Music Notes

Wrapping up recent news in Oregon music

Every so often, when the live music schedule slacks off a bit, we wrap up news in various provinces of Oregon’s vibrant music scene. Many of the items originally appeared on ArtsWatch’s Facebook page, which you should follow to keep up with the happenings in Oregon arts and ArtsWatch.


The Portland State University Chamber Choir, which has been featured often in these news wraps and elsewhere on ArtsWatch, continues to bring the state international acclaim. Last month, it became the first American choir ever to compete in Asia’s largest choral festival, the Bali International Choral Festival, which featured over 100 choirs. And it won the Grand Prix. The Chamber Choir won two categories: Music of Religions and Gospels & Spirituals, earning the highest score in the entire festival for the latter.

According to PSU’s press release, during the ten day trip, the Chamber Choir toured cultural sites, visited a program to alleviate poverty and sang at a charity concert to raise money for homeless youth. The choir also joined two Indonesian choirs to sing opera chorus at a gala for Catharina Leimena, Indonesia’s first opera star. The group also apparently spontaneously rehearsed one of its pieces in the Shanghai Airport, drawing international attention.

This is the second international competition that the Chamber Choir has won in recent years. In 2013 they were the first American choir to win the Grand Prix at the Seghizzi International Competition for Choral Singing, held in Italy.

Ethan Sperry and PSU Chamber Choir won the big prize at the Bali International Choral Festival.

Last week, the choir released its new CD, The Doors of Heaven, which immediately landed  at #1 on Amazon Classical, #1 on iTunes Classical, and debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Traditional Classical chart — the first university choir to chart. It’s the first recording made by an American choir exclusively devoted to the music of one of the world’s hottest choral composers, Latvia’s Eriks Esenvalds. We’ll be telling you more about it before the choir’s November CD release concerts in Portland.

Sperry was just named recipient of the first Portland Professorship, a new program that allows donors to name and fund termed PSU faculty positions.The first Portland Professorship position was recently created with a gift from longtime major PSU donor Robert Stoll of the Stoll Berne law firm.

• Earlier this month, another Portland choir, the Trinity Cathedral Choir also headed across the seas to sing in two of the monuments of Western Christianity and civilization – Notre-Dame de Paris and St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Into the forest: Pianist and composer Darrell Grant.

• Portland jazz pianist, composer, and PSU prof Darrell Grant won a 2017 Northwest Regional Emmy® Award for Musical Composition/Arrangement category for his composition in Oregon Public Broadcasting’s (OPB’s) Oregon Experience special JazzTown: Portland’s Golden Jazz Age, which explores Portland’s jazz scene in North and Northeast Portland following World War II.

Grant also made news earlier this summer by performing in the Elliott State Forest when the public asset was threatened with sale and private exploitation.

Among the winners of the 2017 Joan Shipley Award individual artist fellowships, we spied a few musicians: Portland composer trumpeter Douglas Detrick (a sometimes ArtsWatch contributor), singer songwriter Ashleigh Flynn, Eugene hornist and University of Oregon prof Lydia Van Dreel, and Eugene composer Eliot Grasso. Congrats!

• Detrick was the creative force behind Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s Oregon Stories audio documentary program featuring original music by Darrell Grant, Mark Orton, and Douglas Detrick, which tells stories of exceptional Oregonians from minority communities. The CD has just been released.

Comings and Goings

Leroy Bynum heads PSU College of the Arts.

Portland State University announced the hiring of its new Dean of the College of the Arts, opera singer Leroy E. Bynum, replacing retired Dean (and formal choral director) Robert Bucker. Bynum comes to PSU from New York’s College of Saint Rose. Before that, he taught voice and opera at Albany State University in Georgia, and also served as dean of its College of Arts and Humanities. He’s continued to perform as a singer.

• In an apparent trade, New York received Dr. Keller Coker, a longtime Oregon jazz trombonist, arranger, producer, teacher and composer who taught at Western Oregon University, who was  appointed dean of The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.

