Venues for our Visionaries: a model for Portland new music incubators?

Brooklyn's Original Music Workshop

Brooklyn’s Original Music Workshop


Earlier today, I reached out to O-M-W and asked whether the founders would be interested in answering any questions about the project — such as those several of you have so astutely raised here. I just received an enthusiastically positive reply. Thanks, big sister! So: please submit your practical or philosophical questions for Paola Prestini and Kevin Dolan here, I’ll compile them, and send them in on, say, Friday. How does that sound? I guess I could kick it off: how will O-M-W determine what artists get to participate? Before you weigh in, please read this interview with O-M-W founder Kevin Dolan, which answers some of the basic questions.

An important part of ArtsWatch’s mission takes place not on our website, but on our increasingly busy Facebook page, and we urge our readers to check it out periodically, whatever you think of FB (and believe me, I don’t think very highly of it myself). Yesterday, I posted on our FB page a little item about a $15.6 million new music venue opening in Brooklyn soon that I thought might make a potential model for Oregon in general and Portland in particular. The post sparked a flurry of responses that really demand more space than Facebook allows, so I’ve rewritten the post and expanded my response here, and urge all readers to comment (or re-comment, if you posted on FB originally) in comments here, so we can continue this delightful discussion in a more congenial environment that allows links, photos, and more space.

The original tendentious post:

Portland needs a new concert hall, we’ve heard for decades. But rather than asking taxpayers to finance yet another downtown palace devoted to outmoded presentations of endless recyclings of 19th century European warhorses, how about instead investing in Oregon’s creative culture and creating a community around Oregon contemporary classical music with several of these relatively small, affordable conversions around town– on the condition that anyone who uses them must dedicate most of their performing/recording time to works by Oregon composers?

My (enhanced) follow-up:

… offered when a valued commentator hesitated over the requirement that “most” of the space be dedicated to Oregon works:

OK, maybe “most” isn’t quite the right word. Let’s see … how about “all”? A major purpose of such an incubator would be to encourage the creation of new repertoire by Oregonians. There will never be a shortage of opportunities to hear old European music in Portland — two chamber music series, a Eurocentric piano recital series, the symphony, the opera, various choruses dedicated et al. [Addendum: and the Columbia Symphony, the Vancouver Symphony, Beaverton Symphony, Portland Baroque, Portland Chamber Orchestra, Starlight Symphony, Florestan Trio, 100+ classical choirs …. I think music by deceased Europeans, which I cherish myself, will be safe in Portland.] There IS a terrible lack of investment in Oregon music. Why should Oregon taxpayers — and we’re talking about a publicly funded venture here – subsidize more performances / recordings of existing European music? That music already got its subsidies when it was created. If some listeners want to hear more old European music, fine — let them pay for it via tickets on the private market. [Addendum: and let them pay market price — not subsidized by the taxpayers, as it is now. See below.]

I have a lot more faith in Oregon’s creative culture. If the support is there, in the form of subsidized performances and recordings, I’m confident our composers would step forward. Our music schools teem with ambitious young composers — see this week’s Music Today Festival at the UO, featuring several dozen Oregon premieres performed by a half dozen student new music groups. Let’s invest in them. [Addendum: I’d include works commissioned by Oregon ensembles, like Third Angle’s and FearNoMusic’s admirable composers’ projects.]  And let’s find out what some of our more ambitious pop songwriters might do if offered the affordable opportunity to write for “classical” forces. Why, they might actually create contemporary classical music that 20-and 30-somethings want to hear.

Moreover, plenty of Oregon music already exists that could be performed there. Check the vast and musically accessible oeuvres of Lou Harrison, Robert Kyr and Tomas Svoboda, for example, or the North Pacific label’s offerings, or the music that gets played once and probably never again at near monthly concerts by Cascadia Composers, the Creative Music Guild and the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble. What, you haven’t heard them? That’s the point.

The OMW lobby.

The OMW lobby: building a community around new music.

Expanding the discussion

Remember, we’re talking about the use of public money here: a bond issue, presumably, to finance several such arts incubators in Portland neighborhoods and in other Oregon cities, rather than building a replacement for the admittedly acoustically dreadful Keller and Schnitzer halls. Oregon’s performances of European music are already heavily subsidized by taxpayers. Just to take one example, according to the Oregon Symphony, in 2010-11 the orchestra received $377,616 in government support — not counting an additional $40,000 to send the band to Carnegie Hall that year. How much of that money went to performances of music created by Oregonians? I don’t have the symphony’s 2010-11 schedule handy, and it’s not quickly available on its website, so I can’t recall whether that was the year it played one of the two Oregon pieces I can recall from the past few years– Svoboda’s “Vortex” and a Kyr symphony. But even if it is, that’s only a tiny fraction of the music it played.

Not to single out the OSO; unlike our theaters, most of which often produce plays by today’s playwrights and choreographers, few Oregon classical music institutions program more than a fraction of music by living composers, much less Oregon composers. The Eugene Symphony, commendably, commissioned a Svoboda concerto this year, but next year’s schedule contains exactly two works by living composers, neither of them Oregonians. The same, sad story is true of most other Oregon classical presenters and producers.

Yet the homegrown music is out there, and there’d be a lot more if we’d give it a chance and a boost. For example, one of the 20th century’s finest composers, Lou Harrison, was born in Portland and embodies 20th century West Coast classical music. His innovative, listener-friendly Pacific Rim music is the focus of this year’s Ojai Festival in California, a major Carnegie concert last year, and it gets performances literally every day across the globe. He wrote literally hundreds of works for chorus, chamber ensemble, percussion ensembles, orchestras, dance companies and more. How often have his two operas and four symphonies been performed in Oregon? Not since I’ve been here.

Music Makes A City from Music Makes A City on Vimeo.

Investing in Oregon

The notion of a publicly subsidized neighborhood network of Oregon classical music incubators merely redresses a long standing and grievous imbalance: tremendous taxpayer support for performances of existing, easily available works by long-dead European composers — but scant public investment in Oregon’s creative postclassical culture. We’re subsidizing the old and backward-looking, and starving the new, and then wondering why young audiences are staying away in droves, in a city that has a young creative culture that’s the envy of the nation. So why not look to our own values for the answer?

Portland is never going to be New York or even Seattle. If we ever get lucky enough to make a substantial public investment in a new venue feasible, we shouldn’t try to keep up with the Joneses in the major metro areas by building another big-arts palace. Oregon will never have the funding base to play in that league. Eugene tried that with the Hult Center 30 years ago, and I’d argue that that money would have been better spent on smaller venues and smarter investments in the city’s arts culture.

And why should we want to be what we’re not? What’s going on here, in our home territory, is far more fascinating and progressive than building a nicer place to hear Brahms for the thousandth time. (And I say this is as someone with a major stake, as I spend a lot of my listening time in the current major venues. New ones would benefit me more than almost anyone else.) A new downtown arts palace for inherently conservative, backward-gazing institutions would be the arts equivalent of the Columbia River Crossing:  too big for its environment, way too expensive, and a drain on scarce resources that could be better spent on smaller, smarter alternatives.

Instead, as ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson has been contending for some time, let’s play to our strengths — neighborhoods, startups (the food carts and other indie food incubators), locavores, grassroots entrepreneurialism, smart public investments in public goods, affordable and original culture. Rather than a wet, poor man’s LA, we might instead just aspire to be what my old hometown of Austin is: a vibrant, incubator of original music, only from the (post) classical side — using cellos and chamber orchestras rather than guitars, bass and drums. Instead of investing in yet another dusty museum, let’s nurture creative cultural greenhouses. Imagine, for example, if the old Washington High School, which sat vacant for decades, had instead been converted to something similar to OMW?

