katherine fitzgibbon

Katherine FitzGibbon leads Resonance Ensemble's concerts this weekend

The past few years have seen a changing of the guard in Portland’s choral music scene. Last year, the city’s two most influential veteran choral conductors, University of Portland professor Roger Doyle and Lewis & Clark College’s Gil Seeley, retired after three-plus decades of leading two of the city’s three most important choral organizations: Choral Arts Ensemble and Oregon Repertory Singers (ORS).  The conductor of the third, Portland Symphonic Choir’s Bruce Browne, had left Portland for a teaching job in Oklahoma a few years earlier, after building Portland State University’s program to national prominence and founding the superb Choral Cross Ties ensemble, which folded after he left.

While the city’s choral scene still flourished during the 2000s (including the founding of strong new ensembles run by Browne’s former students Ryan Heller, David York and Alexander Lingas), some slippage was evident in several corners of the city’s choral establishment, and choral music lovers could have been forgiven for worrying about what would happen in the wake of the departures of these strong leaders.

No more. The recent arrival of two energetic, imaginative young successors to the Big Three have revitalized the programs at PSU and L&C, and the two conductors — Ethan Sperry (whom I profiled last month in Willamette Week) and Katherine FitzGibbon, who directs choral programs at Lewis & Clark, are also running, respectively, Oregon Rep Singers and the recently arrived Resonance Ensemble, which has already established itself as one of the Northwest’s finest vocal groups.

Last year, his first at PSU, Sperry arranged a highly successful tribute to Portland native Morten Lauridsen, America’s greatest living choral composer, and spearheaded a spectacular reunion concert featuring alumni of PSU’s renowned choral program and the current members. With music from Haiti, India, and beyond, and young choristers singing spiritedly from different parts of Portland’s First Methodist Church, it was one of the most exciting choral concerts I’ve seen in Oregon.

Sperry’s debut concert with Oregon Repertory Singers earlier this month (which included Seeley conducting several works in a kind of passing of the torch) at PSU’s Lincoln Hall definitively demonstrated that the 40-year-old new music director will continue his predecessor’s legacy of vivid performances of wide ranging repertoire, from across the ages and the planet.

With splendid younger groups like FitzGibbon’s Resonance Ensemble, the women’s ensemble In Mulieribus, Heller’s new music oriented Portland Vocal Consort, Lingas’s Cappella Romana and others regularly providing extraordinary performances of new and uncommonly heard repertoire, new groups like Patrick McDonough’s The Ensemble (which made its debut last week with a concert of music by Heinrich Schutz) and the alt.classical group The Julians (top classical singers who also often cover pop tunes) emerging in the past year, and longtime stalwarts like Portland Symphonic Choir, the Bach Cantata Choir and Cantores in Ecclesia (both conducted by former Browne students Ralph Nelson and Blake Applegate) still going strong, Portland seems awash in choral splendor. As Browne proclaimed during his speech at last spring’s reunion: “Choral music at Portland State, and indeed in Portland, is back!”


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