rogue valley symphony

Vision 2020: Martin Majkut

Rogue Valley Symphony's energetic conductor: music education in the schools is the key to getting people into concert halls

Conductor Martin Majkut divides his time between the East and West Coasts. He’s in his third season as musical director for the Queens Symphony Orchestra in New York. Fortunately for Oregonians, his West Coast life is rooted in Southern Oregon, where he has spent nearly a decade as conductor for the Rogue Valley Symphony.


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


Born in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia), Majkut graduated from the State Conservatory and served as assistant conductor of the Slovak Philharmonic while earning his Ph.D. in conducting at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. He came to the United States as a Fulbright Scholar in 2003 and earned a DMA, his second doctorate, in 2008, at the University of Arizona.

He’s been with the Rogue Valley Symphony since 2010, during which time the symphony marked its 50th anniversary.

Martin Majkut conducts symphony orchestras on both coasts. For its size and location, he says, Southern Oregon has a surprisingly vibrant art scene. Photo by: Christopher Briscoe

I know you split your time between two symphonies on two coasts, but I’m wondering if you could briefly characterize the general state of artistic and cultural life in the Medford area. What’s going on there? What should the rest of Oregon know?

I jokingly maintain that Rogue Valley has “more arts than it deserves.” What I mean is that for its size and its location, the arts scene is surprisingly vibrant, with a number of organizations producing good quality work. Lots of it, however, is driven by the retirees, who come by and large from the Bay Area. They move to Rogue Valley for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and discover other local institutions, which they are happy to support, as arts have been part of their lifestyle in their previous life. The local arts boards consist mainly of people who were not born in the area. As much as we strive to enrich everyone’s life, deep down it is still a rural area and arts are an import.

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Sounds beyond Shakespeare

Southern Oregon offers surprisingly rich range of classical music attractions

by ALICE HARDESTY

It may come as a surprise to Portlandia that there’s something in Ashland besides Shakespeare. During my years in Portland, whenever I would say that I intended a visit to Ashland, my friends would always ask, “What plays are you going to see?” My usual response was, “I’m not going to the theater, I’m going to a concert.”

Having lived in Ashland for 16 years before moving to Portland, I’d seen plenty of plays, but my heart was firmly located in the musical scene. In fact, the little cities of Southern Oregon boast musical performances that could be considered big-city league. And there’s something good to hear and see all year, so one has alternatives to the “smoke season.”And now that I’ve moved back to my Ashland roots, I’m deeply embedded again.

Caballito Negro

The Oregon Center for the Arts (OCA), connected to Southern Oregon University, is an umbrella organization for several music presenters and arts organizations in the Rogue Valley, including the Tutunov Piano Series, the JPR One World Series, the Schneider Museum of Art, and the newly developed ShakespeareAmerica program. Other musical groups include Chamber Music Concerts, Caballito Negro (read the ArtsWatch profile by Matthew Andrews), and Left Edge Percussion, the latter two having performed in Portland. Here are some particulars about them.

Rogue Valley Symphony

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of maestro Martin Majkut‘s tenure as Music Director of the the Rogue Valley Symphony. The orchestra is composed of 70 professional musicians, most of whom live in Southern Oregon, but several commute from further locales. They present a series of six “masterworks” concerts each year plus holiday and family concerts, in Ashland, Medford, and Grants Pass venues. Dr. Majkut’s arrival gave an electric boost to an otherwise sleepy provincial orchestra, which now attracts major soloists, such as Peter Serkin and Jeffrey Biegel. The orchestra commissioned five new pieces for its 50th anniversary last year, including How Can You Own the Sky? a symphonic poem by Oregon composer Ethan Gans-Morse honoring the Native Americans of Southern Oregon. (See the ArtsWatch article by Gary Ferrington). Maestro Majkut has dubbed the 2019-2020 year “The Season of Women” with all female soloists. Further information and tickets: www.rvsymphony.org or 541-708-6400.

Rogue Valley Symphony. Photo: Christopher Briscoe.

Chamber Music Concerts

Full disclosure – Before moving to Portland I had served on the CMC board for many years, and since returning to Ashland this past summer I’m on the board again. Back in 1993, newly arrived in Ashland and having been spoiled by marvelous music in the Washington D.C. area, chamber music is where I found the world-class performances I longed for. Founded in 1984, CMC brings groups from all over the world to perform in SOU’s acoustically excellent recital hall. Artists have included Angela Hewitt, Jon Nakamatsu, Julianne Baird, the late Sanford Sylvan, and the Emerson, Pacifica, and Takacs Quartets, to name just a few. The twelve-concert season includes eight evening concerts and four matinees, all with different programs.

Minguet Quartet performs in Ashland April 26. Photo: Frank Rossbach.

Next year’s stellar line-up includes the celebrated vocal ensemble Tenebrae, as well as the Elias String Quartet, the Faure Piano Quartet, and Brooklyn Rider as CMC’s Exploration Concert. Information and tickets: www.chambermusicconcerts.org or 541-552-6154.

