Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium

Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium: concentrated wisdom

An Oregon composer's experience of the biennial University of Oregon music composition incubator

by CHRISTINA RUSNAK

Editor’s note: this is the second of our two-part coverage of the Oregon Bach Festival’s Composers Symposium. Read Gary Ferrington’s story here.

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium (OBFCS) led by renowned composer and University of Oregon professor Dr. Robert Kyr. Over the course of two and a half weeks, from June 25 to July 13, more than 100 composers like me, performers, and conductors – many wearing multiple hats – converged for a unique experience of collaborative performance and learning. Geared toward emerging composers, attendance represented a wide range across the age and experience spectrum. Many of us wrote new pieces specifically for the Symposium.

Christina Rusnak’s new composition was performed at the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

One of the most enticing aspects of the symposium for us composers was the opportunity to both attend concerts by and have your work performed by guest artists of the highest caliber, including musicians from the New Mexico Philharmonic, Juilliard School, Oregon Symphony and more, as well as the star performers at the University of Oregon. (See Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch report on this aspect of the symposium.) We were immersed in a diversity of pieces that included everything from vocal works and guest artist’s solo performances to chamber pieces, collaborations with Korean Instrumentalists, and improvisation.

We heard 53 premieres by participating composers in 22 concerts performed by a mix of participants, guest artists and Sound of Late, the Northwest-based ensemble in residence. There was so much to do! Like with any other conference one can’t do it all, though some people – very sleep deprived by the end— certainly tried!

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Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium: big tent

Biennial University of Oregon event offered performances, constructive creative feedback, and advice from veteran American composers

Story, photos and video by GARY FERRINGTON

When the 105 invited composers in last month’s 25th Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium asked the veteran composers in residence for advice about how to forge a career in music, over and over again one concept kept coming up: diversify. Be open to diverse cultures, search out new experiences and ideas through reading, travel, and collaboration (such as forming musical ensembles), explore other art forms like dance and theater.

“I created the symposium as a ‘big tent’ for an unbounded range of creators and performers of new music: we welcome participants from every part of the broad spectrum of the styles and ideas that constitute our new music culture today,” symposium founder and director Robert Kyr told ArtsWatch. “But that is not all. We are seeking to create a wealth of opportunities for the future of music, which from my perspective, must be rooted in the greatest diversity of creativity and co-creation possible.”

All 4 Sound (percussion duo) with Kathie Hsieh.

The University of Oregon symposium itself practiced what its mentors preached. The composer/performers who arrived in Eugene June 24 with musical instruments in tow and freshly composed scores in hand hailed from across the US and 10 other countries. Over the next three weeks at the UO School of Music and Dance, they became a cadre of individuals with diverse interests and cultural backgrounds, eager to share ideas, learn from one another, and form co-creative and collaborative relationships in music. They quickly found themselves engaged in a seemingly endless schedule of daily activities with on-going rehearsal sessions, numerous concerts, guest artist performances, small group mentoring sessions, master composer seminars, and late night brew and burgers at McMenamins East 19th Street Cafe.

Composers eagerly anticipated the opportunity to have their own vocal and instrumental music publicly performed. After hours of rehearsals and mentoring by guest artists, the pieces were presented in any number of events including the American Creators Ensemble afternoon concerts, Guest Artists Showcases, Vocal Fellow programs, Composers Film Festival with screenings of films scored by composers; some with live music, and the Wild Nights concert series that started at 10:00 pm! All together there were 22 concerts and live music events that involved 60 vocalists, instrumentalists and conductors performing 92 compositions — including 53 world premieres.

As a correspondent and advocate for new music, I was excited to attend my third OBF Composers Symposium. I knew right from day one, when participants were encouraged to explore collaborative and co-creative endeavors, that this wasn’t going to be a showcase for egos. The symposium proved to be a transformative experience as a diverse cadre of men and women ranging in age from late teens to early senior years, came together to create and perform new music here at end of the second decade of the 21st Century.

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‘The Passion of Yeshua’ preview: resurrecting the Jewish Jesus

Oregon Bach Festival presents the world premiere of American composer Richard Danielpour’s new oratorio, which puts the focus on the females in Jesus’s life

by CHRISTINA RUSNAK

Richard Danielpour first heard J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion at the impressionable age of 17. The experience helped to confirm for him that he was “put on this earth to write music.” Bach’s Passion planted the seed. As a young man, Danielpour asked himself who Jesus really was and why we are still talking about him after 2,000 years.

Danielpour began seriously thinking about writing his own Passion 25 years ago. He waited until the time was right to create The Passion of Yeshua, which premieres this Sunday afternoon at the Oregon Bach Festival, which commissioned it. In this major new American composition, Danielpour reaches back to Jesus’s time to give us a more personal Passion that resurrects elements obscured by Bach’s interpretation, including the prominence of Jewishness and women in Jesus’s life.

Composer Richard Danielpour works with the Oregon Bach Festival chorus in preparation for the premiere of his ‘Yeshua Passion.’

Danielpour began writing the music in July 2016 and finished the full score for his Passion, which is set up in two parts of seven scenes each, in July 2017. This month, in two presentations to over 90 composers and performers participating in the OBF Composers Symposium and in an interview with ArtsWatch, Danielpour discussed the creation and musical structure of The Passion of Yeshua.

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