We could make our mark by being distinctive as a generator for new music, as the Louisville Orchestra did when instead of trying to be Cleveland or St. Louis and struggling to maintain a Mahler-sized orchestra, it instead embarked on a (sadly discontinued decades ago) commissioning program for a Haydn-sized orchestra that resulted in a body of new American works (by Harrison, Duke Ellington, and many other composers) that made it far more valuable than just another struggling, mid-sized symphony that was never going to be the next New York Phil anyway.

We’ve already got a head start: a fertile infrastructure of musicians (many of them, admittedly, subsidized by institutions like the Oregon Symphony, which pays the bills so that Third Angle and 45th Parallel and others that would likely benefit from such incubators can venture forward), composers, educational institutions, indie organizations like Classical Revolution PDX , Opera Theater Oregon, and Cascadia Composers, a promising and valuable modern music festival, an Oregon new music record label, and open-minded audiences. And if you think those scrappy upstarts (most of which run on volunteer labor) shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath with the august Portland Opera or Oregon Symphony … well, imagine how much more formidable they would be if they got a half million dollars of public money per year — instead of the current recipients who spend it almost entirely on repeatedly reproducing works created centuries ago and a world away.

A wise, Portland-style public investment in neighborhood music and other arts incubators could leverage the resources we’ve cultivated so far and encourage the development and expression of new voices and new visions that reflect 21st century Oregon’s musical vitality. Brooklyn — which has a lot of similarities to Portland and which may be our sister city someday — has given us one potential model for how to do that. What are some others we should consider? We won’t have the money for anything like this soon — but when the time comes, let’s have a vision in place for giving Oregon the kind of institutions that fit our own creative culture.

OK, let’s have those comments! This should be a continuing discussion and an evolving vision, with input from everyone who cares about Oregon classical music. Unfortunately, some of the people who have the biggest stake in this vision are not the readers most likely to see it — folks like me who already participate in the current, narrow classical culture. We need to extend this debate to the potential audiences, the great majority of music lovers who don’t know the great Oregon postclassical music that could exist, but doesn’t yet, because we haven’t supported it. Maybe that’s the next step. We’ll have more to say on these issues on ArtsWatch soon.

OMW interior


74 Responses.

  1. bob priest says:

    yo brett,

    this is quite possibly your most pungently articulated stance to date on what you would like to see flourish in our remarkable global village of PDX.


    unfortunately, i can’t participate in this online dialogue @ the moment in much detail. for, you see, i’m schmokin’ busy tending to the “promising modern music festival” that is about to unleash 32 concerts/events city-wide a mere 10 days from now . . .

    however, i look forward to comments from any & all that might care to weigh-in on this extremely worthy topic.

    thanx soooo much.

    bob priest
    March Music Moderne III
    Listening to the Here of the Now

  2. Curtis Heikkinen says:

    As usual, you have presented a valuable, thought-provoking discussion. I must admit that, as a long-time season ticket holder for the Oregon Symphony, some of the European warhorses have become tiresome. That said, I cannot support any plan that would weaken the state’s preeminent orchestra. Taking away what government support the orchestra receives or diverting other resources from it would, I fear, seriously weaken it. We have a fabulous symphony orchestra playing at the peak of its powers. I would not favor any plan that would jeopardize all the hard work that has gone into making it a first class orchestra. I realize there are major hurdles to a concert hall, but a new home for the symphony and opera, with a smaller venue encompassed within it that could accommodate smaller ensembles, would be my preferred alternative. You make it sound like the symphony and opera are no longer relevant. I believe that they are and that they still deserve maximum support, both public and private.

    • Thanks, Curtis. For the record, I’m not advocating taking away anyone’s existing subsidy — at least, not yet — but rather balancing the existing subsidy for old, non-Oregon music with a new one that would incubate new, Oregon music, via these venues and perhaps an attached commissioning fund.

      Of course, if we could have a new orchestra hall and opera house and community incubators, I’d be overjoyed. Alas, given forseeable fiscal realities, I think we’re going to have choose only one.

      And I would love to see our existing institutions get more public money — as long as they spend it performing music by living composers, preferably from Oregon. It doesn’t have to be either/or: we can subsidize our first class orchestra and opera AND contemporary Oregon music at the same time, if the former would just play and commission the latter.

      That said, might you expand on why institutions — however accomplished — that perform almost exclusively music by dead Europeans are more entitled to Oregon public money than institutions that foster contemporary music by living Oregonians? What’s the public policy rationale for that choice?

      • Curtis Heikkinen says:

        Thanks for the response, Brett. I am as frustrated by the over-reliance on dead Europeans in classical music as you seem to be. The sad fact is that compositions by those long deceased individuals put people in the seats. Not sure that music primarily or entirely comprised of works by Oregon or other living composers could make a go of it. Unless I can be convinced that the Oregon symphony would not be harmed by your proposal, then I can’t support it. As for the public policy rationale behind public funds for the OSO, it is the flagship orchestra for the city and state. It has set a high standard of excellence. While I advocate less reliance on dead composers, their works are worthy of continued performance, albeit at a reduced level. To the extent that the classical music world can and should move toward contemporary works, I would like to see that done, to the extent it can be done, within the confines of the symphony, rather than through some plan involving incubators scattered throughout the landscape. Just my opinion, for what it is worth.

        • Why, for the sake of argument, is it sad that we play music that has withstood the test of time (and was once new itself)? I am tired of hearing the old saw of “dead, white, Europeans” hauled out all the time. Why not get off of one’s collective ass and create a festival of non-white, non-male, and non-dead music?

          A lot of people go to the great art museums of the world and don’t complain about seeing Van Gogh and Renoir and Titian on the walls. Why is being a ‘museum’, in and of itself, a bad thing?

          And, as for this massive ‘public’ subsidy that the Oregon Symphony supposedly gets – I have yet to hear of this? Did we get a major infusion of cash from the City of Portland or the State of Oregon, or *sound of choking laughter* the National Endowment for the Arts? We get the vast majority of our funding from donors at every level, and several major foundations. Not from taxpayer’s pockets.

          • I will call myself out on my last statement, in that I may have given the impression that the Oregon Symphony gets no taxpayer money. We do get money from the Regional Arts and Culture Council, and the Oregon Cultural Trust, both of which are taxpayer funded. But not a significant dent in our approximately $14M annual budget.

          • Thanks for your comment, Charles. A quarter-million dollar public subsidy from the taxpayers would certainly facilitate the derriere-raising process of creating a festival like the one you suggest. Bob Priest does an amazing job with March Music Moderne, entirely on his volunteer effort, and it nearly kills him. Why instead does our money go to subsidizing music that’s already been created by Europeans rather than to generating new music by Oregonians?

            What’s sad isn’t that so many Oregon music institutions play 18th-20th century music; it’s that they don’t play more 21st century music, especially by Americans, nor generate more of it through commissions.
            I don’t believe the article ever suggested that it was a “bad thing” to have museums in music or art. In fact, my personal preference is usually to see an Oregon Symphony concert vs. most of the other choices available that night, because I know I’ll hear great music played well. But given how much public support that music already receives, why should the taxpayers further subsidize my personal preference? If we had the kind of public art support we should in this state, then of course, I’d be all for it. But we’re unfortunately stuck in a zero sum game. Old European music is getting our money, and has been for decades. New Oregon music isn’t. Shouldn’t we redress that imbalance?

            It’s not a question of good or bad — it’s what is a better use of Oregon tax money: subsidizing yet more 19th century European history, or subsidizing a little bit of 21st century Oregon, or at least American, culture? How is the former a better use of our public money than the latter?

