Music News & Notes

Catching up with recent news in Oregon classical music

Note: this post has been updated after news of the passing of one of America’s great musicians.

We’re usually so busy previewing and reviewing performances that we rarely have time to catch up on other news in Oregon classical music. So as winter turns to spring, here’s a roundup of a few comings and goings of important figures on the scene, honors, and opportunities. If you have more news you’d like us to consider sharing with ArtsWatch readers, please let us know.

Steven Zopfi conducted Portland Symphonic Choir in Michael Tippett’s oratorio, ‘A Child of Our Time.’


Scott Showalter

• Whither Showalter? **Updated**
The biggest news in classical music so far this year is yesterday’s sudden departure of Los Angeles Philharmonic’s already legendary Deborah Borda for the New York Philharmonic, which she ran in the 1990s. Why is this news in Oregon? Because current Oregon Symphony president Scott Showalter’s previous job was Vice President for Development of the LA Phil, following stints as Associate Vice President of Alumni Relations and Development of the University of Chicago, and Associate Dean for External Relations of Stanford Law School. A classically trained pianist, Showalter is a graduate of Stanford University and UCLA and has extensive experience in fundraising, which is now the primary job of orchestra CEOs, and a big reason why the NY Phil brought back Borda, a prodigious rainmaker as well as visionary. **UPDATE**: A symphony spokesperson says that Showalter has no plans to leave the OSO, which has enjoyed record ticket sales and donations under his leadership, and that he expects Borda to do great things in New York as she did in LA.

• PSU departure
Former Portland State University Dean of the College of the Arts Robert Bucker, an esteemed choral conductor, has been named Interim Vice Provost and Dean of the Faculty at New York’s prestigious Manhattan School of Music. A search is underway for his replacement.

Stephen Zopfi.

• Choir conductor change
Portland Symphonic Choir artistic director Steven Zopfi is departing after 14 years, as a result of a scheduling conflict with his work as director of choral activities at the University of Puget Sound. A search has commenced for his successor.

• Opera recovery
As Oregon ArtsWatch was first to announce publicly (you really should be checking our Facebook page!), Eugene Opera has cancelled its productions of West Side Story and La Tragedie de Carmen scheduled for March and May. The company announced last week that a small group of supporters has jointly pledged to donate a total of $60,000 when the company receives a matching $60,000 from other donors. The combined total of $120,000 is specifically earmarked to pay existing obligations to local artists, technicians, and businesses; it will cover about 75% of the current debt of $160,000. A separate $20,000 matching grant will begin funding the company’s next season.

• New opera series
Meanwhile, a new opera-oriented series has sprung up in Portland. The  Opera Wildwood Concert Series is a project of Luigi Boccia’s Vox Artis Foundation, which seeks to establish, organize and sponsor concert and lecture series, live and studio recordings, seminars and publishing/broadcasting activities through a specialized Youtube channel, in the U.S and abroad. Vox Artis also aims to provide encouragement, training opportunities, career assistance and financial support, including scholarships and awards, to promising and talented young singers and/or scholars,” according to its press release. The inaugural concert at Portland’s Wildwood Company on 3rd Avenue featured promising young opera singers. Stay tuned to ArtsWatch for the latest developments with this new company, and other news in Oregon classical music.


Piano Day
Pianists are invited to sign up for Portland Piano International’s Piano Day — the first such celebration in the US. For the last two years, other countries have celebrated the 88th day of the year (corresponding to the number of keys on a standard piano), March 29, in 20 cities across the globe. Now, from noon – 10pm, pianists will play a total of 1000 minutes of piano music of all genres at four locations in the Portland Metro area at different times: the studio at All Classical Radio, the atrium at Portland City Hall, the platform at the Washington Park MAX Station (260 feet underground!) and the stage at Alberta Abbey. Pianists of all ages and abilities will perform on some of the City’s best pianos. The events will be free to the public, but each performer will be raising funds from the community with a minimum goal of $10 per minute played. The funds raised will be used to support the educational programs of Portland Piano International. Sign up to play or sponsor a pianist at

Battle of the Bands.
The Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) is accepting registrations for its second annual Battle of the Bands competition, which happens Wednesday, May 17, 2017 at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom. Eight employee bands, sponsored by their companies, will perform in front of friends, family, co-workers and a panel of celebrity judges as they vie for the title of Best Company Band and other prizes. The event will raise more than $80,000 for RACC’s annual Work for Art campaign.

Participating companies pay a sponsorship fee of $5,000 or more, which includes complimentary tickets and other benefits. Bands must be made up mostly of employees working for the sponsoring company; only one musician in each band may be exempted from this requirement. All bands must register by Monday, April 3.  This year brings a new lip sync video competition. For more information and application materials, visit


• NYC bound
The Eugene a cappella group, Synergy, composed of high school girls from across the region, won a regional competition in Portland in January, becoming one of 10 finalists competing in a national competition in New  York City April 21. The group’s director, Megan Lenhardt, co-founded the University of Oregon’s renowned Divisi a cappella group, and its current incarnation will perform along with Synergy, its male counterpart Some Cool Guys (which is also headed to New York for the competition), Divisi co-founder and a cappella star Evynne Hollens, will perform at a benefit concert this Sunday, March 19, at First United Methodist Church, 1376 Olive St. Eugene to raise funds for the NYC trip.

• Grabbing gold
Pianist Trevor Natiuk, violinist Symphony Koss, and flutist Ashley Teng, won gold medals in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s 23rd Annual Young Artists Competition. The three gold medalists receive a $1000 scholarship and the opportunity to perform with the VSO at its April 22 & 23 concerts at Skyview Concert Hall. Five other students received medals and scholarships.

• Music & Community
Eugene Vocal Arts and its founding artistic director and conductor, Diane Retallack, won the Ernst Bacon Memorial Award for the Performance of American Music in the community division for the recorded performance of the newly commissioned world premiere of Shadow and Light, an Alzheimer’s Journey in 16 movements, by Portland composer Joan Szymko. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch feature about the project.

Eugene Vocal Arts artistic director Diane Retallack.

The American Prize is a series of new, non-profit national competitions in the performing arts providing cash awards, professional adjudication and regional, national and international recognition for the best recorded performances by ensembles and individuals each year in the United States at the professional, college/university, church, community and secondary levels.

• Alumnus Achievement
Roger Kaza, Principal Horn for the Saint Louis Symphony, received the Mary V. Dodge Lifetime Achievement Award at Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Winter Concert on March 4, after performing with his old orchestra during its winter concert. PYP, by the way, now offers $5 tickets to any performance to all students, from elementary school through grad school — a practice more classical music groups that want to build tomorrow’s audiences should consider.

Update: The day after we posted these notes, we learned of the passing of the American musician who, after George Gershwin, might have been the most influential of the 20th century, Chuck Berry. While his own music is immortal, his legacy — the template for 20th century rock music — is even greater. See for example what happened when a Seattle-born kid got his hands on a Berry classic. 

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

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