Random Notes: Leaks, links and a palpable scoop from Oregon’s classical music whirl

Ronn McFarlane plays “Indigo Road.”

Classical Comings and Goings

Portland Columbia Symphony music director Huw Edwards announced to the orchestra last week that he will resign at the end of this season, his twelfth with the symphony. The Wales-born conductor also directed the Portland Youth Philharmonic from 1995-2002, and since then has also served as music director of the Olympia Symphony. CSO’s Shelly Williams said Edwards was worn out from the frequent commutes between Olympia and Portland, and a formal announcement with more details about Edwards’s departure and the orchestra’s succession process will be coming soon. The orchestra last month performed a 30-year retrospective concert featuring the first works played in the tenures of each of its music directors, which makes Edwards’s announcement feel somehow appropriate. His last concerts as music director, featuring audience favorites by Rachmaninoff, Verdi, Berlioz, Richard Rogers and Delius, will be performed May 4 at Portland’s First United Methodist Church and May 6 at Gresham’s Mt. Hood Community College.

Huw Edwards: Going thataway. Photo: Portland Columbia
Symphony Orchestra.


After a six month search, the Eugene Symphony today announced the appointment of its new executive director, Scott Freck, effective June 11. It marks a return to the Pacific Northwest for the Whitman College alum, who before working as vice president for artistic operations and general manager of the North Carolina Symphony since 2000, served as artistic administrator of the Oregon Symphony and principal cellist of the Walla Walla Symphony.

Arts Equity and Advocacy

Along with tax day, April 17 is National Arts Advocacy Day, with arts lovers urged to contact their representatives about initiatives pertaining to, among other vital interests, music education and orchestras and community vitality. Arriving on the heels of a US Department of Education report earlier this month that revealed that while 90% of American public schools offer some form of music education, “six percent of the nation’s public elementary schools offer no specific instruction in music, nine percent of public secondary schools reported that they did not offer music, and only 15 percent of elementary schools offered music instruction at least three times per week,” according to the League of American Orchestras. “Schools with a higher concentration of students in poverty were less likely to offer music education. Likewise, among elementary schools offering music education, the presence of music specialists declines as the school’s poverty rate increases. This is sobering news, just as a separate new report from the National Endowment for the Arts underscores the significant academic, workforce, and civic engagement gains associated with high levels of arts exposure for youth of lower socioeconomic status.”

That report revealed that “At-risk teenagers or young adults with a history of intensive arts experiences show achievement levels closer to, and in some cases exceeding, the levels shown by the general population studied. These findings suggest that in-school or extracurricular programs offering deep arts involvement may help to narrow the gap in achievement levels among youth.” Unlike most disadvantaged students, who tend to fall behind their wealthier peers, those who experienced arts education programs averaged higher grades than those who didn’t, and enrolled in college at higher rates than those who lacked experience with the arts.

Portland’s Creative Advocacy Network followed up with a grim assessment of the DOE report’s local implications, which “showcased how far behind Portland has fallen. The study found that across the US, 94% of elementary schools offer music instruction and 83% offer programming in visual arts. In contrast, Portland’s six public school districts, which educate over 33,000 K-5 students annually, only provide music instruction in 58% of elementary schools and visual arts instruction in a mere 18%. And the rate of decline for arts education in Portland has been shockingly steep. In the last five years Parkrose and Centennial School Districts have cut their arts and music teaching staff by half, while PPS has dropped all arts instruction in 22 schools in just two years. Today in Portland there are 11,596 children attending schools that do not have any art, dance, drama, and music instruction. With last week’s announcement that 110 teachers at PPS will be cut next year – that number is guaranteed to increase.”

Hitting the Links

Yes, we’re talking about the Masters — but not those guys who walk around whacking at little white spheres in Georgia.  Anyone who enjoyed pianist Inon Barnatan’s recent performances with the Oregon Symphony and Portland Piano International might want to check out these striking videos set to his performances of music by Ravel, Thomas Ades, and more.

Portland’s superb vocal ensemble Cappella Romana, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary season (we’ll have an appreciation soon here), gained national attention on its recent East Coast tour, including this story on National Public Radio.

Watch March 29, 2012 on PBS. See more from Oregon Art Beat.

And Oregon Public Broadcasting last week gave Oregonians a look at one of the world’s finest early music practitioners, who happens to live here now. In an excellent free noon concert at Portland’s Old Church in February, lutenist extraordinaire Ronn McFarlane kept the lunchtime audience spellbound with his elegant, rhythmically assured performances of Renaissance music and Scottish lute songs, a demonstration of Queen Elizabeth I tripping the light fantastic, lucid and engaging commentary, and a set of his own originals written in late Renaissance and early Baroque styles, and a set of modern sounding tunes. (Who says old instruments can’t play new music?) The impressionistic “Cathedral Cove,” inspired by an underwater cave off the Australian coast, would charm fans of the new acoustic music of the old Windham Hill label. The upbeat, minor-key Irish-tinged “Indigo Road” and “Overland” winningly chronicled road trips, and another captured the majesty and unexpected lushness of Mt. Denali — big bold opening strokes followed by a gentler tune. “Pine Top” turned a technical warmup exercise into a winning work that concluded the concert on a buoyant note. I hope McFarlane returns to local stages soon, perhaps in conjunction with the area’s blossoming scene of excellent early music ensembles and performers.

Finally, here’s a promising new resource for Oregon musicians and those interested in their work. As our music scene continues to grow, organizations like Cascadia Composers and efforts like this one can help foster cooperation and community among artists and audiences.

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