music today festival

Music Today Festival review: listening, collaborating, exploring

Biennial University of Oregon new music event provides glimpses of the future of Oregon music


The University of Oregon’s 2017 Music Today Festival (MTF) offered such a diversity of concerts that in trying to sum it up, I found myself searching for unifying themes. It wasn’t easy.

Produced by members of the Oregon Composers Forum (OCF), under the direction and mentorship of Dr. Robert Kyr, the bi-annual UO School of Music and Dance (SOMD) festival offered a varied three-week (April 19-May 13) program showcasing the richness of vocal and instrumental music being written today. Over the course of nine concerts I had the opportunity to hear not only the premieres of 40 new works by UO composition majors, but also music by many well known contemporary composers including Pauline OliverosLibby LarsenToshio HosokawaClaude VivierMagnus Lindberg and more. This was the twenty-fifth anniversary year of the festival, which Kyr founded in 1993, and which he continues to organize and direct as one of the most extensive and innovative new music offerings in the Pacific Northwest.


James Shields Trio with Laura Metcalf (cello) and pianist Conor Hanick perform new works by UO composers. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

For example, the Ova Novi ensemble’s concert focused on music by contemporary women composers. TaiHei (view concert) offered new works influenced by Pacific Rim and other world cultures. The Sonus Domum Ensemble (view concert) staged a cross-disciplinary and improv-based event celebrating the life and music of Pauline Oliveros, and the Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble performed three extended instrumental works by student composers; an unusual opportunity for young composers to showcase their ability to write long and more complex pieces of music.

The festival also included music inspired by the soundscape of an old growth forest and two special concerts by guest artists soprano Esteli Gomez (view concert) and clarinetist James Shields and Friends (view concert) performing works specifically composed for each by OCF composers. MTF concluded with the world premiere of “The Banshee,” a new chamber opera by Daniel Daly.

I finally decided to focus on three themes: attentive listening, collaboration, and breaking boundaries. You can view unedited webcast videos of concert events by clicking on links marked (view concert). Skip over stage set-ups and other non-performance activities.


“The Banshee” preview: confronting the dark side

UO Music Today Festival premieres a new opera by Daniel Daly


When his University of Oregon graduate school professor suggested that master’s degree candidate Daniel Daly consider composing a chamber opera for his thesis project, Daly’s immediate thought was, “I can’t do that!”

After all, Daly knew from his study of music history, creating an opera was a massive undertaking. “I shied away from the project because of the scope of the composition and the logistics of getting a production together,” Daly recalls. Writing the opera’s libretto, composing the musical score for voice and orchestra, scheduling rehearsals, workshopping the opera and revising, then bringing all the elements together for a public performance all seemed overwhelming.

Dylan Bunten, Sarah Brauer, Olivia Oxholm, and Alison Kaufman performed April 29 at the Oregon Composers IV concert performance of Scene 2 from ‘The Banshee’: A Chamber Opera in One Act (2017) by Daniel Daly. Screen capture: Gary Ferrington.

Yet given Daly’s background, Dr. Kyr’s suggestion made sense: he really cared about telling a good story, via creative writing in many genres, including fiction, poetry, and plays. And he had composed music for theatre since high school, with recent highlights at UO’s Hope Theatre and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Now, three years later, the world premiere of Daly’s The Banshee will be performed at 3 pm Saturday, May 13, in the university’s Aasen-Hull Hall as part of the 2017 Music Today Festival hosted by the UO School of Music and Dance’s Oregon Composers Forum. But for Daly, overcoming his doubts and opera’s logistical challenges proved to be less challenging than facing his own darkness.


ArtsWatch Weekly: full-tilt boogie

Imago tilts the action in a topsy-turvy Greek classic, Brett Campbell's best music bets, "Jersey Boys" croons into town, new theater & dance

The question echoes down the centuries from the Greek myths and Euripides’ play, which was first set on stage in 431 B.C. and just keeps coming back: was Medea balancing the scales of justice when she murdered her husband’s new wife and her own children, or was she falling off her rocker? People have been arguing the point ever since (Medea shocked its original audience, coming in dead last in that year’s City of Dionysia festival), and the question of teetering out of control remains foremost, right down to Ben Powers’ recent adaptation of Medea for the National Theatre in London.

