scott freck

Eugene Symphony music director search: Next star?

Orchestra's successful track record of finding exciting young conductors has made it a national model

On Thursday, the Eugene Symphony auditions its final candidate for music director — in front of an audience of thousands at its Hult Center performance. Francesco Lecce-Chong will be the third finalist, chosen from dozens of worthy applicants, to lead the orchestra this season.

Francesco Lecce-Chong, rehearsing with Eugene Symphony musicians, leads the orchestra Thursday. Photo: Amanda L. Smith.

Choosing a new Eugene Symphony music director is big news in Oregon, of course, but it’s also national news. That’s because the orchestra in a middling sized town far from cultural centers has launched the careers of three important American conductors:

• Marin Alsop, the first woman to lead a major American orchestra, in Baltimore, who regularly conducts the world’s greatest orchestras.

• Miguel Harth-Bedoya, who now leads the Fort Worth Symphony and his own Latin American classical music ensemble and guest conducts major orchestras around the world.

• Giancarlo Guerrero, who’s winning an international reputation for showcasing new music with his Nashville Symphony, recently helping the orchestra collect a trove of Grammies for some of the new abundant new American music the symphony has performed and recorded during his tenure. (It’s too early to tell where Guerrero’s successor, Danail Rachev, whose eight-year term ends this spring, will go next.)

Former ESO music director Giancarlo Guerrero has energized the Nashville Symphony with new American music. Photo: Amanda L. Smith.

And the intensive, exhaustive process used to choose them all, largely created by local lawyer and arts supporter Roger Saydack, has become a national model — “he literally wrote the book” on picking a music director, says ESO executive director Scott Freck, noting that Saydack wrote the League of American Orchestras’ manual on orchestra MD searches. So who becomes the next ESO artistic leader matters — not just here, but nationally.

“There’s no more exciting time in the life of an orchestra than when we go through this process,” Freck says. “Every time we start from scratch. It’s a time of introspection and renewal.” Every seven or so years (which is about as long most rising stars would want to stay with a mid-sized orchestra), the search for its next director forces ESO to consider what kind of orchestra it wants to be, what music it wants to play, what role it wants to play in its community. Here’s how Eugene Symphony makes the magic happen — and what to expect from the three finalists if one of them is chosen when the process concludes this spring.

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“Ode To The Future”: Nurturing young Oregon composers

Eugene Symphony's November 17 concert features the world premiere of collaborative composition produced in innovative educational program

By GARY FERRINGTON

When the  Eugene Symphony began planning its 50th anniversary, the organization wanted to celebrate the past while looking to its future. Executive Director Scott Freck decided to invest in the future of Oregon music with an inventive, multifaceted  new program that combines mentoring and making new music.

That effort culminates this Thursday when the orchestra premieres Ode to The Future. The nine-minute theme and variation piece, written by five young composers in collaboration with Dr. Robert Kyr, head of the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance’s Composition and Music Theory and his graduate students this past summer, concludes the Oregon Young Composers project.

Young composers Wesley Coleman, Marissa Lane-Massee, Joseph Miletta with Dr. Robert Kyr. Photo: Eugene Symphony.

Young composers Wesley Coleman, Marissa Lane-Massee, Joseph Miletta with Dr. Robert Kyr. Photo: Eugene Symphony.

The Ode to The Future will first be performed during the symphony’s November 15th iCompose Youth Concert in which some 3,000 elementary school students will also hear pieces by other composers, such as Mozart and Bizet, who began writing music in their youth. Also planned is an activity that will introduce the children to the building blocks of composing by encouraging them to participate in a creative music-making task at the concert.

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Eugene Symphony at 50: Looking back, moving forward

Orchestra celebrates its golden anniversary with five commissions of new works.

The Eugene Symphony has long enjoyed a reputation as Oregon’s most forward-looking orchestra. Particularly after visionary music director Marin Alsop ascended the podium in 1989, the ESO’s programming of contemporary, and especially American, music put it — and Alsop — on the national map. While the usual 19th century classics have always dominated the repertoire, Alsop’s successors Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Giancarlo Guerrero continued to feature more 20th– and 21st century music than typical American orchestras.

The progressive pace seemed to flag in the first few years of Danail Rachev’s regime, but recently the new sounds have begun to flow again. Half a century after its inception with a rehearsal in Caroline Boekelheide’s living room, it seems to be entering a new era — or re-entering an earlier one, the one that embraced contemporary as well as classic sounds. Beginning this Thursday with a new work commissioned from young West Coast composer Mason Bates who, more than any other American writing for orchestra, embraces a 21st century aesthetic that speaks to listeners beyond the cozy classical club, Rachev is featuring music by five living composers in the ESO’s golden anniversary season, including the world premieres of three original works written for the orchestra. Not that there’s a whole lot of competition in an orchestral landscape largely bereft of originality, but he’s restored ESO to its place as the most visionary of Oregon orchestras.

Eugene Symphony executive director Scott Freck.

Eugene Symphony executive director Scott Freck.

“Too often, we have this sense that classical music is this dusty canon, this revered library,” says ESO executive director Scott Freck, who took over in June 2012. “People forget that all music was new once. New music can be as valuable as older music because there’s a contemporary human relevance to it. And there’s power in putting new works up against old works and seeing what we learn about ourselves and the music. Even our existing audience will listen to the classics with fresh ears.”

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