            To answer your other question, those numbers came directly from Oregon Symphony VP Jim Fullan. (The 2010-11 figures were the latest available when I asked; newer ones may be there now.) Like you, and I expect like most readers, I too was surprised at the size of the taxpayer subsidy for primarily 19th European history. And that’s just one institution. If we were to ask the Eugene Symphony, the major opera companies, and the rest, I expect the number would grow considerably.

          • I was actually going to use this in the next story, but since we’re talking about it already, here’s the breakdown of OSO public support. Note that it is, indeed, a fraction of the total budget. But think how far an equivalent amount would go toward nurturing new music by Oregonians.

            Government support, FY 2010/11

            For Operations
            City of Portland (Waterfront) $200,000
            Regional Arts & Culture Council $142,616
            Oregon Arts Commission $ 35,000
            NEA $ 20,000

            Total $377,616 or about 2.8% of our total budget of $13.7 million

            For Carnegie Hall concert
            Oregon Cultural Trust (Carnegie) $ 20,000
            RACC Opportunity Grant (Carnegie) $ 20,000

            Total $ 40,000

        • I’m sorry, Curtis, I must have missed something. How does it harm the Oregon Symphony to create a new network of neighborhood music incubators? I actually believe that they would complement the OSO’s mission, providing performance spaces for valuable OSO spinoffs like Third Angle, Moussai Remix, 45th Parallel, Tango Pacifico, et al. Moreover, the incubators could provide a place for OSO programmers to scout for promising new Oregon composers, whom they could then commission — sort of an R&D department for Oregon classical music institutions. Imagine having a short work by an Oregon composer, identified and cultivated via the incubators, on every OSO program!
          I must admit to being surprised at the defensive tone of some OSO supporters — of whom I proudly number myself as one, insofar as a journalist is allowed to support any institution apart from our readers — in this conversation. My mention of the symphony subsidy was merely to provide context by showing how much public support old European music already receives from the taxpayers so as to explain why I think further public support should go to Oregon creativity. If such a proposal ever does come to a public discussion and vote, I’d sure hope to see the OSO and other classical institutions, who could benefit from the music they generate, support it. Otherwise, knee-jerk defensiveness could misleadingly suggest that symphony supporters are more interested in protecting the orchestra’s place at the public trough (which this article doesn’t challenge) than in encouraging the development of a contemporary repertoire of Oregon classical music, and we know that a public-spirited — and public-supported — Oregon arts institution would never do that.

          • Curtis Heikkinen says:

            I guess I would not agree with your apparent position that the symphony is heavily subsidized. Public support only amounts to a very small amount of its operating budget, according to the figures you provide. As for the support for the Carnegie trip, that will never happen again. The public support that was provided for that one time trip was well earned. To say that the orchestra is feeding at the public trough is rather unfair in my view, when the overwhelming majority of its funding comes from ticket sales and donations

            I went back and reread your original article. The overall tone seemed disparaging of what the symphony is doing, likening it to some dusty old museum. Given its need to watch the bottom line, I believe the symphony does very well in its programming and is still very relevant in the arts world. I’m all for encouraging new music and Oregon composers. However, to my mind the first priority in the arts community is to ensure the long term stability of primary arts organizations, such as the symphony, opera and ballet. Once that is accomplished, attention can be turned to other issues.

          • Jeff Winslow says:

            I’d suggest “long term stability of primary arts organizations”, or of any organization, is an illusion created by a happenstance of the dying aspects being approximately balanced by the growing aspects. Not only that, it is never “accomplished” but is an eternally ongoing effort, so waiting around for that is a recipe for inaction. I hear Brett’s proposal as a way for the OSO to invest, admittedly indirectly, in its own growing aspects. I’m not sure the focus has to be exclusively on Oregon composers – there is a danger in insularity – but it makes sense that, with the growing pride of place here (even when tempered by the streak of inferiority Flora astutely mentions), the visibility of local composers such investment would provide would likely foment interest in the biggest player in the same racket, in precisely the demographic the biggest player is most concerned about attracting.

      • bob priest says:

        a quick drive-by while on zee fly . . .

        curtis’s basic view re. non-diversion of funds from the OSO & the other well-heeled among us (opera & ballet, etc.) is rather mild compared to what you are likely to hear from the majority of OSO honchos, board & sundry other entrenchees from uptown heights.

        i could be wrong on this but i doubt it.

        what you propose will require MAJOR cahones over a very loooooong haul coz their ain’t gonna much in the way of helpful support from the big boize und goilz.

        btw, i’d LOVE to be proven wrong here.

        • Ah, thanks Curtis, this clarifies the difference in our respective positions. You believe that “the first priority in the arts community is to ensure the long term stability of primary arts organizations, such as the symphony, opera and ballet” — in other words, that the community should serve the primary arts organizations. I believe precisely the converse.

          Those organizations will earn broader community support by encouraging the contributions of their own creative community.

          If the symphony’s quarter-million dollar (not including Carnegie) public subsidy is insignificant relative to its budget, as you note, then perhaps it wouldn’t notice or mind if that money were invested instead in, say, commissions to Oregon composers, or a down payment on an arts incubator. It might not seem like a lot to the symphony, but I bet it would mean a whole bunch to organizations like FearNoMusic, 45th Parallel, March Music Moderne and the rest.
          Thanks for your continuing contributions to our conversation here, and please keep them coming.

  3. Jack Gabel says:

    idea for a big new performing arts complex (I think near the SE Esplanade) was floated some 15 years ago (?) by either The Oregonian Architecture writer Randy Gragg, or maybe it was Barry Johnson – can’t recall exactly

    anyway, as a small-budget indie artist/producer, I thought: “Great, one more hall in which I’ll never be able to afford to produce.” The desperate need is for small affordable performance halls for music, dance, theatre.

    but now rethinking: what if… the big players (OSO, PO, OBT) were to get a big new shiny home – a 3-stage complex covering a whole city block in SE Warehouse District; and, part of the deal is this: the City amply subsidizes their old venues so as to make them affordable to small local producers

    come to think of it… what goes on in the old Veterans Memorial Coliseum these days, other than half the Winter Hawks season? and they’re always on the verge of folding – It’s huge – why not turn that into a half-dozen performing arts venues of various sizes?

    or, rework VMC to fit the big players – many options here – maybe just wait till Blazermania gets tired of the Rose Quarter and moves again, freeing up one more white elephant… might it accommodate Stockhausen’s ‘Groupen’? – honestly, who, among us, has ever heard it live? – yeah, some will say: “I never want to.” – but, if you did, think you’d ever forget it?

  4. Greg Ewer says:

    What do the following 23 pieces have in common?

    Bolcom – Ragomania; Aho – Percussion Concerto; Norman – Drip, Blip, Sparkle, Spin, Glint, Glid, Glow Float, Flop, Chop, Pop, Shatter, Splash; Dutilleux – The Tree of Dreams; Ades – Asyla; Prokofiev – Romeo and Juliet; Shostakovich – Violin Concerto #2; Lutoslawski – Four Children’s Songs; Hindemith – Concerto for Orchestra; Hindamith – Neues vom Tage; Britten – Ballad of Heroes; Hindemith – Symphonic Metamorphosis; Shostakovich – Symphony # 15; Stravinsky – Circus Polka; Stravinsky – Petrushka(1947 version); Piston – Suite from the Incredible Flutist; Antheil – A Jazz Symphony; Bernstein – Serenade; Copland – Symphony # 3; Prongcharoen – Phenomenon; Weill The Seven Deadly Sins; Schoenberg – Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene; Bartok – Concerto for Orchestra.

    Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

    They’re all on the Oregon Symphony’s current season. Of course I realize there are no Oregon composers represented here, and many of these guys are busy decomposing, but if we’re going to reference the OSO’s programming, let’s start with what’s actually on the docket. Bob Priest, would you pass over any of these for inclusion in MMM?