The ups and downs of rehearsal: Imago’s tilting stage for “Medea.” Imago Theatre photo.

Enter Jerry Mouawad of Imago Theatre, whose own theories of balance reach back to his mentor Jacques Lecoq, the French mime and movement master who advocated a “balance of the stage.” In 1998 Mouawad and Imago took the advice literally, creating a large movable stage, suspended three feet above the floor, that tips and leans as the actors shift position on it. They used it for an acclaimed production of Sartre’s No Exit, in which the constantly shifting balances became a metaphor for the play itself. The show was revived several times and traveled to theaters across the country.


‘Music of the Forest’ preview: Old growth, new music

UO Music Today Festival concert features contemporary Oregon music inspired by old growth forest soundscapes


In the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, an hour east of Eugene, you’ll be visually immersed in an iconic landscape of towering old-growth Cedar, Hemlock, and moss-draped Douglas Fir. But close your eyes and open your ears and a rich acoustic environment is revealed: whispering treetop breezes; distant snapping sounds of animals traversing twig covered trails; bird calls echoing through the forest with insects buzzing above the ground; all this against the rhythmic beat of fast flowing water over a rocky terrain.

Oregon Composers Forum members finding musical inspiration in old growth forest. Photo: Michael Fleming.

One rainy fall day, a group of UO composition students ventured into this soundscape to listen, meditate upon, and sketch musical ideas while soaking up the inspiration the forest provided. The creative results from this and subsequent journeys back to nature, will be heard on Saturday, April 22 during the Music of the Forest concert, the third of nine events scheduled during the 2017 Music Today Festival on the University of Oregon campus.


Music Today Festival preview: Incubating and showcasing new music

University of Oregon student ensembles and distinguished guest artists premiere tomorrow’s music today


A concert of music by women composers, a celebration of music by one of the 20th century’s most influential American composers, Pauline Oliveros, the premiere of a new chamber opera, music inspired by the soundscape of an old growth forest, and two highly regarded festival guest artists highlight the 2017 Music Today Festival (April 19-May 13) at the University of Oregon.

Student ensembles play contemporary classics and premieres of new music at this year’s Music Today Festival. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

The biannual event, founded by UO professor Robert Kyr in 1993, has evolved from a time when the School of Music and Dance offered few performances of contemporary music to this year’s nine concerts organized and hosted by the Oregon Composers Forum. The OCF is a cadre of graduate and upper division student composer-performers in the school’s composition area who have the opportunity to collaboratively produce numerous music events throughout the year.

“Our program is one of the few in the country that gives student composers the opportunity to create and perform their own music and that of their colleagues with contemporary music performers of the highest caliber,” says Kyr, head of the UO Music Composition area. This year’s great artists include renowned soprano Estelí Gomez and clarinetist James Shields with other New York new music specialists. “We are thrilled to feature composers and performers from our student-run new music ensembles programs that focus on themes of contemporary significance and are relevant to the lives of today’s listeners.”


Music Today Festival Preview: New sounds by Oregon’s next generation

University of Oregon festival celebrates contemporary classical music January 19-31.


Since 1993, the University of Oregon’s biennial Music Today Festival has nurtured and presented new music by emerging Oregon composers. Dr. Robert Kyr, Phillip H. Knight Professor of Music (composition), estimates that more than 100 students will participate in this year’s festival, coordinated by the Oregon Composers Forum (OCF), a group of upper division and graduate student composers committed to the creation and performance of new music. ArtsWatch interviewed by email seven of the 21 composers involved with the six student-organized ensembles in this year’s festival. All performances, including the world premieres of 40 new pieces, take place at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance except where otherwise indicated.


