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Music Today Festival Preview: New sounds by Oregon’s next generation

University of Oregon festival celebrates contemporary classical music January 19-31.


Since 1993, the University of Oregon’s biennial Music Today Festival has nurtured and presented new music by emerging Oregon composers. Dr. Robert Kyr, Phillip H. Knight Professor of Music (composition), estimates that more than 100 students will participate in this year’s festival, coordinated by the Oregon Composers Forum (OCF), a group of upper division and graduate student composers committed to the creation and performance of new music. ArtsWatch interviewed by email seven of the 21 composers involved with the six student-organized ensembles in this year’s festival. All performances, including the world premieres of 40 new pieces, take place at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance except where otherwise indicated.


Visiting artist Esteli Gomez, soprano, will perform new compositions in Eugene and Portland. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Esteli Gomez, Eugene: January 19, at 8 pm, Beall Concert Hall. Portland: January 24, at 8pm, Zoomtopia Studio 2, 819 S.E, Belmont. $10 general admission, $8 students and seniors

One of the nation’s rapidly rising sopranos, Esteli Gomez, opens the Festival with the performance of new works composed for her visit by OCF participants. A member of New York’s 2014 Grammy Award winning vocal octet Roomful Of Teeth, Gomez is this year’s year’s Vanguard Series artist-in-residence. Her fourth residency in Eugene includes a week of pre-festival one-on-one and small group discussion sessions with composers about each piece she will perform — highly valued by young composers given the unique opportunity to be personally mentored by a professional artist of Gomez’s stature.

The evocative springtime images in Robert Bridges’ poem “Asian Birds” inspired Rebecca Larkin’s The Voice of Spring for soprano and chamber ensemble of piccolo, clarinet, cello, and double bass. “Using a form that loosely follows an ABA pattern, the piece begins in a folk-like style and establishes joviality before giving way to an introspective middle and transitioning back to the original theme.”

Ramsey Sadaka began his Four Songs on Poems by Emily Brontë by asking Kyr about Gomez’s vocal capability so that he could compose in a way that highlighted both her voice and Brontë‘s poetic words. “He told me that she could do anything, which is, of course, a composer’s greatest wish.” Sadaka recalls. He found a video of her singing English Renaissance composer John Dowland’s “In Darkness Let me Dwell.” The purity and sweetness of her voice became essential to his song cycle for soprano, flute (doubling alto flute), violin, viola, and cello.

Sadaka admired the poems of Emily Brontë, whose six-line “Cold, clear, and blue” paints a scene by a lake at sunrise. “Though her poetry conveys private, inner worlds, they simultaneously express broad, vivid landscapes,” he says. “These were the qualities I tried to bring out in my setting of her poetry.”

Brontë‘s landscape theme helped Sadaka determine what other poems he’d use. “’Was it with the fields of green’” uses plant imagery as the narrator reminiscences about an absent lover,” he explains. ”’How golden bright from earth to heaven’ exalts the final rays of light as the sun sets; and ‘Tell me, tell me, smiling child’ is a dialogue between two people in which one asks what the past, present, and future are while the other compares them to various images. These poems thus show the progression of one day with a meditation at the end.”

Songs composed for Gomez by John Goforth, Justin Ralls, Alexander Bean, Dan S. Daly, David Sackman and Matthew B. Zavortink will also be premiered during her Eugene and Portland concerts.