Vision 2020: Raúl Gómez

Engaging the big issues: In a troubled world, the Metropolitan Youth Symphony leader says, schools need to teach the empathy of the arts

“One of my priorities has always been to promote and empower young musicians, to give voice to living composers,” Raúl Gómez-Rojas told ArtsWatch in 2018. Now in his fourth season as music director of Portland’s Metropolitan Youth Symphony, Gómez has firmly placed MYS in the forefront of classical music’s development by connecting tomorrow’s classical musicians with today’s music — including music composed by MYS members themselves. Last year, MYS partnered with Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic’s Young Composers Project in a commissioning program, The Authentic Voice, which gives local, student composers an opportunity to write for and hear their work publicly performed by full symphony orchestra, while giving ensemble musicians a chance to play never performed music by their peers. This year, the program includes three symphonic commissions, each receiving a world premiere at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, eight YCP student arrangements of film scores for full orchestra, and other opportunities for readings and performances of works by younger composers with other MYS ensembles.


At MYS, the Costa Rican native  works with conductors, coaches, staff, families and more than 500 students in 15 orchestra, band and jazz ensembles. Last year, the League of American Orchestra’s 2018 Bruno Walter National Conductor Preview chose Gomez as one of six conductors honored for their “experience, talent, leadership, and commitment to a career in service to American orchestras.”

Raúl Gómez conducting the Metropolitan Youth Symphony. Photo: R. Kobell



There has often been a social and cultural distance between an institution of higher education and the city that surrounds it. This detachment between town and gown dates back to the European Middle Ages when academic and non-academic worlds often eyed each other with some sense of conflict and mutual suspicion.

Fortunately, there is far less distance these days as more academic centers and local communities find unique opportunities to become mutually engaged in social and economic projects, research, and artistic efforts. Interplay, a collaborative project of the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance Department and the Eugene Ballet Company, provides evidence of this in a March 8-10 production.

Shannon Mockli and Suzanne Haag collaborated on "Between Your Eyes and You" Photo courtesy of UO School of Music and Dance

Shannon Mockli and Suzanne Haag collaborated on “Between Your Eyes and You” Photo courtesy of UO School of Music and Dance.

The idea behind Interplay, the way in which two or more things have an effect on each other, is to explore ways in which four choreographers from the university and three from the Eugene Ballet, along with dancers from both organizations, can become creatively engaged with one another and share the results with audiences in the intimate environment of the Soreng Theater at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts.


Jimmy Mak’s: Ace of clubs prepares to play a new hand

Friday's Mission Theater concert helps revive the brand of one of Portland's most influential nightspots, due to re-open in the fall.

For many years, J.D. Stubenberg and Lisa Boyle were mainstays of the great Portland music club Jimmy Mak’s, in their own ways as vital to the place as the hotspot’s founder/owner Jimmy Makarounis and the musicians who lit up the stage there. Since the club’s closing at the end of 2017, followed hard upon by the death of Makarounis from laryngeal cancer, they’ve been involved in plans to revive and sustain the Jimmy Mak’s legacy.

So now they’re getting the brand back together.

Tonight’s concert at the Mission Theater — a high-energy double serving of rock-and-soul featuring the Yachtsmen and the Paul Creighton Project, with the Soul Vax horns adding some special sauce all around — comes to you under the Jimmy Mak’s Presents banner, an imprimatur of the discerning yet populist aesthetic that Makarounis and Stubenberg championed over the past couple of decades. The show is a benefit for the Jimmy Mak Musical Inspiration Scholarship at Portland State University, a program launched in 2017.

Portland pop-rock band the Yachtsmen will play at the Mission Theater on Friday to benefit the Jimmy Mak Musical Inspiration Scholarship.

The show also serves as a reminder that the much-loved, much-missed club likely isn’t gone for good. In fact, the investor group Friends of Jimmy Mak’s plans to launch a new location this fall.

“We’ll hopefully start swinging hammers by the end of May, maybe June,” Stubenberg said last week. “So we’re hoping to open in September or October, but we won’t really know until we get into construction.”


