year, but also pieces from other categories such as New Age, Pop, Jazz, Rap, Reggae, World Music and the Best Classical Contemporary Composition and Best Musical Theater album.

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Eugene Ballet preview: dance of the mountain king

Company's new full-length 'Peer Gynt' ballet transforms drama into dance

By GARY FERRINGTON

When Eugene Ballet  artistic director Toni Pimble decided to stage Peer Gynt, she faced a daunting challenge: transforming poetry into dance. The company had already proven it could dream big when it comes to creating major new works for the professional stage. Last season’s The Snow Queen featured an original score by Portland composer Kenji Bunch. But now, Pimble had to find a way to tell Henrik Ibsen’s classic verse story of a young Norwegian farm lad and prodigal son whose careless and reckless life harms those who love him and ultimately himself — all without words.

Eugene Ballet premieres new full-length ‘Peer Gynt’ ballet. Photo: Eugene Ballet Company.

Over the last two years, Pimble created new choreography and even costumes herself. Her company also crafted original projected visual art and collaborated with its musical partner OrchestraNext  to fashion a live score, set to the famous music of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. On April 14-15, the company closes its season at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts with its new full-length original ballet. “It is an emotional work of love, intrigue, loss, despair and redemption,” Pimble observes.

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