Tiziana DellaRovere

MusicWatch Monthly: Labors of love

Opera on the lawn, cyborg music, and more clamouring

Today we’d like to shine light on some of the rose gardens Oregon musicians have been tending lately, from an outdoor opera in Newberg to a sci-fi surf bunker in McMinnville. But before we get to those labors of love, the roses need fertilizer–so we’d like to turn the mic over to fearless FearNoMusic Artistic Director and violist-composer-father Kenji Bunch, who has something to say on behalf of the City of Roses.

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A Healing Journey Through Song

Baritone Christòpheren Nomura and Ashland’s Heart of Humanity series

By ALICE HARDESTY

At the end of a recent concert at Southern Oregon University, some of the audience left in tears. Certainly, all were deeply moved by baritone Christòpheren Nomura’s voluptuous rendering of a program spanning the centuries from early Romantic to the present moment. The January 12 concert, “With Malice Toward None, With Charity For All,” was the second in the three-concert Heart of Humanity series presented by Anima Mundi Productions, a non-profit arts organization in Southern Oregon.

Baritone Christòpheren Nomura with accompanist Daniel Lockert at Hearts of Humanity. Photo by Chava Florendo, courtesy of Anima Mundi.
Baritone Christòpheren Nomura with accompanist Daniel Lockert at Heart of Humanity’s January concert in Ashland. Photo by Chava Florendo, courtesy of Anima Mundi.

The organization’s mission is to “create, promote, and produce new musical works that harness the power of the arts to stir the soul, foster community, and address urgent social and environmental problems.” Co-founders composer Ethan Gans-Morse and poet Tiziana DellaRovere believe that the arts provide a vehicle for healing, and that when a person’s soul is healed and their heart is touched, a piece of the entire world is healed because we are all connected. 

Oregon ArtsWatch contributor Gary Ferrington has written about the first concert in this series, Peace Through Music, as well as the composer-librettist team’s two operas (see Ferrington’s “Finding Hope Through Music” and “Composer Ethan Gans-Morse: Music as Social Voice.”) 

Toward intimacy on the concert stage

This concert series represents a shift away from large performances like opera to the concert stage, which the producers have designed to be more intimate and interactive than the usual concert setting. Mr. Nomura accomplished their intent skillfully with humor and charm, chatting about the music between numbers and leaving the audience lights part-way up so that he could see faces. He talked about several of the pieces and told relevant stories, some of them self-deprecating anecdotes from his own life. At the end of the concert there was a discussion period, for which most of the audience stayed.

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MusicWatch Weekly: centennial celebration

Symphonic tributes to composer/conductor/crossover king Leonard Bernstein and other American sounds highlight this week's Oregon music scene

Has any musician ever had a year like Leonard Bernstein did between November 1943 and December 1944? The 25-year-old wunderkind won national fame for fill-in conducting the New York Philharmonic on short notice in a nationally broadcast concert from Carnegie Hall, conducted the premiere of his first symphony and the recording of his scintillating first ballet, Fancy Free (which the New York City Ballet premiered that year and which Eugene Symphony performs in November), wrote a hit for Billie Holiday, and saw his first musical open on Broadway. Whew!

That debut musical, On the Town, is best known for “New York, New York, a hell of a town,” but the rest of the score sparkles just as brightly. On Thursday at Eugene’s Hult Center, its dance episodes open Eugene Symphony’s season-long celebration of Bernstein’s centenary, which orchestras and ensembles throughout Oregon and the world are also honoring this year.

Leonard Bernstein

The rest of the program is equally compelling. Shostakovich’s magnificent fifth symphony was a Bernstein fave he did much to popularize in the West, and Lenny recorded Ernest Bloch’s popular cello concerto Schelomo (King Solomon) twice. The Swiss-born composer wrote his “Hebraic rhapsody” in 1916, just before he moved to the US (where it premiered), long before he settled in Agate Beach in 1941. (He died in Portland in 1959.) Soloist Julie Albers stars.

The Vancouver Symphony’s opening concerts Saturday and Sunday at Skyview Concert Hall also laud Lenny with excerpts from his great stage scores Candide and West Side Story. Tchaikovsky Competition gold medalist Mayuko Kamio stars in another American masterwork, Samuel Barber’s vibrant Violin Concerto. The show opens with a low-blowing new piece the orchestra commendably commissioned from a local composer: one of its bassoonists, Nicole Buetti.