• Portland composer and keyboard player Ted Clifford has been chosen as the new president of Cascadia Composers, succeeding Jan Mittelstaedt, who presided for the past five years. Portland composers Dan Brugh and ArtsWatch contributor Jeff Winslow will continue as vice president and secretary treasurer, respectively, of the largest chapter of National Association of Composers/USA.

Molly Barth and Dieter Hennings comprise the Eugene’s Duo Damiana. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

• Another notable new Oregon CD was released by Eugene flutist and UO prof Molly Barth. She and colleagues played music of eminent composer David Lang at the hip new National Sawdust new music center in May.

• All Classical Portland radio president and CEO Jack Allen is retiring from the station after nine years “to pursue personal projects,” the station announced. “Under Jack Allen’s guidance, the station re-branded the service and created unique marketing initiatives and partnerships. He developed strategies that dramatically grew audience and revenue, and his vision fostered the organization’s commitment to ‘building cultural community.’ [Allen] moved the classical service to state of the art facilities in the Hampton Opera Center, created radio programs such as On Deck with Young Musicians and Thursdays @ Three, and the nationally syndicated the weekly film music program, The Score with Edmund Stone. The station has risen to become one of the top performing non-commercial classical stations in the United States.”

Jack Allen is retiring as CEO of All Classical Portland.

However, an Oregon Public Broadcasting report noted that since April, three board members have resigned, and one was voted out. Documents show that former board members and employees expressed repeated concerns over Allen’s absence record, a nearly $284,000 budget shortfall, payroll advances in possible violation of state law and what some described as a culture of fear. The station also faces a possible whistleblower case that centers on complaints about Allen’s leadership. The Oregon Department of Justice confirmed that it has been notified and is reviewing the matter.”

ArtsWatch offered Suzanne Nance, Vice President of Programming and On Air Host, who has been named interim CEO, the opportunity to respond, and here is her statement. “All Classical Portland is currently enjoying its greatest success, with more listeners than ever in Oregon and online around the world. We are strong and vibrant thanks to our dedicated community of music lovers, staff, board, arts partners and supporters. As the Interim CEO, I am proud to share that our special eclipse programming (including a curated soundtrack, newly commissioned work and a world premiere broadcast), is just a preview of what is to come this fall. All Classical Portland will launch a new project in November: the J.O.Y. Project, which stands for Joyous Outreach to YOU/TH. The project builds on our diversity initiatives and will increase our engagement with youth.

All Classical Portland’s Suzanne Nance at the boards.

“In September, we will host our annual fall fundraiser. This year, we are partnering with the Oregon Food Bank and a generous sponsor – Olson & Jones Construction. Every time All Classical Portland receives a donation, Olson & Jones Construction will make a donation directly to the Oregon Food Bank. As All Classical Portland continues to nourish hearts and souls with music, this fall through meaningful community partnership, we can also help nourish individuals and families in need of food. It is an exciting and important time for All Classical Portland. Enjoy the service and the music, share it with others, and be a part of our mission.”

• In brighter (or is that darker?) news, the station is receiving applause from around Oregon for its eclipse programming that Bob Hicks told ArtsWatch readers about last week. Along with a morning full of appropriate classics, the station actually commissioned a new work to commemorate the occasion from Irish composer Desmond Earley. The choice of a non-Oregonian occasioned some grumbling among Oregon’s vibrant classical composition community, perhaps remembering the Britt Festival’s Crater Lake commission offered to New York composer Michael Gordon instead of an Oregonian. We asked All Classical’s community engagement director Amelia Lukas about that, and she replied:

Composer Desmond Early.

“Desmond Earley has been coming to Portland since 1995. He has just started a sabbatical from University College Dublin and chose Portland as the place to be during his sabbatical as he is ‘always inspired by our creative community and the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, and wanted to be here to research and compose.’ He has enjoyed working with local musicians, and forming new relationships. Desmond has very close ties to Portland and the station, including Robert McBride who came up with the idea of asking Desmond to write a special piece for the eclipse. Robert, as the host of Club Mod (and as part of our collective mission at All Classical Portland) is known for celebrating contemporary composers from Oregon and around the world.”