    • Thanks for your comment, Greg. This programming issue is actually part of a different but related discussion I hope to have with the next story in this series.

      But since you brought it up here, let’s get it started now.
      Let’s take a look at the list. Here’s something else all those names have in common: not one of them is from Oregon. (Bolcom, born in Seattle and mostly based in Michigan, is the closest.) Except for the first five composers and Prangcharoen, all the rest are dead. Paul Hindemith, Bela Bartok, Sergei Prokofiev and Kurt Weill were born in Europe in the 19th century and died half a century or more ago. Again, to most of us reading this, a concert featuring their works would seem daringly modern — but only in contrast to the usual 19th century fare that dominates most American orchestra concerts. To anyone who expects art to participate in contemporary culture, it looks like a history museum.

      The fundamental problem with that list in the context of the present discussion of arts incubators is that it contains no works by Oregonians and no commissions to generate new music for the current and coming generations (unlike the Seattle Symphony, with its half dozen or so world premieres next season. Are Seattleites more forward looking than Oregonians?).

      And it does nothing to expand the symphony’s audience. Only a couple of those pieces (Norman and Prongcharoen, which are terrific) will attract a fundamentally different audience, and no one who’s not already a confirmed symphony goer is going to buy a ticket to a symphony concert just to see a token four minute piece (“Drip”) and a nine-minute piece (“Phenomenon”) by someone they’ve never heard of. Add in Aho’s concerto and we have a grand total of under one hour of 21st century music — in an entire year of two-hour concerts. (Maybe someone can calculate the percentage of total minutes of 21st century minutes in the total season minutes. It will be a small number.)

      I am glad the Oregon Symphony occasionally plays 20th and 21st century music, and several of those are really terrific pieces that I hope music lovers will flock to. (The upcoming back-to-back Copland and LA Guitar Quartet shows look especially enticing.) But with those works, the OSO is not generating new music that will speak to younger local music lovers who participate in today’s musical culture — which is what we all want, because we all want the symphony (and the other classical institutions) to survive and thrive in the next decade or two when, let’s face it, most of their current audience will not be there.

      Now, there’s certainly a place for museums. I love this music myself and spend much of my days and nights listening to it. (I wrote the original post to recorded accompaniment by Bach, in fact.) It’s timeless, immortal, wonderful, and I’m glad I can listen to it whenever I want. But the question in this context is: given how much taxpayers already spend supporting old European music, and how scarce art funding is likely to be for the forseeable future, is it a better use of the next public investment in art to spend it on a building that primarily hosts existing music by long-dead Europeans, or instead to spend it on incubators that can generate art created by today’s Oregonians, or at least Americans — music that speaks to our time and place?

    • bob priest says:

      hey greg,

      wow, what a fun repertoire question. thanx!

      in all honesty, i’d pass over quite a few of the pieces you cite above if i was in the enviable position to be able do so.

      you see, some of the works that appear during MMM are there in the spirit of including a wide range of organizations & ensembles whose repertoire choices are not necessarily always in-sync with what i would prefer to mount under the MMM umbrella. that said, i AM very excited about the scope & breadth of everyone’s vital participation. it’s gonna be quite a lovely ruckus!

      and, speaking of MMM, i best get back on “tusk” over here tout de suite as downbeat numero uno is a mere 9 daze away . . .

      • Greg Ewer says:

        That’s just it, Bob. Many of us would make different choices were we in the enviable position to do so.

      • Greg Ewer says:

        Bob- When you are running an arts organization, you end up balancing ideology and practicality…period. The more skin you have in the game, the more important it becomes to make your choices wisely 🙂

        Brett- You better believe lots of OSO-ers would line up to support a publicly subsidized Oregon classical music incubator! What an awesome thing that would be! But it wouldn’t preclude us from defending ourselves against claims of musical necrophilia. 😉 I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that any perceived defensiveness is probably more a result of the hyperbole than the idea itself.

        -The FCC requires, in return for granting a broadcast license, that a station provide some measure of public benefit. But ‘public benefit’ is a woefully unspecific requirement, and lots of unseemly programming appears to meet it. Who gets to make the call? In a musical context, how would we collectively decide whether a performance of William Bolcom’s work (living composer born in Seattle) is more or less deserving of taxpayer money than Lou Harrison’s (deceased composer born in Oregon.)

        • bob priest says:

          my sense is that the more “skin” one has in the game often generates anything but “wise” choices. unless, of course, dumbed-down, cynically opportunistic du jour till-pimping that provides the temporary illusion that something is being “fixed” can be considered wise.

          hopefully, most of us will strive to find ways to steer away from fear-based programing decisions that will undermine – if not squander – our short AND long-term artistic goals.

          now, about that new arts center that maestro brett has proposed . . .

          • Greg Ewer says:

            By ‘skin in the game’ I was referring to one’s participation as a major decision maker within an organization. Sorry to be vague.

          • Point 1: The undercurrent that I (and Greg, if I can speak for him) feel is that the Oregon Symphony in general, and its musicians in particular are pigs at the trough pushing out other, more deserving organizations or people that desire funding. I guess it would be great if we could all live in a big arts commune and make art of all kinds and frolic together with our sustainable animals and crops and such, but that model only really works in very specific situations.

            Point 2: Not all programming is ‘fear based’. It is ‘reality based’. We have an audience, cultivated over many decades, and they have certain expectations. If you polled OSO audiences, you’d most likely find that the vast majority are happy with what we program. They don’t have a horse in the race, you see. I think that it is, overall, a good balance of the new and old, in the amounts that most symphony audiences desire. Not composers and new music advocates.

          • bob priest says:

            mere semantics.

            the financial “reality” for most performing arts organizations is swaddled in the “fear” that they might not be able to meet payroll, balance the books, etc.

            one often begets the other even though they are essentially the same.

    • Jeff Winslow says:

      It’s true, I LOVE that the Oregon Symphony has programmed so much 20th and even 21st century work this season. It has lured me back to a full season subscription for the first time in years. (Mahler’s 6th didn’t hurt either.) I cross all my fingers and pray to whatever Meccas there be that this ongoing discussion in no way discourages the OSO from continuing in this direction.
      However, Brett makes a vital point: many of the works in this list are warhorses despite being from the 20th century, and only a small number are from the last 50 years. It’s a great list but it doesn’t necessarily answer the need being explored here.

  5. Jack Gabel says:

    “…no Oregon composers…” easily remedied – unless he’s chucked it, this score should still be on file with Charles:

  6. Beth Karp says:

    This piece was forwarded to me with the question, “as a young composer, where do you stand on this issue?” It turns out, I have a few opinions on it. So here’s a young(ish) Portland composer perspective:

    On the whole, I’m inclined to agree with Brett. But I’ve also felt like this town is reasonably hospitable to a composer with initiative, even if I haven’t taken advantage yet of all the resources available. I wonder if and how additional subsidies for Oregon composers would benefit me. If the major groups developed a commissioning program, those commissions would likely go to established composers. And if funds went to establishing one or more small new music venues, would they really be superior to or more accessible than existing venues? I guess what I’m saying is, what does an incubator really look like? Is it an event space? Commissioning fund? Workshop series? Increased funding for groups like OTO and CRPDX? All of the above?

    The CRPDX Composer Project, which I’m involved with, is filling a niche: education and professional development for those of us who are out of school. I’d like to see more events like it. We did receive some RACC funding, although it’s hard to see much more coming down that pipeline in a recession. You can and have to create your own opportunities as a composer, but it’s nice to have a few professional development & educational opportunities handed down from on high as well.

    On another note…

    Here’s a resource I find lacking in Portland: affordable concert tickets. It’s an indirect way of supporting young artists, but if, as a working musician, I could get student rates on symphony, chamber, ballet, and opera tickets, it would greatly enhance my educational and networking possibilities. I’m in kind of a doughnut hole where I’m too high income for Arts for All, but too low income to regularly attend high quality concerts.

