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Building and rebuilding

An interview with British-American composer Oscar Bettison, commissioned and premiered on this weekend's Oregon Symphony season-opening concerts

This weekend, the Oregon Symphony Orchestra officially opens its season with an old Mozart concerto, an old Brahms symphony, a new series of Friday concerts in Salem, a two-hour party on Main Street–and a brand new commission from a living U.S. composer. Parties and Salem shows and ancient Austrians are nice and all, but it’s the living composers that get us new music nuts all excited, so we invited the composer in question–Peabody Institute chair of composition Oscar Bettison–to join us at a noisy coffee shop around the corner from the Schnitz for a latte and a chat about his music, building and rebuilding, the nature of nature, and the thing he hates the most.

Bettison’s answers have been condensed and edited for clarity and flow.

From six to nine to five

I started playing violin when I was six. My dad played violin, and his dad played violin. It was a family violin. My dad wanted to start learning again, so he got lessons, and I’m a six-year-old kid so I wanted to do whatever my dad did, and I started playing the violin. So music is something that I’ve always wanted to do. I have so many friends who have really interesting career trajectories, and mine is like, “nope.” God knows what would have happened if I hadn’t been any good at it! What would I have ended up doing? Maybe law or something.

I like to work slowly and steadily. I don’t like working in a rush, I don’t like looming deadlines, I need to work ahead. Because I need to make mistakes, and I need to go down the wrong track–and know that it’s the wrong track. But I have to go down it to know that.

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MusicWatch Weekly: jazzing Portland

Jazz reigns this week in Portland, but the state has plenty of other recommendable musical choices, from classical to contemporary

Jazz is all around Portland for the next couple weeks as PDX Jazz Festival’s 15th annual celebration commences Thursday. Angela Allen has ArtsWatch’s preview, and here’s a few recommendations among this week’s shows. But don’t stop there. With so many performances by excellent musicians, local and national, scattered around the city, many, many other fine choices abound. And don’t neglect the local artists. Even though we say we can see them anytime, let’s face it: that means we often take them for granted. Now, when jazz is front and center, use the festival as a chance to not only see legends you’ve heard on airwaves and recordings, but also to check out the outstanding jazz artists among us. I’ve often found their performances superior to, and more affordable than, much bigger names.

Edna Vazquez performs with Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble Thursday through Saturday.

For example, Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s show with Edna Vazquez Thursday at Portland’s Old Church, Friday at Mt. Hood Community College and Saturday at Hood River’s Columbia Center for the Arts continues the innovative series that pairs a dozen local jazz musicians with local singer-songwriters, all performing new, made-in-Portland arrangements of their music for jazz orchestra.

Among the big names, Luciana Souza’s Saturday show at Revolution Hall (doubled billed with the Bad Plus drummer Dave King’s other trio) mingles words by famous poets (Elizabeth Bishop, Leonard Cohen, Octavio Paz, Gary Snyder and more) with original music by a sublime singer who’s worked with classical artists like Osvaldo Golijov as well as jazz stars like Herbie Hancock. Violinist Regina Carter’s band honors Ella Fitzgerald in a double bill Sunday with Seattle guitar god Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan, whose new CD was one of my last year’s favorites. That duo also plays The Shedd in Eugene on Saturday.

For more forward-facing jazz sounds, check ensembles featuring composer-performers bassist Ben Allison, young pianist Tigran Hamasyan, and drummer Scott Amendola. Jazz guitar fans have a wide range of shows this week: Portland avant jazz guitarist Mike Gamble, local Brazilian Guitar Duo, and renowned Julian Lage and his trio, with a glimmering new album that really displays his varied gifts.

Improvisation fans can also check older, non-jazz styles at Portland Baroque Orchestra’s weekend concerts at First Baptist Church and Reed College. One of Italy’s finest Baroque fiddlers, Riccardo Minasi, leads Portland’s own period-instrument ensemble in rarely performed concertos by Baldassarre Galuppi, Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello, and, of course, Vivaldi.

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