Summer concerts: from opera to outlaw country

Performances in Yamhill County offer something for all musical tastes

Now that the sound and fury of the Fourth of July is behind us, let’s talk live music. There’s an abundance of it in Yamhill County this summer, literally anything you yearn for: pop, blues, 70s dance rock, Latin jazz, gypsy jazz, Celtic, soul, Scottish, blues, bluegrass, folk, retro, Louisiana zydeco from the Pacific Northwest … see what I’m saying? If you live here, you don’t need to head to Portland for outdoor summer concerts, and if you live in Portland, you might check out this list to ensure that your trip to wine country aligns with great music.

Before we get to lawn-chair summer fare, let’s zero in on opera. McMinnville’s music scene this month has an 800-pound gorilla, the Aquilon Music Festival, an ambitious project organized by Anton Belov. Linfield College, where Belov has taught 11 years, serves as the center ring in an event that features two fully staged operas and a multitude of lectures, recitals, and concerts, including some at area wineries.

Portland Opera’s Opera a la Cart will serve up operatic specials du jour at Ponzi Vineyards and Argyle Winery this summer. Photo: Jonathan Ley.

Belov has assembled an impressive team of opera pros from around the United States., and many names will be familiar to aficionados: Daniel Helfgot, Byron Schenkman, Barbara Day Turner and Richard Zeller.

But many may not be — the more than 30 young artists Belov invited who are poised at the dawn of their musical careers. Some are local, while others are from beyond Oregon and have already appeared on the boards in the U.S., Europe and South America.


“Natural History” world premiere at Crater Lake dazzles all the senses

Composer Michael Gordon's piece bows amid the stunning natural beauty and history that inspired it.

For a first visit to Crater Lake National Park, things couldn’t have turned out much better. For years I had been urging my family to visit this hallowed Oregon landmark, and finally my wife, my daughter, and I had opted for a Southern Oregon getaway that would include a visit to it. Little did we know we would also be treated to a musical performance that combined natural beauty and cultural sophistication in a particularly Oregonian fashion.

While researching our planned trip, I noticed a warning that Crater Lake’s West Rim Drive would be closed for part of Friday, July 29, the day we had intended to drive up. For a moment, I was annoyed, until I read the reason for the closure: the world premiere of New York-based composer Michael Gordon’s “Natural History,” to be performed at the place that inspired it for an invite-only audience. I’m no classical music fanatic, but this seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Pulling the sort of strings one can pull when one writes for a non-profit arts journalism website (there are perks!), I arranged to have our names added to the guest list.

The Britt Orchestra at Crater Lake (Jim Teece)

The Britt Orchestra at Crater Lake (Jim Teece)

Driving from Ashland, we arrived in the nick of time, about five minutes before the scheduled start of the performance and with two dogs in tow. Near the edge of the crater’s rim, at The Watchman Overlook, several dozen folding chairs arranged in a semicircle supported a rapt crowd. In the center of them sat four members of the Klamath Tribes, members of the Britt Orchestra, and a 50-member choir. Following introductions and a benediction by the Klamath Tribal Elders, music director Teddy Abrams led the performers in a sublime realization of Gordon’s creation.


Pickathon Prep Delayed to Save Birds

On Audubon Society advice, fest volunteers rearrange their trailblazing schedule.

Pickathon Volunteers

After brush-clearing was officially postponed on Saturday, a smaller work crew stuck around Pendarvis Farm on Sunday to bookkeep and paint.

“Oh my god, the fiddles, oh, YES, the orchestration!” Sherry Pendarvis interjects mid-sentence as the elaborate intro to James Brown’s “Man’s World” swells in the kitchen behind her. Kicked back with a Sunday afternoon beer and cigarette as farm dog Freckles curls up nearby, the longtime proprietress of Pendarvis Farm has been explaining why volunteers for summertime roots-rock fest Pickathon have put their spring campsite cleanup efforts on hold.