Inon Barnatan performs with the Oregon Symphony

This weekend’s Oregon Symphony concerts at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall feature the world premiere of 27-year-old Katherine Balch’s whispery Chamber Music, which deploys a variety of percussion instruments along with the usual strings and winds to create, she says, “a very intimate, intricate music intended for close listening and made among friends.” One of Joseph Haydn’s popular “Paris” symphonies, nicknamed “The Hen” because of some clucked-up first movement violins, offers another chance to hear the orchestra excel in the magnificent music of a composer whose symphonies have become one of its specialities. Aaron Copland’s Jazz Age Piano Concerto followed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Piano Concerto into then-sketchy (for symphony orchestras) jazzy territory. Nearly a century later, it sounds like a lot of fun, and a sleek vehicle for excellent Israeli-born pianist Inon Barnatan before the concert arrives at its final destination: Brahms’s mighty fourth symphony.

A highlight of last week’s OSO concerts was a new work by one of America’s most appealing living composers, Kevin Puts. His Beethovenian 2007 Trio-Sinfonia highlights Saturday’s Chamber Music @ Beall performance by the excellent Eroica Trio at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall. They’ll also play Bach’s famous “Chaconne” from Partita in d Minor; the equally famous Adagio in g minor by 20th-century musicologist Remo Giazotto still infuriatingly and falsely attributed to Tomaso Albinoni by record companies, program writers and classical music announcers who should know better by now, and Mendelssohn’s c minor Trio.

Earlier that day and not far away, at their free show at Eugene’s Hope Abbey Mausoleum, Ensemble Primo Seicento (three singers and historically informed instrumentalists on harpsichord, viola da gamba, and cornetto) sings and plays music by Sigismondo D’India, Legrenzi, Sances, Riccio, Benedetti, Barbarino, Corradini, Merula, Hume, Cima and of course Monteverdi himself.

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‘Tango of the White Gardenia’: breaking the code

New made-in-Oregon chamber opera addresses bullying, identity and the spiritual healing power of art 

by ANGELA ALLEN

For know-it-all critics and discerning music-goers, “community opera” can be code for bad music, lousy singers and shabby production.

Not this time.

Tango of the White Gardenia, a collaboration of Cascadia Chamber Opera (previously Cascadia Concert Opera) and Lincoln City Cultural Center, was a triumph, if on a far smaller scale than Portland Opera, or even Portland State University student productions. Composer Ethan Gans-Morse’s Argentine-influenced music and the touching tango-centered libretto by artistic and life partner Tiziana DellaRovere addressed bullying, identity and the spiritual healing power of art — in this case tango.

Sung in English and helped by projected supra titles, the two-hour opera premiered Sept. 8 at the 220-seat Lincoln City Cultural Center, whose production featured four-musicians-plus conductor, six well-cast singers, and six limber dancers from the imaginative Eugene-based Ballet Fantastique. It now tours to Florence this Friday, then Bend, Astoria and Eugene for further performances with some changes in cast and production crews. (See Oregon ArtsWatch’s preview by Gary Ferrington.)

A scene from ‘Tango of the White Gardenia.’

Tango of the White Gardenia follows two young tango-driven couples through a dance competition, shadowed by dancers/alter egos. As the story unfolds, the characters come to terms with who they are and why they do things that they do. The main character, Sandra, sung expressively by Portland lyric soprano Kati Burgess, eventually understands that being herself is better than trying to be someone else (“the treasure is within you”) — the “somebody else” being Jo-Jo, her bullying counterpart sung humorously and intentionally crassly at times by bad-girl self-declared “fallen angel” soprano Jocelyn Claire Thomas. Jo-Jo’s music is somewhat discordant, just as she is.

The chamber opera portrays the struggle to become oneself as arduous, emotionally and physically. There is even a second-act wrestling match between the two young women, and throughout the piece, both sopranos sing and act well.

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‘Tango of the White Gardenia’: dance lessons

New Oregon opera about bullying and self-esteem premieres in Lincoln City, part of a coastal classical music surge

by GARY FERRINGTON

Although well known for its coastal attractions and the location of one of the world’s shortest rivers, Lincoln City has never been thought of as a destination for opera — let alone a world premiere. That changes this weekend when Cascadia Chamber Opera performs Southern Oregon composer Ethan Gans-Morse and librettist Tiziana DellaRovere’s two-act opera, Tango of the White Gardenia, at the vibrant Lincoln City Cultural Center on September 8-9, followed by a tour to other Oregon cities.