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Oregon Music 2018: looking outward

Socially engaged sounds, multimedia productions, and other trends in 2018 Oregon music

Last year’s music roundup first looked homeward. ArtsWatch’s 2017 music coverage focused, as we have from the outset, on our state’s creative culture: music conceived and composed in Oregon. We touched a lot of other bases, too of course, and homegrown music remained a touchstone our 2018 coverage and this recap.

But as with other Oregon artists this year, Oregon music increasingly gazed outward — and often askance — at our nation’s continuing descent into turmoil, division, lies, and political corruption, starting right at the top and oozing down. Therefore, so did much of our music coverage. So we’ll start with what ArtsWatch’s David Bates called…

“Socially Engaged” sounds

Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic and choir Resonance Ensemble devoted entire seasons to contemporary classical music that responds to today’s social issues.

Resonance Ensemble preview: questions of faith
Choral organization’s ‘Souls’ concert is part of a season-long musical exploration of timely social concerns
Brett Campbell, February 23

‘Bodies’ review: Pride is a verb
Resonance Ensemble’s Pride Week concert commemorates LGBTQIA community’s struggles and celebrates its creativity.
Matthew Andrews, August 14

Resonance Ensemble

Resonance Ensemble: amplifying ‘Hidden Voices’
Vocal ensemble’s collaborative concert features musical responses to experiences marked by racism and resistance.
Matthew Andrews, November 17

Fear No Music: music of migration and more
New music ensemble demonstrates dedication to diversity and development.
Matthew Andrews, December 10

New music ensemble Fear No Music

Other classical music organizations also presented issue-oriented new music.

Oregon Symphony reviews: immigrant songs
Fall concerts include a world premiere theatrical commission and 20th century works by immigrant American composers
Matthew Andrews, January 9

Lawrence Brownlee preview: a journey
In a Friends of Chamber Music recital, the celebrated tenor sings a Romantic classic and a new, timely composition about America’s most pressing crisis
Damien Geter, April 2

Shredding it at “Pass the Mic” camp.

Portland Meets Portland
The innovative “Pass the Mic” summer music camp pairing music pros and young refugees and immigrants will give a free concert Friday.
Friderike Heuer, July 14

David Ludwig: telling the earth’s story through music
Composer’s Chamber Music Northwest commission inspired by ancient Earth, threat of extinction from human-caused climate change.
Matthew Andrews, July 27

Gabriel Kahane’s new oratorio confronts America’s empathy deficit
Commissioned, performed and recorded this week by the Oregon Symphony, ’emergency shelter intake form’ humanizes homelessness.
Interview by Matthew Andrews, August 28

Multimedia

Besides addressing today’s social issues, another trend among some classical music organizations in 2018 was updating their presentations by augmenting music with other art forms such as theater, literature, visual arts, and more. At ArtsWatch, we try to provide constructive feedback on how these often experimental productions worked, so we can help risk-taking artists move forward into unexplored territories — without leaving the audience behind.

Fin de Cinema’s “Beauty and the Beast”: spirit of discovery
Latest mix of classic film and Portland contemporary music captures Cocteau creation’s mix of beauty and grit.
Douglas Detrick, January 23

Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Cappella PYP, Portland State choirs, and In Mulieribus perform Richard Einhorn’s ‘Voices of Light’ during a screening of Dreyer’s film Friday.

‘Voices of Light’ preview: trial by fire
Camerata PYP, In Mulieribus, Portland State University choirs perform Richard Einhorn’s popular oratorio ‘Voices of Light’ with Carl Dreyer’s 1928 film ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc.’
Brett Campbell, January 25

“Tesla” lab report
Harmonic Laboratory’s ambitious experimental multimedia performance produces mixed results.
Brett Campbell, February 6

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MusicWatch Weekly: new sounds from Oregon

This week’s Oregon music schedule boasts numerous new works by today’s composers from the Northwest, Midwest and beyond, mixed in with classics from across the ages and oceans

Big Horn Brass, a baker’s dozen of brass players and two percussionists, feature brassy new music by Cascadia Composers Greg Steinke, Jan Mittelstaedt, John Billota, Greg Bartholomew, and fellow Northwest composer Anthony DiLorenzo at their Saturday night concert at Beaverton’s St. Matthew Lutheran Church. Some other guys named Debussy, Bach and Puccini will provide filler.

New Oregon music by Eugene composer Paul Safar is also on the program when Eugene’s excellent Delgani String Quartet goes all homicidal Friday at Portland’s and Saturday at Springfield’s Wildish Theater. The program features music inspired by murder, with theatrical readings from literary works that inspired them interpolated by actor Rickie Birran of Man of Words Theatre Company. Janacek and Shostakovich will be represented too. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch preview.

Speaking of new music by Oregon composers, read Gary’s ArtsWatch preview of Oregon composer Ethan Gans-Morse’s new composition commissioned by Rogue Valley Symphony, which the orchestra performs this weekend in Medford and Grants Pass. Beethoven is the closing act.

Estelí Gomez sings new music by University of Oregon composers at  Eugene’s Beall Concert Hall. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

There’s even newer Oregon music for voice Sunday at the Oregon Composers Forum’s Sunday concert at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall. The superb soprano Esteli Gomez, one of the singers in Grammy winning Roomful of Teeth ensemble, returns to sing new music by UO composers.