On Saturday morning, in response to an open call, almost a hundred volunteers arrived bright and early at the Happy Valley locale with work clothes and gardening tools. They fanned out over the 80-acre Pendarvis property, removing debris from would-be campsites and untangling brambles from some of the iconic statuary (a giant piano, a massive black stallion) that Sherry, a parade float maker and stage dresser, has dragged home from her day job over the years. But at some point during their blackberry-hacking and fallen-branch stacking, the crew started to worry for the forest’s avian residents.

“We were listening to the birds,” says Sherry in the least casual sense of the phrase. Worried that the group’s work might be disrupting her farm’s already-precarious fledglings, she made an investigative phone call to the Audubon Society.

Sherry Pendarvis, whose farm hosts Pickathon, relaxes after putting the spring "work party" on a bird-preserving pause.

Sherry Pendarvis, whose farm hosts Pickathon, relaxes after putting the spring work party on a bird-preserving pause.

When Audubon confirmed her hunch, she quickly rearranged the farm’s priorities: They’d postpone the rest of their campsite clearing until three weeks before the fest, and from now on, forest winnowing will take place in the late fall. “The impact on the animals will be less,” Sherry explains. “The birds will have fledged, the bunnies will know how to get home….Quail love a brush pile; pileated woodpeckers need snags; we don’t want to take these things away from them.”

Behind her, a small remnant work crew takes a hula-hooping break, then regroups to paint a nearby retaining wall. Sherry gets back at it, too, discussing lighting in the Galaxy Barn. (After all, putting the woods on Do Not Disturb is no excuse to waste daylight.)

Is it typical for rock festival planners to be this conscientious about their scenic settings? It would seem not. Sasquatch Festival, a regional contemporary of Pickathon, boasts that its beautiful basalt cliffs over the Columbia Gorge are a natural wonder, but hasn’t shown much evidence of environmental concern for the land, admitting thousands more in 2012 than the year before and visibly failing to keep pace with cleanup. In the crowded campsites, mountains of loose trash formed around overstuffed receptacles and dust devils whirled the debris high into the sky. We’ll soon see whether 2013—rumored to be even more populous—is a repeat performance.

Coachella in California is similar in age and scope to Sasquatch, and though it’s become an easy mark for ridicule in other respects (Bullet Magazine recently panned its spring-break-style party culture while Jimmy Kimmel made sport of concertgoers’ musical illiteracy), to its credit it has begun baby-steps of environmental stewardship, rewarding car-poolers and implementing first a plastic-water-bottle exchange, and eventually fest-issued refillable cups to reduce waste.

Elder eco-champ Pickathon has not only maintained land use ethics but steadily expanded them, partnering year-round with Clackamas Soil & Water Conservation and Friends of Trees, and hosting SOLV site visits to assess impact.  Organizers have also added a multitude of eco-upgrades: shuttle transport from Portland, solar showers, re-usable plates and cups to make the fest “plastic free”—and now, a brush-clearing schedule that syncs to the needs of the native birds.

Admittedly, Pickathon is a much smaller-capacity fest than juggernauts like Sasquatch—but that’s not by accident, either. Currently admitting around 5,000 people (less than a fifth of Coachella and Sasquatch), Pickathon recently polled its regulars asking if they’d rather raise capacity or price. “Around 90% voted ‘price,'” declares Operations Manager Ronnie Beoicourt. “So we’re keeping it small.”

After determining that it doesn’t blend into the trees anyway, volunteers repaint a green retaining wall brick-red.

Volunteers enjoy a hula-hooping break.

Volunteers enjoy a hula-hooping break.

Alex Fitch makes a snack. His band, Typhoon, is one of a select few (including Decemberists) that have recorded an album at Pendarvis Farm.

Pieter Hilton makes a snack. His band, Typhoon, is one of a hand-picked few (including Decemberists) that have recorded an album at Pendarvis Farm. He gives back by regularly helping with farm upkeep.



Britanie Kessler, who attended her first Pickathon last year, turned out for the work party, helping with everything from manual labor to sorting receipts.


Pickathon Bookkeeping

Ronnie Beoicourt organizes receipts Pickathon-style: beside a bonfire, on a rusty pegboard he metalcrafted himself.

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