UO School of Music and Dance

Bringing light to winter’s darkness

Composer-centric Music Today Festival goes online for 2020-2021

Scene from Joanna Na’s Contemplation, MTF Concert 1. Screen capture by Gary Ferrington.
Scene from Joanne Na’s Contemplation, Music Today Festival, Concert 1. Screen capture by Gary Ferrington.

“During these unprecedented times, music and the arts have a crucial role to play in the healing process of individuals and society,” Dr. Robert Kyr, director of the Music Today Festival 2020-2021 and University of Oregon Composition Chair, told ArtsWatch as he and the Oregon Composers Forum prepare to host this year’s celebration of new music.

Since its founding in 1993 the UO School of Music and Dance’s biennial festival has been a Eugene-based event, with most performances held in the School of Music and Dance’s esteemed Beall Concert Hall. However there will be no brick-and-mortar venue for concerts this year given the social constraints the pandemic has created for all the performing arts.

Scene from Jared Knight’s I Hide Behind My Music, MTF Concert 1. Screen capture by Gary Ferrington.
Scene from Jared Knight’s I Hide Behind My Music, MTF Concert 1. Screen capture by Gary Ferrington.

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“Gr*mmy Show”: spoofing the stars

Saturday’s University of Oregon variety show provides an evening of comedy, theater, and music.

A few years ago, jazz pianist and University of Oregon music professor Toby Koenigsberg approached trumpeter and fellow faculty member Brian McWhorter to help him create a mixed genre concert series he was trying to put together. McWhorter suggested a show in which Grammy-nominated songs were performed right before “Music’s Biggest Night.” But by the time the project was ready to go in 2014, McWhorter found that he could no longer play trumpet due to a performance injury.

Koenigsberg and McWhorter host the Gr*mmy Show Saturday.

That didn’t stop them. With Koenigsberg’s encouragement, McWhorter, who is recognized on and off campus for his wit, sense of humor, and more than a bit of showmanship, realized he could emcee instead of playing. And that decision turned the project into “a kind of variety show, with comedy, theater, and music all included,” Koenigsberg recalls. The UO School of Music and Dance’s satirical production of the “Gr*mmy Show,” a zany, fun-filled evening with McWhorter as MC and Koenigsberg as musical director, was finally ready for primetime. (They changed its original name from “Grammy Show” after The Recording Academy sent the team a cease and desist letter.)

Wrong song Jack. Photo: Gary Ferrington

The Gr*mmy Show has evolved into a much-anticipated evening of variety acts. Show-stopping edutainment sketches have always been included, such as a humorous analysis of the seemingly complex voting process for Grammy award winners, and exploring the “fun side” of Schenkerian analysis — a music theory subject as exciting as burnt toast. Academicians always tend to get a good ribbing on this night as when music theorist Jack Boss “mistakenly” began to pontificate about the musical structure… of what he would quickly learn from emcee McWhorter was the wrong song.

Stage band performs nominated songs. Photo: Gary Ferrington

Balancing out the humorous academic side of the evening is the performance of many musical selections nominated for the Grammys, including not only Song of the Year, but also pieces from other categories such as New Age, Pop, Jazz, Rap, Reggae, World Music and the Best Classical Contemporary Composition and Best Musical Theater album.

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Devilish Doings

Director, dancers, choreographer and conductor offer perspectives on this weekend’s University of Oregon staging of Stravinsky’s ‘The Soldier’s Story’

by GARY FERRINGTON

A young enlistee trades his fiddle to the devil in return for unlimited riches, a princess — and ultimately loss and grief. The Russian folk tale The Runaway Soldier and the Devil, which Igor Stravinsky and Swiss writer C.F Ramuz adapted and premiered during the brutality of World War I, is a metaphor for its time as a struggle between good and evil. The Soldier’s Story (L’histoire du soldatwas first performed in Switzerland 100 years ago on September 28, 1918 at the Theatre Lausanne. This weekend, a century later, a cadre of students and faculty at the University of Oregon’s School of Music and Dance called Pacific Artists Collective (PAC) stage a theatrical revival of the Faustian tale that retains the original’s scale while providing contemporary approaches.

The Soldier’s Story has been staged in many different ways over the years, including jazz, ballet, orchestral, and even Inuit versions. But when PAC Artistic Director Bronson York approached Associate Professor of Dance Shannon Mockli about a possible production of Stravinsky’s chamber musical theater piece, he wanted to make it much like it was originally conceived: a simple and transportable hour-long theatrical work that moved from village to village, and not necessarily performed on a stage or in a theater. “So with that in mind I really brought it back to the essentials,” York says. “It has no backdrops or even really a set, with one exception in the second act.”

Minimal set design with trio of dancers in the role of soldier, devil and princess. Photo: Luke Smith

The ensemble includes a story narrator, musicians, three actors, and three dancer-characters —a soldier, a devil and a princess who, Mockli says, are “not relegated to acting these parts. Rather, they all participate in each of the dance sections, sometimes representing their characters and sometimes more poetically expressing an image or idea [or] the emotion … of a scene.”

Mockli notes that “a trio in dance always expresses a kind of dynamic tension in its asymmetry.” The dancers interweave with one another and change partnerships throughout, each affecting the shifting experiences of the others and creating dynamic tension in the narrative. Ultimately, the trio of characters are implicated by each other’s changing actions and choices, as they are “woven in a kind of eternal web,” Mockli says. “The choreography lives in this sort of liminal space of being purely poetic or impressionistic.”

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Freshening the Streams

New music performed live from Oregon increasingly fills the home screen

The University of Oregon School of Music and Dance’s live-streamed Eugene premiere of Ethan Gans-Morse and Tiziana DellaRovere’s chamber opera Tango of the White Gardenia marks a modest milestone in Oregon live music webcasting. (Read Angela Allen’s ArtsWatch review and click here to stream at 7:30 pm tonight, Monday, October 1. ) This fall, the UO, Portland State University, and Lewis and Clark College have upped their streaming games, bringing to audiences near and far not only old and recent sounds, but also freshly composed music just off the engraver’s press.

A digital concert hall brings home live music from around the world. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Live from Eugene

The University of Oregon is at the forefront of live streaming in the state with its professional quality multi-camera webcasting of concerts live from Beall Concert Hall and single camera student originated webcasts from Aasen-Hull and Thelma Schnitzer concert halls.

This year, as in the past, the School’s event calender continues to add webcast concerts with possible performances by the University Symphony, Oregon Wind and Jazz Ensembles, Future Music Oregon, Oregon Chamber Choir, Track-Town Trombones, Tuba-Euphonium Ensemble and more. Many of these performances often lean to the contemporary side of the repertoire, as in this Beall Hall performance of UO Faculty member Pius Cheung’s Tesla’s Harmony for mallet quartet performed by the UO Percussion Ensemble.

Many of the school’s concerts emerge from the Oregon Composers Forum. For example, the upcoming OCF webcast special at 4 pm November 4, will feature Grammy Award winning soprano Estelí Gomez performing music composed for her by Forum members.

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