    • At last, some of the discussion I was hoping to foster — how might these incubators actually work? Both Greg and Beth raise excellent practical questions. Some curation is necessary, of course. I’ll try to do some research to see how Brooklyn is doing it, under artistic director Paola Prestini, a composer whose work I’ve admired. Here’s the mission statement:

      As an artistic incubator, OMW offers space and support to both composers and musicians for rehearsal, recording, editing, performance, and dissemination. OMW will serve the 21st century artist, one who is mostly artist but often part entrepreneur and part education. Programming will appeal to a wide range of audiences, from the devoted patron of classical music or jazz to the experimental music devotee to the casually interested music fan.
      So to answer Beth, it sounds like just being relieved of the burden of renting performance and rehearsal space and recording studio would overcome a major barrier between Oregon composers and the creation of new works. I envision a commissioning fund as well. Now, to both Greg and Beth: Who would curate these opportunities? Personally I’d hope it could be broad-based, maybe a rotating curatorship so a variety of music is performed and recorded at each venue. For example, composition profs at Oregon colleges and universities, representatives of organizations like Cascadia Composers (the primary one, I’d imagine), Portland Jazz Composers, Creative Music Guild, new music performers like FearNoMusic, Third Angle, NW New Music, Classical Revolution PDX et al, folks from the experimental pop scene like, say, Claudia Meza and Bob Ham… This is the part where I’d love to hear from working composers and musicians who deal in new music daily. What would be needed to make such incubators really hot caldrons of new music?

      • Just be careful of your lede when you consider what sort of discussion you want to foster. Rather than saying things like Oregon Symphony needs hall – what a waste (I’m paraphrasing here) and ‘dead white European’, just say “there’s an awesome concept in Brooklyn that really could serve as a model here in Portland”. It’s disingenuous to say you don’t have anything against the traditional symphonic model when every article you’ve posted in the past couple years leads with some variation on “everything that’s wrong with classical music in this town starts and ends with the Oregon Symphony”. Because that is the tone YOU have set, and there is no running away from that. It’s too bad.

        • Thanks for your comment, Charles. I hope you don’t mind if we hold off just a bit in discussing OSO issues further, because I don’t want distract attention from the issue at hand — classical music incubators — and because the topic is really more appropriate to the next article in this little series — including tidbits from an interview with Carlos Kalmar himself, who was generous with his time and decidedly non defensive in his conversation with me last spring, as symphony officials — as opposed to some of their acolytes — have always been with me, providing good interviews with Elaine Calder (about whom I wrote an admiring piece here a few months ago) and Kalmar whenever I’ve asked, and readily supplying the figures I cited here earlier.

          I’m sorry you found the initial tone distasteful. The news hook for this story is the discussion, which bobs up every now and then, about a new concert call for the symphony, so that’s why it came up initially here. We can work on the tone, but the Oregon Symphony does indeed merit a lot of attention, which no one seems to mind when it involves coverage of Carnegie Hall appearances, CD releases, rave concert reviews (all of which I’ve written), because it’s simply the most important classical music institution in town (although I’ll probably draw brickbats from the opera folks for saying that). It deserves journalistic scrutiny here like any other public institution that accepts substantial taxpayer funding, like the Columbia River Crossing or the Portland Development Commission or Randy Leonard’s jacuzzi. (I might not have the facts quite right on that last one.)

          We’re journalists: it’s our job to ask questions about institutions. If you take public money, then expect public scrutiny, and don’t expect it to be the mostly fawning kind some arts organizations have grown accustomed to. The symphony does quite well at generating its own PR and doesn’t need us to help.

          I agree with the need to a polite tone, and that’s why I’m not the one who brought race-baiting into this discussion; I never used the term “white.”

          I see nothing improper about using factual terms like “dead” and “European” to contrast with “living” and Oregonian”; is it accurate or not that most of the music the symphony plays is by dead Europeans? If the phrasing makes someone uncomfortable, is it the words themselves or the facts? If the former, I can use “deceased” or “joined the choir invisible” or “Northwest Asian” (Lou Harrison’s preferred term for Europe, which as he pointed out shouldn’t be treated as a separate continent as it’s not divided by ocean from Asia) if that’s preferable.

          It’s also why I never said a new concert hall for the symphony would be a “waste”; I did contend that it would likely be too expensive to pass the voters’ scrutiny in the current economic climate and that it would divert scarce arts funding resources from smaller, smarter alternatives like the incubators that Brooklyn is trying out.

          In fact, I agree that Portland eventually could use a better downtown concert hall (believe me, I spend a lot of time at the Schnitzer every month fervently wishing it were so). But I think it’s a lower priority than what we’re discussing here, given the present economic situation and the long-standing imbalance in support for living and local composers vs. dead Euro– oops, I mean “post-living Northwest Asians.”

          I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised as I was about the defensiveness. Public money has been spent on a very narrow slice of music for a pretty limited range of listeners for a long time, without much questioning why, so I suppose that those who have so long benefited from that cozy arrangement might feel threatened when the idea of extending it even further is questioned. I think we’ve taken a lot of this for granted, and it’s one reason why classical music is so marginalized in 21st century America, and especially why today’s classical composers face so many obstacles.

          But as long as we keep the discussion at an intelligent level, I see nothing wrong with legitimate criticism of the incubator idea or the proposed new concert hall or any other existing or proposed arts institution. What we’re really talking about here is priorities about spending public money, and we won’t all agree on what those are, and that’s fine. If the symphony or new concert hall has a case to make for being more deserving of public funds than are living Oregon composers, here’s the chance to make it.

          I know all about “Oregon nice,” but really, it’s OK to question institutions and to disagree, even provisionally, as long as it’s polite. After hearing intelligent discussion here, some of us might even change our minds one way or the other. So I hope everyone will continue to weigh in, and bring in more voices, whether you agree with all of them or not.

          And I really mean it when I say that I do appreciate hearing your perspective in particular, Charles, because in some respects (not all), it probably differs from mine and others here and because I’m sure it represents the thinking of other members of the major classical institutions. I learn something about that every time you weigh in, so I really hope you’ll continue to do so, and not just as a representative of the symphony but also as a chamber musician and ensemble leader. That’s a valuable triple perspective.

          Let’s face it, nothing significant is ever going to happen for classical music in this town unless all of us involved in it are engaged, so we need to talk to each other. So I love the fact that ArtsWatch is providing an open forum to robustly discuss these priorities and issues, because I sure don’t see it happening elsewhere. If everyone’s agreeing all the time, then it probably means the issue wasn’t worth discussing in the first place!

          Discussing ideas and visions about the arts is what ArtsWatch is here for. Thanks again, everyone, for engaging in this constructive conversation. Now, let’s keep it going!

          • I couldn’t agree more, and good journalism is often though-provoking, and maybe sometimes inflammatory. This is why Oregon Arts Watch is so important, and why I am a contributing member. We don’t have to agree to want better things for the arts in our region. I know we both do, as do all of the other commenters here. It is a hugely refreshing change from the comment threads one finds over at, that’s for sure.

          • Greg Ewer says:

            Believe me Brett, my fellow feisty Texan, it ain’t that ‘cozy’ where we sit. Many of us in the OSO give way more than our publicly funded 2.8 percent to organizations like Third Angle, Portland Youth Philharmonic, Fear No Music, 45th Parallel, PHAME, ArtsWatch and others. We volunteer countless hours playing free concerts…many of them fundraisers for other organizations. The infamous trough slop isn’t exactly buying us all caviar and prime rib.
            You are entitled to use what ever journalistic devices you want, hyperbole included, but don’t be surprised when an important and potentially worhtwhile dialogue gets sidetracked by self respecting artists who don’t like insinuations that they’re the musical equivalents of Walmart. I love the idea of contemporary musical incubators. I would gladly give up another 2.8 percent to see them exist. My chamber music programming is not inspired by fear, (I know that’s not from you). And no, I don’t think Bartok Concerto for Orchestra is contemporary music. We have way more in common than you would have the ArtsWatch readership believe, and you know it!