Joe Kye performs at Portland State Friday.

That same night, Portland based, Korea-born songwriter-composer and looping violinist Joe Kye plays his engaging, often autobiographical songs at Portland State’s Lincoln Recital Hall.

Shades of Sufjan Stevens and his albums inspired by American states! Does a symphony called “Portland” and named after Oregon’s largest city qualify as Oregon music — if it wasn’t written by an Oregonian? Decide for yourself at the University of Portland’s free concert featuring Erich Stem’s orchestral work Tuesday night at Buckley Auditorium. His website bio says nothing about where Stem resides or was born, but Indiana seems a likely suspect. The piece is part of Stem’s project called America By: A Symphonic Tour, which includes a collection of commissioned works from across the country, “each work reflecting the unique qualities and history of a specific location.”

New American Sounds

One of the most frequently performed and commissioned composers of choral music, Minnesota’s Jake Runestad, seem poised to follow Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre as a choral music star, and he’s also written several operas and other works. On Saturday night at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Choral Arts Ensemble and Linn-Benton Community College Chamber Choir team up to present the Music of Jake Runestad, the first major opportunity for Portland to get a healthy sampling of his heartfelt songs and broad, audience-friendly musical range.

Bells toll in Chicago composer Augusta Read Thomas’s new, half-hour orchestral composition, Sonorous Earth (an evolution of her earlier Resounding Earth), which Eugene Symphony performs Thursday at the Hult Center to complete her artistic residency there. Each of its four-movements also uses techniques associated with the major composers who made percussion the defining sound of 20th century classical music: Stravinsky, Messiaen, Varese, Berio, Cage, Ligeti, Partch and Oregon’s own Lou Harrison.

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Rogue Valley Symphony preview: season of renewal

For its 50th anniversary season, southern Oregon orchestra commissions five new compositions, concluding this weekend with new work by Ethan Gans-Morse

by GARY FERRINGTON

Oregon arts outside Portland “don’t get,” as the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield might say, “no respect.” Or, at least the press coverage they should. Having grown up in Portland, it took me some time, actually until I moved to Eugene, to realize that the arts thrive elsewhere in the state and that we Oregonians have a rich cultural landscape to embrace and celebrate.

So it has been with little fanfare heard beyond the southern Oregon communities of Medford, Ashland, and Grants Pass, that the Rogue Valley Symphony orchestra has been enthusiastically celebrating its 50th anniversary. The nearly 70-member orchestra of professional musicians, formed in 1967 by Southern Oregon College (now University), conductor and violin professor Frederick Palmer, began its golden anniversary season in September under the musical direction of Martin Majkut. It has since performed four newly commissioned works (more than all of Oregon’s other orchestras this season combined) and concludes its season this week with its fifth, How Can You Own The Sky? by Southern Oregon composer Ethan Gans-Morse. The symphonic poem honoring native wisdom features poetry by Tiziana DellaRovere and narration, singing, and drumming by Brent Florendo, and the Dancing Spirit ensemble.

Rogue Valley Symphony’s 50th anniversary celebration culminates in this weekend’s concerts.

The orchestra wanted a new work that would “simultaneously celebrate the unique beauty and the people of Southern Oregon while also creating an opportunity for meaningful conversations to address urgent social questions in that community,” Gans-Morse told ArtsWatch. Social questions permeated Gans-Morse’s opera The Canticle of the Black Madonna, which premiered in September 2014 in Portland’s Newmark Theatre. (Read my ArtsWatch interview with Gans-Morse.) That opera’s social outreach efforts, which addressed the challenges of reintegrating and addressing the emotional wounds of veterans with PTSD, inspired recently retired Rogue Valley Symphony executive director Jane Kenworthy and music director Martin Majkut to approach Gans-Morse and his wife and collaborator Tiziana DellaRovere, to write a proposal for a symphonic work.

He and DellaRovere, whose non-profit Anima Mundi Productions’  mission is to “heal the soul of the world through the arts,” proposed an 8-12 minute piece about Native American history of the region, to celebrate the Valley while “honoring a population that is all too often invisible in our society.” Gans-Morse recalls. The orchestra counter-proposed that the work be 30-minutes long and stand alone as the opening portion of the April concerts, with Beethoven’s Symphony #9 after intermission.

Gans-Morse notes that there is some “precedent nationally for large symphonic works on Native American themes by both Native and non-Native composers, including Michael Daugherty’s Trail of Tears, Rob Kapilow’s Summer Sun, Winter Moon, and James DeMars’ Two World Concerto.” In naming his new piece How Can You Own The Sky? A Symphonic Poem Honoring Native Wisdom, the creative team wanted to create an opportunity for the southern Oregon community to honor the original inhabitants of the region, to seek them out and champion their presence in Oregon, and through music to facilitate “concrete actions to remedy what has been quite frankly a murderous history, which culminated with Oregon’s own Trail of Tears, essentially a forced death march to reservations hundreds of miles away.”

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