You can hear Earley’s The Body of the Moon at All Classical’s music archive. Click “Listen” then “Audio Archive” then the link at the top.

• The Eugene Symphony announced its new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, who led the orchestra’s annual free outdoor summer concerts, moved to Eugene, and will begin his ESO season with superstar singer Renee Fleming Sept. 19. Because of the success of his predecessors Marin Alsop, Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Giancarlo Guerrero (who has led the Nashville Symphony to great acclaim and innovation and just added another plum position, music director of Poland’s Wrocław Philharmonic), Lecce-Chong’s accession is big national news in the world of classical music. ArtsWatch covered the selection process and Lecce-Chong’s audition concert, and will run a profile of Lecce-Chong next month.

Francesco Lecce-Chong, rehearsing with Eugene Symphony musicians. Photo: Amanda L. Smith.

• The orchestra also announced a big National Endowment for the Arts grant to support a residency by respected Chicago composer Augusta Read Thomas (which includes a pair of West Coast premieres), and a public photo/video contest with the McKenzie River Trust to provide imagery for the orchestra’s February nature-themed concert. Deadline for submissions is November 22.

Matthew Halls conducted James MacMillan’s ‘A European Requiem’ at the 2016 Oregon Bach Festival. Photo: Athena Delene.

• Oregon Bach Festival Artistic Director Matthew Halls and his wife, Erin Cooper Gay Halls, welcomed their new baby boy June 27. Halls, who was in Eugene preparing for the beginning of the 2017 Festival, immediately flew back to Toronto to welcome their son, Henry, while experienced choral conductor Scott Allen Jarrett (who directs the festival’s Vocal Fellows program as well as choirs at Boston University and that city’s esteemed Back Bay Chorale) stepped in to conduct the festival’s opening concerts, JS Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Halls returned to lead the closing week concerts, including Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.

The Seattle Symphony announced that its music director, Ludovic Morlot, will leave the orchestra when his contract expires in 2019. The orchestra won a pair of Grammies for recordings  it issued under Morlot’s guidance. Regarded as a rising star who led the orchestra to growth in several areas, he hasn’t announced a new position yet but prestigious opportunities likely impend.

• Portland artists are finding it necessary to relocate in our rapidly gentrifying city, and a couple of Portland music institutions are also on the move. Artichoke Music, a center for folk and world music, is moving to  2001 and 2007 Southeast Powell, and Portland Piano Company is leaving its downtown location for a mew 20,000 sq/ft regional showroom/warehouse near the Portland Airport.

Berwick Hall, now under construction, will serve as the Bach Festival’s headquarters.

•The Oregon Bach Festival’s new home, Berwick Hall, opens October 8, providing administrative, rehearsal and performance space for the venerable summer music institution and its new historically informed training orchestra.

•A few blocks west, one of the city’s major arts and arts education venues, The Shedd, began a major refurbishment of the one-time 1926 Baptist church building to provide better seating, technology, and other aspects of its six-year comprehensive remodel.

The Shedd will eventually look like this.

Follow the Money

Classical music organizations received major grants from the Oregon Arts Commission’s 2017 Arts Build Communities program.

Portland Opera: $4,000 to support Opera a la Cart, a mobile music venue that will be used for more than 40 free live opera performances for underserved communities.

Portland Opera’s Opera a la Cart serves up portable music at various locations throughout the summer. Photo: Jonathan Ley.

• Eugene Symphony: $7,000 to support Symphony Connect, a partnership with local human service agencies to bring specially designed interactive chamber music performances and other music opportunities to individuals who experience barriers to cultural participation.

Eugene-Springfield Youth Orchestras: $5,700 to support the String Academy program, a youth music education program that provides a full year of beginning string instruction to underserved children in public schools at little or no-cost.

• Rogue Valley Chorale Association: $4,000 to support Spring Sing, a series of choral music concerts for Rogue Valley children.