‘White Gardenia’ cast members perform at LCCC fundraising event. Photo: Rudy Salci.

Previously known as Cascadia Concert Opera, the recently renamed Cascadia Chamber Opera performs full-length and/or abridged operas sung in English by local and regional artists, often staged in “underserved communities using non-traditional and community-friendly venues” like schools, galleries, churches, homes and other spaces, sometimes at “little or no cost to the general public,” according to the Oregon Cultural Trust.

Gans-Morse and CCO’s co-founders Artistic Director Bereniece Jones-Centeno and Music Director Vincent Centeno have all been friends since since they were graduate students at the University of Oregon. Their shared interest in making opera accessible, affordable, approachable, relevant, and fun for audiences — particularly those whose circumstances might otherwise prevent them from enjoying opera — was an important reason that CCO, with help from an Oregon Arts Commission Career Grant, commissioned Gans-Morse and DellaRovere to compose a new opera to celebrate the non-profit organization’s 10th anniversary season.

Long time friends bring a new opera to underserved Oregon communities. From left: Centeno, Jones-Centeno, DellaRovere, Gans-Morse. Photo: Deane Ingram.

Gans-Morse and DellaRovere and their Anima Mundi Productions are best known for their first opera, Canticle of the Black Madonna, staged at Portland’s Newmark Theatre in 2014, which Oregon ArtsWatch called “one of the most exciting developments of the arts season.” This year, the Rogue Valley Symphony celebrated its 50th anniversary by commissioning the husband and wife team to compose a program symphony, How Can You Own The Sky? Both works reflect their interest in representing marginalized populations and addressing societal wounds through the creation of new works.

This time, the social challenges DellaRovere wanted to address revolved around bullying, self-esteem, and body image. And she wanted to base the opera on Argentine tango.

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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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Composer Ethan Gans-Morse: Music as Social Voice

New opera The Canticle of the Black Madonna dramatizes contemporary concerns

By GARY W. FERRINGTON

The Canticle of the Black Madonna opened my heart and brought new healing to me, 44 years after I returned from Vietnam. This is a gift that should be shared with the world. — Bill Ritch, combat veteran, Silver Star recipient, former West Point instructor.

Ethan Gans-Morse is an Oregon composer whose compositions bring together his love of Baroque and Renaissance music with “his passion for new, socially relevant works of art that inspire a sense of human connection” as he notes in his Oregon ComposersWatch profile.

Composer Ethan Gans-Morse introduces CBM cast and principals. From R-L: Gwendolyn Brown (the Black Madonna), Michael Mayes ( Adam), Kristine McIntyre (Director) Tiziana Della Rovere (Librettist), Ethan Gans-Morse (composer) and Lindsey Cafferky (Mara). Not shown: Ryan Heller (Music Director), Ethan Sperry (Chorus Master). Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Composer Ethan Gans-Morse introduces CBM cast and principals. From R-L: Gwendolyn Brown (the Black Madonna), Michael Mayes ( Adam), Kristine McIntyre (Director) Tiziana Della Rovere (Librettist), Ethan Gans-Morse (composer) and Lindsey Cafferky (Mara). Not shown: Ryan Heller (Music Director), Ethan Sperry (Chorus Master). Photo: Gary Ferrington.

His new opera, The Canticle of the Black Madonna, which premieres in Portland September 5-6, tells the story of a returning Afghanistan war veteran with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the challenges he and his wife face as they struggle to survive amid the ecological disaster of the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill. Composed in collaboration with librettist Tiziana DellaRovere, the opera exemplifies the Portland composer’s commitment to creating and producing original projects that “harness the power of art to stir the soul, foster community, and address urgent social problems,” he says. See: OAW “Preview: Bringing Anima Mundi’s “Canticle of the Black Madonna” to life.”

ArtsWatch conducted an e-mail interview with Gans-Morse, who received his Masters in Music Composition, summa cum laude from the University of Oregon in 2013. We asked him about his becoming a composer; the influence of socially meaningful content in his music; and his views about the future of opera.

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