          • All true, Greg, and thanks for your comment. (I’m replying to the comment of Feb. 27 here; sometimes it’s hard to see exactly where these posts are coming out, which I guess is a good problem to have, because it means lots of discussion.) Actually, unless I’ve missed it (which is possible — I don’t read every symphony program), the donations of symphony players to these other worthy musical causes is a story that I haven’t heard much about, except anecdotally, as here. It’s a tangent to this discussion, of course, but it sounds like an important one that we would be happy to tell — after March Music Madness recedes, of course.
            And for those who don’t know, yes, many if not most of our OSO players have to teach or take other gigs to make ends meet. Given the hours of work they put in, their education, dedication, quality of performance and so on, I do not consider them overpaid — quite the opposite, in fact. I regret if my comments implied otherwise. As you’ll see in the next story, I (and many other observers) perceive that the sources of American orchestras’ disconnect from broader audiences lie elsewhere — not with musician salaries, certainly not at the OSO level. And really, not to give away the game too much, I think we’ll find that there are no bad guys in this story. How’s that for a teaser for the next installment?
            Thanks again for your comments, y’all.

          • bob priest says:

            hey greg,

            “cozy” is a mighty relative term to many of us participating in this thread.

            for example, most of you folks @ OSO have tenured positions, a fairly generous salary, full health benefits, a retirement plan, etc. of course, you DESERVE this generous employment package for the work you do – i doubt that anyone here would deny that.

            HOWEVER, many here among us & in the extended PDX musical community see your position as quite enviable & cozy, indeed.

            so, be mindful when you “whimper” about not being able to afford caviar & prime rib. for, you see, some of the deep-trench art warriors reading your words can barely afford campbell’s (no brett connection intended here!) pork ‘n’ beans on their ever-fluctuating “salaries.” yes, i exaggerate a tad – or do i?

            that you donate free services to the organizations you mention is worthy & admirable behavior, no doubt. thank you!

            now, what i truly appreciate in your post is the generous offer to give up another round of your publicly funded 2.8 percent towards contemporary musical incubators. this is the type of concrete specific that a project like this can build upon to help get this “thang” off the ground in a tout de suite fashion. moltissimo thanx for this.

            and, i will personally match whatever dollar amount you elect to pony-up based on a sliding scale relative to our respective yearly incomes.

            i’m serious. anyone else? perhaps an account could be opened up where some believers in this terrific project can chip in?

            anyway, just jammin’ over here, boss!

  7. How about making this a conversation about working together to make this happen? I’m never a fan of the old rich established organization vs. the young scrappy volunteer organization.

    The reason Classical Revolution PDX exists is to create ideas, passion, momentum for all things classical. All of our organizations could work together with this momentum and make big things happen in this city.

    • Jeff Winslow says:

      What you said, Mattie. I love Brett’s absolutely vital passion on this issue but I get nervous when I hear people talking about “zero-sum games” or acting as if they were playing one. The first question that occurs to me on seeing the OSO budget figures is, if less than 3% of their budget comes from taxes, why are we talking as if the proportion for a local arts incubator must be anywhere near 100%? I’m not really asking for an answer, I’m just trying to spark off alternative paths of thinking.

      • Thanks for your question, Jeff. That’s worth clarifying: I’m suggesting only that whatever subsidy would have been directed to funding a new downtown concert hall be instead directed to fund the community classical music incubators — whatever percentage of the total cost that would be. Or, alternatively, when the advocates of the concert hall come up with their elephant, er, estimate, we can use that figure to calculate how many community incubators that amount would buy.

  8. As an aspiring Oregonian composer I would whole-heartedly welcome a new venue!

    I would say that ticket prices are often the barrier, at least for the people I know. Most of my friends are way interested in the new music scene but don’t really have a central place to check it out. This would be a great opportunity to centralize the new music community.

  9. Exactly, Jay and Mattie.OMW is a beautiful and tangible manifestation of Brooklyn’s vision. Now it’s up to Portlanders to craft our own. Then we can get to the hard part of figuring out how to pay for it! The good news is that I believe a neighborhood oriented, grassroots network like this stands a much better chance of garnering citywide support than would a single downtown facility primarily serving a few high-profile arts groups, no matter how deserving. But taxpayers aren’t going to buy a pig in a poke. The music community will have to show them the vision before voters show them the money.

  10. Flora Sussely says:

    I think there’s is a large community of visionaries who are never asked what they think, know, or need. We (those not in enviable positions) do not have a place at the table and, until now, I’d not seen such an in-depth discussion that included the local talent.
    I find it amusing that Mattie Kaiser has been invited to speak at a university far away and not here. Oregonians and Portlanders specifically, have inferiority issues. When I moved from Los Angeles, everyone cared what I thought, But now, I’ve lived here too long. I lost my place at the table.
    We need performance spaces with good acoustics and we need to have those who will present the work of the present and the future involved in the inception and execution of those spaces. Even if they are young or poor or local. Even if all the enviable positions are filled with fifty-something white guys and their posse of sycophants.
    (And just to clarify, I am a fifty-something who loves to perform the tried and true music of the dead. But we are assuring that our local creatives move away keeping things as they are)

    • Thanks for your comment, Flora. That’s a perceptive and pertinent point: a Portland-style, grassroots arts incubator will be about more than just a building. It’ll also be about — a word that Portlanders loathe, but a concept we seem to demand — a process. And that process, which will probably be messier than we’d all like, should include a place at the table for the low-budget visionaries who have done so much good on so small a budget so far, some going back a quarter century or more, like Third Angle. That’s why it’s important that it be a publicly funded project. I’d love to have the bucks of one of your former neighbors, Eli Broad — but rather than consequently bowing to the single-minded vision and taste attached to such strings, I’d much prefer to draw on the collective wisdom and entrepreneurial spirit of our scrappy local creatives. Even it means lot of process. It’ll be a PORTLAND thing, after all.

      • bob priest says:

        ah, yes, eli broad!

        as an el lay boy, i LOVE some aspects of the way he “gits R done.”

        after all, one doesn’t get a disney hall without a technicolor checkbook!


  11. Flora Sussely says:

    Brett~It will a Portlandia episode!

  12. Brett, I think you may want to make a distinction about what you really mean by a “dead composer.” On our March Music Moderne concert, Northwest New Music is playing compositions written in the last 15-20 years, by some composers who have been dead for about a decade. And we consider that very vital music. I’d prefer if we had a different designation, although I am sort of hard-balling you, because I do totally understand what you’re saying, and I agree with you whole-heartedly.

    I also wish we had a performance space that was really appropriate for new music – such a place does not exist in Portland, and we get tired of trying to figure out where to perform. However, designating a potential “new” venue to be only Oregon composers/artists may be too small a world view. A more likely scenario might be including works by Oregon artists (40-60%?) in every show or performance.

    • Welcome to the discussion, Diane! We’d certainly love to know what musicians like you, who perform contemporary music often, would want to see in such facilities. What design and other aspects would make them “appropriate for new music”? Let’s all be as specific as possible: size of venue, flexibility of facilities, lighting, sound, layout, etc etc.

      Hmm, I thought I knew what “dead” meant! [Insert link to Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch here.] But you’re right. Let’s determine this based on first principles. First, if part of the point of an arts incubator is to foster the creation of new music, then it must perforce facilitate — via commission, lowered barriers to recording and performance, etc — the creation of new work by living Oregon composers. So we should start there — that’s goal #1 and the majority of the programming.