The Oregon Symphony: $5,600 to support musicNOW, a music therapy program for retirement community residents living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

•The orchestra also announced all time highs in ticket sales revenue ($9,228,060, up 21% over previous year and 59% over last five seasons), tickets sold (up 18% over previous year and 38% over last five seasons), donations (“contributed revenue”) and sold-out concerts, plus leaps in classical attendance and revenues, ticket sales to first time buyers, and other welcome news.

• In May, Symphony musicians joined 5,000 3rd–5th graders at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall as part of the national Link Up concert program, together singing Verdi and Orff, playing recorder to Holst’s “Mars,” and more.

• However, the orchestra canceled its annual Labor Day free Waterfront concert when the city of Portland decided its usual $190,000 contribution (two-thirds of the total) would be better spent on other priorities, such as the homelessness/affordability crises currently besetting the community.

•The National Endowment for the Arts announced a $10,000 award to Portland Youth Philharmonic to support a Creative Heights Initiative project —na January 2018 collaborative performance of Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light, an oratorio featuring Camerata PYP chamber orchestra, four professional soloists, In Mulieribus women’s choir, and Portland State University’s chamber, women’s and men’s choirs who’ll accompany The Passion of Joan of Arc, Carl Dreyer’s 1928 silent film classic.

• This summer, the Sunriver Music Festival’s Young Artists Scholarship (YAS) program awarded $37,400 to 26 young classical music students, who performed in the annual winners concert in June in Sunriver.

Oregon Bravo Youth Orchestra joined Black Violin onstage at Arlene Schnizter Concert Hall last winter. Photo: Kimmie Fadem.

The Oregon Cultural Trust also disbursed some much-needed funding to various music groups.

• Oregon Bravo Youth Orchestras: $8,698 to support an artist in residence bringing culturally diverse musicians to underserved music students in north Portland.

• Pacific Youth Choir: $5,898 to support neighborhood choir programs in underserved communities.

• Portland Gay Men’s Chorus: $13,370 to pay for an external relations coordinator.

• Portland Jazz Festival: $6,286 to support a celebration of Mexican music.

Oregon Symphony cellist Nancy Ives gets up close and personal with young fans at a Classical Up Close event last year.

• Classical Up Close: $6,165 to support the annual free pop up concert series in locations around Portland.

• West Linn’s Youth Music Project: $13,565 to support music ed classes for low income children and their parents.

• Portland SummerFest: $13,221 to support an “organizational planning process” for the annual concert in the park.

• Cappella Romana: $32,691 to hire a marketing manager.

• Chamber Music Northwest: $22,320 to support four new commissioned works and a special focus on Chinese composers.

• The Eugene Concert Choir has started a grassroots campaign to share its award winning 2016 commission, Shadow and Light; an Alzheimer’s Journey in 16 movements, by Portland composer Joan Szymko, with memory care facilities and libraries. The indiegogo campaign provides a DVD/CD package containing an audio recording of the work and a video of its 2016 world premiere concert at Eugene’s Hult Center and a documentary.

Diane Retallack conducted Eugene Vocal Arts in the world premiere of “Shadow and Light.” Photo: Eugene Concert Choir.

• Another Eugene vocal music institution, Eugene Opera, which had to cancel its last two productions due to lack of funds, has successfully completed its Campaign to Restore Financial Health, and will end the season entirely debt free. Donors have already pledged 40% of the individual donations needed for next season – including a $20,000 challenge that will provide a one-for-one match, doubling gifts made between now and December for the 2017-18 season, including a New Year’s show featuring Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and a May production of Astor Piazzolla’s tango opera María de Buenos Aires. The company is searching for a new full time music director. At the end of July, Marc A. Scorca, president and CEO of OPERA America, visited Eugene for a training session with the Eugene Opera Board of Directors.

We realize these tidbits represent a mere smattering of the many, many newsworthy items in Oregon music in the past few months. Please keep us posted so we can tell readers about more next time. Or let our readers know about other news in the comments section below.

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