Music News & Notes: Operatic evolutions

Opera transitions, jazz laurels, music education, and other news in Oregon music

We went months without rounding up Oregon music news before last month’s N&N — and now, so much keeps happening that we need to do it again! Remember that we often slip news about Oregon music in Bob Hicks’s weekly newsletter and on our Facebook page, and we’re always looking for news about Oregon arts to share with our readers, so please keep us posted.

Opera Theater Oregon’s next stage

Opera Theater Oregon Producing Artistic Director Katie Taylor announced that she’s tossing the keys to the next generation of Oregon upstart opera makers: a collective including composers Justin Ralls and Anne Polyakov, baritone Nicholas Meyer and new music advocate Lisa Lipton. OTO Music Director Erica Melton and Film Director Jen Wechsler will remain with the company. Taylor approached Ralls about assuming leadership of the Portland indie opera company’s during development of an upcoming OTO production of his opera, Two Yosemites, opening this summer.

Meyer (l) and Ralls at a Portland preview recital for Ralls’s upcoming opera, ‘Two Yosemites,’ co-produced by Opera Theater Oregon.

The new leaders intend to “step up to meet the demands of reinvigorating opera in today’s artistic climate,” their press announcement declares. “With fresh ideas, relevant social commentary, and a love of accessible chamber music these new provocateurs plan to make their first opera with OTO a new and engaging experience geared to make an impact. Their first performance will feature a new outdoor opera in late summer. Look out for their newsletters, updates, and performance dates in the next few weeks.”

The transition marks the next step in OTO’s evolution since its 2005 founding by Angela Niederloh and Amy Russell. Under Taylor’s two terms of leadership (2006 to 2011 and 2015–17), the company enlivened the Portland music scene by producing or co-sponsoring visionary, often playful productions of both classic and new operas, often with inventive arrangements and scripts by Taylor (who’ll now turn to finishing up a book and short experimental opers in progress) and Melton. Stay tuned to ArtsWatch for more information on OTO’s new direction. With relatively new arrivals Cult of Orpheus, Ping & Woof, Opera on Tap, Opera Wildwood Concert Series, and (as we’ve noted in previous stories) new directions for Portland State University’s opera program, Eugene Opera (see below) and Portland Opera, it’s an exciting time for Oregon opera.

Grant prize winner

The national Jazz Journalist Association has named Portland pianist, composer, and professor Darrell Grant as one of its 2017 Jazz Heroes, an award given to people who further the art form of jazz in their communities. Longtime Portland jazz writer Lynn Darroch will present Grant with the award at the Portland Art Museum on April 30 — International Jazz Day. The event includes PDX Jazz’s Incredible Journey of Jazz program and a performance by Grant’s MJ New Quartet, which is touring the Northwest this month.

Pianist and composer Darrell Grant.


Speaking of one of Oregon’s most valuable musicians, you can read a fascinating interview with Grant in Chamber Music America magazine. And there’s another informative new interview with a Portland composer, Dan Senn, in asymmetry music magazine, which will particularly interest fans of the influential Fluxus movement of the 1960s. And while we’re linking to good stories about Oregon music, check out long-time Portland classical music writer James Bash’s comprehensive overview of places to catch classical music for little or no cost — a welcome antidote to a problem ArtsWatch has long bemoaned.

Latvian journey

Marylhurst University’s award-winning Chamber Choir, will travel to Riga, Latvia in July to compete in the Grand Prix of Nations competition at the Third International Choir Games. The choir, directed by Dr. Justin Smith, is the only ensemble from the United States invited to participate in the international competition, attracting hundreds of choirs from 28 countries worldwide. As we noted last year, the choir picked up a pair of trophies in another international choral festival in Ireland. The choir will sing the music it’s performing in Latvia on June 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Chapel of the Holy Names, Mary’s Woods and on Sunday, July 2 at 4:00 p.m. at St. Anne’s Chapel, Marylhurst University.

Music ed

Friends of Chamber Music’s latest evening course in classical music appreciation begins this week (today, April 3, in fact!), and features guest performances by local musicians including none other than one of Oregon’s, and America’s, finest composers, Portland’s Kenji Bunch. Taught by long time PSU professor and cellist (Oregon Symphony, Third Angle, Florestan Trio, etc.) Hamilton Cheifetz, Inside Chamber Music runs through May, just in time to prepare for this summer’s Chamber Music Northwest.

Darrell Grant and Hamilton Cheifetz performed in Grant’s “The Territory.” Photo: Jim Leisy.

As we noted in an earlier news post, ArtsWatch’s friend and erstwhile Oregonian classical music writer David Stabler also offers courses in classical music. Catch one of the last two classes (April 30 and May 21) in his series, The Infinite Power of Music, before he and his brother depart on a journey across America via Stabler’s other obsession besides music: bicycles. Follow their progress here.

The Bike Brothers Video from Martin Stabler on Vimeo.

Speaking of delving into classical music, ArtsWatch’s newest music writer, Terry Ross, is an old hand at classical music appreciation. The former Willamette Week classical music writer also runs a classical music appreciation class. For more information, email


Here’s an update on our lead news story last month, when we wondered what the departure of Los Angeles Philharmonic executive Deborah Borda might mean for Scott Showalter, who served under her at the LA Phil before becoming Oregon Symphony president. The LA Phil has appointed an interim leader, Gail Samuel, and the OSO tells ArtsWatch that Showalter has no plans to leave.

Eugene Opera’s Mark Beudert.

For the past few months, ArtsWatch has chronicled the ups and downs of Eugene Opera, including breaking the news of its cancellation of its two spring productions. Since our last update, general director Mark Beudert has announced that he won’t seek renewal of his contract after it expires June 30. Beudert and the company have agreed that its rebuilding effort requires a full time executive director who lives in Eugene, and Beudert, long based at Notre Dame University, is unable to relocate from Indiana, where he and his wife work. In his decade at EO’s helm, Beudert led the company back from a previous financial crisis. The company has embarked on a fundraising campaign with matching grants and intends to pay off its $160,000 budget deficit by year’s end.

What does Oregon music sound like? One of OAW’s first projects was creating Oregon ComposersWatch, a central showcase of Oregon-related contemporary classical and jazz composition. Curator Gary Ferrington frequently updates the site with new listings featuring Oregon composers new and old, and he’s added a few this spring, including a listing for Darrell Grant, now celebrating his 20th anniversary of Portland residency, and another for the late Portland-born composer Lou Harrison, whose centennial we’re celebrating this year. If you know other composers who should be listed, please send ‘em our way via the contact button above. Stop by every now and then and browse awhile to hear the sound of Oregon.

String Music

Finally, potent and highly contagious disease, originating in Portland’s Rose Quarter, sweeps through Oregon, and sympathetic musicians from abroad respond in song.

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

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