      Beyond that, another purpose in my mind, at least, is to grow the audience for classical and postclassical music. What non-Oregon or non-living composers’ music will do that, will reach the 20 and 30 somethings and Portlanders from the demographic — to put it delicately — that doesn’t commonly attend classical music concerts?

      We’ve mentioned Lou Harrison here, in part because he was an Oregon native, and though he’s been gone for a decade, his music continues to win new listeners world wide because it was so far ahead of its time. More ears are receptive to his globally influenced sounds now than they were when he was pioneering them half a century or more ago. Even if he hadn’t qualified under the Oregon composer rubric, Harrison’s music would fit there, too, as would, say Osvaldo Golijov’s or Steve Reich’s or the Bang on a Canners, or many of the younger composers that Imani Winds, Kronos Quartet, eighth blackbird and the other major new music ensembles perform. Their music has been demonstrated to speak to contemporary listeners, many of them who don’t attend other classical music events. And I’m leaving out a whole segment of jazz-inspired composers, like Seattle’s Bill Frisell and Don Byron, who write real chamber music. And doubtless much more.

      So that’s #2: as long as it grows the audience and speaks to contemporary culture, I’d be happy to see the works of other 21st century composers included in that other 40%, and maybe a few other works that would be likely to reach younger and more diverse audiences than currently attend classical and new music concerts. I’m thinking here of other West Coast composers like Mason Bates and John Adams and Seattle’s Garrett Fisher, the New Amsterdam gals and guys (yo Brooklyn!), and the Pacific Rim composers that Third Angle has been exploring to such fascinating effect in recent years.

      Better yet, let’s go beyond the big names and find some other contemporary composers who write accessible music, the way Portland oboist Ann van Bever seems to be able to do with some regularity in her Mousai Ensemble. There really is a lot of innovative yet audience friendly music out there. I hear it all the time on Counterstream Radio, New Sounds, and various other places. A tertiary purpose of such incubators would be to encourage local performers to go find it. It’s easier than ever now, thanks to what David Schiff (another excellent local composer whose work should be performed frequently in incubators and elsewhere) calls the greatest music teaching tool ever invented: YouTube. So much good new music gets played once, in the premiere, and is never heard from again. Here’s a place to keep it going.

      So to summarize the two main goals I’d envision for an incubator: after we’ve satisfied the supply of new music by living Oregon composers, the incubators could help generate a living repertoire of contemporary music by other 21st century composers, especially music that expands the audience.

      That’s me. What do the rest of you think?

      • I’d love to see a small to medium-sized space that was either modular, in the round, or in some other way able to get the audience close to the performers. Seating maybe 200 people? While some pieces benefit from stage lighting and distance, I think in the long run that kinds of folks who AREN’T going to classical or serious music concerts are often put off by the elitism and distancing that formal stages present.

        • I agree completely, Diane. And in the same spirit: beer! If we’ve learned anything from Opera Theater Oregon, Classical Revolution PDX, Schubert, Bach, et al, it’s that beer and classical music go great together. And I believe strongly in historically informed performance practice in this area. Guess we’ll need liquor licenses…..

        • Jack Gabel says:

          Agnieszka and I have been looking in SE PDX for over 5 years (several promising options came and went) for a modest (150-200 seat capacity) space to make into a multi-use theatre – so far always stymied – last promising option: Sellwood Masonic Lodge – we talked for a bit – then nothing – next thing ya know it’s housing one more Antique Mall – just what Sellwood needs… bugger all!!!

          • Get thee behind us, past failures! Jack, you’re better qualified than anyone in town to tell us what Portland needs in a performance/recording venue oriented to local composers. Specs, please! Or questions to the Brooklyns.

          • Jack Gabel says:

            RE: “…what Portland needs in a performance/recording venue …”

            that would be either a landlord with enough largess to give out the slack to let some penniless producer develop a space… getting it up, running and some cash flowing; or major support from the Portland Development Commission – unfortunately when talking to them, only hurdles seem to appeared – at least for us; maybe we didn’t fit their profile

            modest-size affordable performance spaces are at a premium in PDX – we know because we’re regularly in the market for such spaces – an affordable, attractive, well appointed for theatre dance and music performance space can count on being rented 12-15 nights per month; but it takes some serious cash to get one up and running

            it’s mainly the requisite upgrades: electrical capacity, heating, sprinkling and other fire codes, ADA compliance, etc. – simple fact: older affordable buildings have to be brought up to public use codes – the financial formula that works is illusive without some sort of endowment – not many options to those of us in the trenches (so to speak)

          • Thanks, Jack. I guess that’s the kind of nitty gritty detail that the O-M-W folks included in their budget. If you have specific questions about exactly how they upgraded and refurbished their space, please post them here and I’ll pass them on to Brooklyn. And you’re making a great case about why such a facility needs to be a publicly funded venture — your experience suggests that Portland’s private market is incapable of supplying or unwilling to provide such a facility, or at least one that could serve the incubation function that requires low admission prices, free facility rental, etc.

      • bob priest says:

        Warning: shameless March Music Moderne plug comin’ atcha right about —- NOW!

        Hey there, fan of new music by local composers! Yeah, that’s right, droogies, i’m talkin’ to Y’ALL!!

        Wanna hear ten brand spankin’ new one-minute marches commissioned by the Baby LeRoy Memorial Trust for the Free Marz String Trio based on Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring?”

        OK, then. Come on out FRIDAY 8 MARCH to the Community Music Center for an 8 pm FREE concert that includes delectably fresh marchin’ music by:

        1/ Christi Denton – Electrogals
        2/ Elizabeth Dyson – Crazy Jane Composers
        3/ Jack Gabel – Agnieszka Laska Dancers
        4/ Michael Johanson – Lewis & Clark College
        5/ Robert McBride – All-Classical Radio
        6/ Bonnie Miksch – Portland State University
        7/ Andrew Oliver – Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble
        8/ John Paul – Marylhurst University
        9/ Art Resnick – Cascadia Composer
        10/ David Schiff – Reed College

        Additionally, think of this as an incubation project during which these fine composers might decide to write full-length string trios after hearing the ultra-fabu Free Marz String Trio (Ines Voglar, Joel Belgique & Justin “Badbeard” Kagan) run down their marches.

        As my man Prince would say; “now tell me, ain’t dat sexy?”

        This concert also includes a few token works by significant dead composers from the 20th & 21st centuries – Elliott Carter, Witold Lutoslawski, Dmitri Shostakovich & Igor Stravinsky.

        • Jeff Winslow says:

          As long as shameless plugs are allowed, let me point out that not just one or two, but actually six of the ten fine composers Bob has listed above are members of Cascadia Composers. Something to remember if you like what you hear. (And if you don’t, we have dozens of other members!)

  13. UPDATE: Earlier today, I reached out O-M-W and asked whether the founders would be interested in answering any questions about the project — such as those several of you have so astutely raised here. I just received an enthusiastically positive reply. Thanks, big sister! So: please submit your practical or philosophical questions for Paola Prestini and Kevin Dolan here, I’ll compile them, and send them in on, say, Friday. How does that sound? I guess I could kick it off: how will O-M-W determine what artists get to participate? Before you weigh in, please read this interview with O-M-W founder Kevin Dolan, which answers some of the basic questions:!/articles/q2-music/2012/sep/10/interview-original-music-workshops-founder-kevin-dolan/

    • Keith McGraw says:

      I’m quite glad I stumbled across both this post and its subsequent discussion. The questions being raised here echo similar sentiments I’ve had for a long time. Would there be a benefit to forming an organization that attempted to address some of these concerns? It seems like there are at least a few like-minded individuals who would benefit from organizing and proposing ideas for the creation of these types of dedicated spaces.