Visiting artist Esteli Gomez, soprano, will perform new compositions in Eugene and Portland. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Esteli Gomez, Eugene: January 19, at 8 pm, Beall Concert Hall. Portland: January 24, at 8pm, Zoomtopia Studio 2, 819 S.E, Belmont. $10 general admission, $8 students and seniors

One of the nation’s rapidly rising sopranos, Esteli Gomez, opens the Festival with the performance of new works composed for her visit by OCF participants. A member of New York’s 2014 Grammy Award winning vocal octet Roomful Of Teeth, Gomez is this year’s year’s Vanguard Series artist-in-residence. Her fourth residency in Eugene includes a week of pre-festival one-on-one and small group discussion sessions with composers about each piece she will perform — highly valued by young composers given the unique opportunity to be personally mentored by a professional artist of Gomez’s stature.

The evocative springtime images in Robert Bridges’ poem “Asian Birds” inspired Rebecca Larkin’s The Voice of Spring for soprano and chamber ensemble of piccolo, clarinet, cello, and double bass. “Using a form that loosely follows an ABA pattern, the piece begins in a folk-like style and establishes joviality before giving way to an introspective middle and transitioning back to the original theme.”

Ramsey Sadaka began his Four Songs on Poems by Emily Brontë by asking Kyr about Gomez’s vocal capability so that he could compose in a way that highlighted both her voice and Brontë‘s poetic words. “He told me that she could do anything, which is, of course, a composer’s greatest wish.” Sadaka recalls. He found a video of her singing English Renaissance composer John Dowland’s “In Darkness Let me Dwell.” The purity and sweetness of her voice became essential to his song cycle for soprano, flute (doubling alto flute), violin, viola, and cello.

Sadaka admired the poems of Emily Brontë, whose six-line “Cold, clear, and blue” paints a scene by a lake at sunrise. “Though her poetry conveys private, inner worlds, they simultaneously express broad, vivid landscapes,” he says. “These were the qualities I tried to bring out in my setting of her poetry.”

Brontë‘s landscape theme helped Sadaka determine what other poems he’d use. “’Was it with the fields of green’” uses plant imagery as the narrator reminiscences about an absent lover,” he explains. ”’How golden bright from earth to heaven’ exalts the final rays of light as the sun sets; and ‘Tell me, tell me, smiling child’ is a dialogue between two people in which one asks what the past, present, and future are while the other compares them to various images. These poems thus show the progression of one day with a meditation at the end.”

Songs composed for Gomez by John Goforth, Justin Ralls, Alexander Bean, Dan S. Daly, David Sackman and Matthew B. Zavortink will also be premiered during her Eugene and Portland concerts.


ArtsWatch guest post: Tomorrow’s music today

Gary Ferrington reviews the University of Oregon's Music Today Festival.

Alyssa Tamayo alto saxophone, and Ednaldo Borba, piano perform Brandon Scott Rumsey's "Sacred Spaces" at the Music Today Festival. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Alyssa Tamayo alto saxophone, and Ednaldo Borba, piano perform Brandon Scott Rumsey’s “Sacred Spaces” at the Music Today Festival. Photo: Gary Ferrington.


The second half of the closing concert in the University of Oregon’s biennial Music Today Festival opened with a film clip depicting nature recordist Gordon Hempton’s search for one square inch of silence in the Olympic National Park. As the camera pulled back, listeners could clearly hear the forest soundscape of birdcall and natural sounds. Composer Andrew Stiefel used those sounds as a theme in his composition, “Echoes of a Sonic Habitat II,” creating the sense of a dense reverberating forest by spatially placing flutist Sarah Pyle and Jacob Walls, trumpet, in different locations within the darkened auditorium. Commissioned by Crater Lake National Park, the multimedia work was based on field recordings Stiefel had recorded there.

Stiefel’s work exemplified Monday evening’s theme, “Signal in the Noise,” featuring music focused on the influence of the natural soundscape, performed by the Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (ECCE) with guest artist Estelí Gomez, soprano and created by emerging composers David Eisenband, Diana Rosenblum, Jacob Walls, Nicole Portley and Robert Chastain, as well as prominent composers John Luther Adams, Tristan Murail and Emily Doolittle.

Held at venues at the UO music school, the biennial Music Today Festival was founded in 1993 by UO composition professor Robert Kyr. This year it offered over 40 premieres of new music – mostly by young composers born after 1985 and who are completing their undergraduate or graduate studies in the UO School of Music and Dance.


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