      • Thanks for your comment, Keith. I’m so impressed by the constructive (pun intended) tone of these latest posts. I think we have managed to assemble a group of practical visionaries here. I hope you all will continue to reach out to other parts of the Portland classical community to invite them into this conversation.

        Of course, as journalists, we at OAW are incapable of actual, you know, action or anything. But it seems that many of those involved in this discussion have a strong interest, in both senses of the word, in crafting a proposal of some kind, whether to send to voters or elected officials or arts funders.

        After we’ve aired some ideas here, which is really our job, I think it’ll then be up to those who would like to be involved in such incubators, or at least the effort to get them funded to take the next step and, as you suggest, form a group to carry on. If anyone wants to volunteer to organize the first meeting, we’ll post contact info here, and then it’ll be up to the rest of you to take it from there. Any volunteers?

        I do hope that those who care about Oregon classical music will become involved in a movement to transform this from a discussion to a proposal, and maybe ultimately into a building or four. If nothing else, it would be useful for voters and the arts community to have a community incubator alternative proposal in place when the proposal for a publicly funded concert hall emerges.

        ArtsWatch’s role will be to report on all these efforts and other relevant initiatives around the country for context. We could also be a virtual place for community discussion to continue, and perhaps we and other arts related forums, like ArtSpark or March Music Moderne, could host public discussions. When there are stories to be written about this, we will write them. And although I like the idea of an O-M-W for Portland myself, we at ArtsWatch are of course eager to report on other alternatives that might affect the development of classical and contemporary classical music in Oregon — and that includes a downtown concert hall, when advocates are ready to make their case for one.

        For our part, I’m thinking we should continue the discussion of a vision for such incubators here for awhile longer. After that, maybe the next step would be a similar discussion about how to make that vision a reality. In that case, we’d want to invite political as well as musical types into our discussions.

        • bob priest says:

          a fine opportunity for many of us to meet, greet & continue to bat around this uber-sexy topic is a week from tomorrow :

          Ears Wide Open
          First Thursday MMM Festspiel Preview, Party & Patois
          7 March – 7 pm – Polish Hall – FREE

          the 2nd part of the evening features a panel discussion with:

          + Paul Schiavo (mod) – program notes annotator for the Seattle Symphony & Lincoln Center
          + James Bash – Oregon Music News
          + Mattie Kaiser – Classical Revolution PDX
          + David Schiff – Reed College
          + James McQuillen – Oregonian
          + Brett Campbell – Oregon Arts Watch & Willamette Week
          + Dan Rasay – board member for C-Rev PDX & the Oregon Symphony

          there will also be live music by Lutoslawski & Salonen PLUS a reception with trad. Polish Food & VODKA!

          come on out!



          dang, was that ANOTHER “shameless plug?” :)))

          • I think we’ve given up on the concept of shame in your posts, Bob. But wow, what a coup: “live music by Lutoslawski & Salonen”! Getting Esa-Pekka to venture NW is amazing enough, but bringing Witold back from the grave must have taken a LOT of Deep Cello blend. Keep it up and we won’t have to worry about all those dead Europeans. I think I’d rather see L&S even more than Jagger & Richard.

          • bob priest says:

            excellent, brett, touche!

            however, we all know that keith richards will NEVER die!

  14. Greg Ewer says:

    I walked through this space with Paul Schubach a year or so ago when it was for sale. There is an extensive warehouse attached to the main theater which the new owner has said he’d like to see become a black-box theater or artists’ space. According to the article, he also held an open house “looking for ideas on the types of events that could be held at the theater”. Just food for thought…

    • Jack Gabel says:

      we tried getting in there for a looksee but failed – the walk-through schedule seemed confused

      Former Day Music, just down the road did a major upgrade to it’s performance auditorium and rehearsal/teaching studios – that was just a few years back

      talked to Jim Day about options, but the direction they’re taking it seems not to coincide with what’s of interest here – probably should talk again

  15. Greg Ewer says:

    Geez Bob,
    Apparently you’re more invested in the ‘us against them’ narrative of this blog post than I thought. Sorry I tried to make the point that it’s not helpful.

    If your aim was to alienate and divide, congratulations on a job well done.

    • bob priest says:

      actually, i thought my post was fairly clean, clear & equitably balanced.

      it’s unfortunate that you see it as divisive & alienating. but, that is certainly your right. it appears that you are a bit more defensive than i thought.

      anyway & perhaps ultimately, as one of our mutual friends recently put it to me; “talk is cheap & money is expensive.”

      so, given that this extremely worthy project IS going to be expensive (on many levels), i merely thought to underline that hard reality a tad – in addition to pointing out the obvious FACT that where we sit in these tough economic times just “might” influence our individual perspectives on same.

      i sincerely did NOT mean to alienate you. perhaps we can meet sometime face-to-face & try to iron out our misunderstandings before they deepen any further?

      give me a shout if that interests you.


  16. M says:

    the issue of haves and have-nots is real in this milieu. I work with both. and the haves with whom I work are humble, extremely generous and you’d never know of their contributions (money AND time AND talent). In fact, I have to call them out on those contributions when I personally feel they ought to be acknowledged. I’ve also worked with the have-nots, equally generous, humble, and you’d never know the full extent of their contributions or their own often dire financial status. I consider myself a have, though not nearly to the extent of the haves I’ve been privileged to work with (because of their sense of responsibility, ebullience and NOT false modesty).

    I think it’s the (maybe perceived) feeling of self-entitlement that creeps in and not the (maybe perceived) comfort we live in that might be causing the bristling. Over the years I have felt self-entitled, I have felt imperious, I have felt stepped on . . . . . you name it, I’ve felt it in this racket. And now I feel the joy of the tussle, the getting it out into the open (whether it’s on discussion boards or in rehearsal) and the true camaraderie that comes from having a shared mission even though my personal experience is . . . . . well . . . . . personally gained, therefore different from everyone else(‘s).

    I agree with Bob in that it’s really important to be able to take a fair hit. and to know the difference, whether you’re taking it or giving it.

    • Maria Choban says:

      the above post is Maria Choban. apparently I tabbed through just “m” 🙂

      • Greg Ewer says:

        Maria – We could also argue all day about what is a fair hit. -I think a lot of what is being said here is fair, but some of it is arbitrary and exaggerated, and keeps the conversation about new music from moving forward. I’m somewhat guilty for straying off topic, but I’m not alone.

        We know very little about each other’s lifestyles, financial situations, personal history or philanthropic behavior. We have no idea what it’s like to stand in each other’s shoes, or the degree to which any of us feel entitled to anything.

        And how does speculation about any of the above benefit a conversation about a publicly funded artistic incubator?

        And regarding this perceived ‘defensiveness’ that everyone keeps bringing up? Folks are probably mistaking it for genuine disappointment in the way some of our community’s musicians are choosing to relate to one another.

        • Maria Choban says:

          @ greg re: “And how does speculation about any of the above benefit a conversation about a publicly funded artistic incubator?”

          good point. this is a good heated tussle with lots of great ideas being generated and opinions being thrown into the mix. I just hate to see unnecessary acrimony creep in.

        • bob priest says:

          hey greg,

          thanx for your recent personal email – i’ll get back to you soon in a “behind the scenes” kinda fashion . . .

          as for straying off the central topic in this thread, man, you said a cyber-mouthful there! yes, many of us have done just that here & there.

          so, i look forward to gittin’ squarely back on “tusk” of brett’s ground zero theme as so succinctly stated @ the very top of this hugely important “manifesto.”

          speaking of “feisty Texans,” both my grandparents on my daddy’s side were Texans! now, does that make me part of y’all’s great brood or not?


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