Oregon Composers Forum

Riverside Chamber Symphony preview: River lullaby and seasonal abstracts

Community orchestra premieres new works by Oregon composers influenced by Oregon seasons and North American indigenous cultures


Editor’s note: Part of this preview originally appeared last month, when Rall’s piece was scheduled to be performed at the Riverside Chamber Symphony’s December concert at Wildish Theatre. That performance was rescheduled due to weather, so we’re reposting it now, and with additional news: The RCS will perform another nature-influenced work by another  member of the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance’s Oregon Composers Forum, Martin Quiroga, Jr. at its March concert. More information on that piece follows.

Oregon composer Justin Ralls has dedicated his newly composed chamber orchestral work, Water is Life, to the Standing Rock Lakota, who are engaged in an on-going effort to protect the tribe’s sacred lands and water supply from possible contamination by spills from an oil pipeline now under construction near their reservation.

Water is Life was inspired by the same values and indigenous American traditions as those expressed at Standing Rock. The new one-movement, 10-minute “river lullabye,” as conductor Philip Bayles calls it, receives its world premiere on February 3 by the Eugene/Springfield-based Riverside Chamber Symphony.

Riverside Chamber Symphony, conducted by Philip Bayles. Photo: Philip Bayles.

“It is an incredibly personal work,” Ralls says, “created from a spirit of healing, resilience, and solidarity” with the Lakota, who have been at the forefront of his thoughts since their Dakota Access Pipeline efforts began.


Estelí Gomez & Roomful of Teeth in Oregon

Award-winning vocal artists mentor young Oregon composers and sing new music in Portland and Eugene


Last year, University of Oregon graduate student Daniel Daly submitted a vocal composition he had written for soprano Estelí Gomez, a visiting performer in the school’s innovative Vanguard Concert series for new and emerging artists. To his pleasant surprise, he found her earnest commitment to his work as a young composer an unexpected and rewarding experience.

“Estelí studied and interpreted my student work as conscientiously as she did the music of her high-profile engagements,” remembers Daly. “She embodied the text and performed every notated detail. Witnessing this commitment to my piece made me realize that if I am not attending rigorously to every feature of my music and shaping it to the utmost of my ability, I’m not working has hard as she is — and I’m the composer!”

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Estelí Gomez performs Asian Birds by Rebecca Larkin​ (conducting) Beall Hall (2014). Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Gomez, a star in the new music world by virtue of her work with the award winning Roomful of Teeth vocal ensemble and her solo career, has become well known for mentoring and collaborating with young composers and public performances of their work. She returns to the series early this month, and later with Roomful of Teeth, in a program of individual mentoring sessions and seminars on campus, and concludes her visit with concerts in Eugene and Portland. Featured artists in this series, which composer/educator Dr. Robert Kyr has directed since 1992, perform music created for them by students of the Oregon Composers Forum (OCF), either in readings or in public performances. “This unique feature of the University’s composition program offers young composers the opportunity to develop their art through creative interaction with performers of the highest caliber as an essential part of their education,” Kyr explains.

Gomez is returning for her fifth residency with the OCF. Kyr and his composition students consider her truly a member of the school’s artistic community, both as a performer and as a remarkable teacher and mentor who has inspired students to create, according to Kyr, “an entire repertoire of vocal chamber music — over 30 pieces for her as of 2016!” Gomez’s Eugene and Portland Vocal Music Today: Eight Premieres by UO Composers concerts will conclude her eight-day residency with the performance of work by students she has mentored, including Izabel Austin, Daniel Daly, Emily Korzeniewski, Rebecca Larkin, Tao Li, Martin Quiroga, Aidan Ramsay, and Ramsey Sadaka. Gomez will spend two one-hour sessions with each composer and musicians rehearsing and mentoring a work that she will then perform once in Eugene and again in Portland. Such intense student-artist experience is rare in music composition programs.

Roomful of Teeth

The young composers will also have a chance to work with Roomful of Teeth, of which Gomez is a member, during its visit to Eugene. The group’s one-day UO residency features a seminar reading/performance of six pieces composed for the ensemble by University students Alex Bean, Mark Cooney, Nathan Engelmann, Cara Haxo, Benjamin Penwell, and  Justin Ralls. The group will then end their day with a Vocal Soundscapes, New Journeys concert for the entire community. The ensemble comes to Eugene after a residency with performances at Portland’s Marylhurst University.

Founded in 2009, Roomful of Teeth explores the expressiveness of the human voice and vocal techniques not normally associated with classical music, including Tuvan throat singing, yodeling, belting, Inuit throat singing, Korean P’ansori, Georgian singing, Sardinian cantu a tenore, Hindustani music and Persian classical singing. The a cappella octet performs with amplification, producing a robust tone that enhances their experimental use of sound.

Roomful of Teeth performs at Marylhurst University and the University of Oregon. Photo: Mark Shelby Perry.

Roomful of Teeth performs at Marylhurst University and the University of Oregon. Photo: Mark Shelby Perry.

Its debut album, Roomful of Teeth (2012) won the 2014 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance, and its second full-length recording, Render, has been nominated for a Grammy in the same category for 2016. (See also: Brett Campbell’s 2013 ArtsWatch interview with Brad Wells and Caroline Shaw, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013 for her  Partita for 8 Voices, and Jeff Winslow’s ArtsWatch review of the octet’s successful Portland performance that year.)

Students working first with Gomez and later Roomful of Teeth have the opportunity to learn from some of the very finest award wining vocal artists in the world. “For a composer, nothing can compare with the actual first-person experience of collaborating directly with artists for whom one has created a new work,” Kyr notes, “especially when they are as accomplished as these amazing singers.” Gomez’s visit also gives Oregon listeners the chance to hear one of the country’s most exciting new music groups, as well as music by the next generation of Oregon composers.

ArtsWatch recently interviewed Esteli Gomez about her advocacy of new work by emerging composers and her residency at the University of Oregon.


Oregon Composers Forum: Seeding new Oregon music

Fresh sounds flourish from University of Oregon new music program, guest artists, and student-led ensembles


As autumn’s leaves fall, fresh new music is already springing up at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance’s Oregon Composers Forum (OCF), the state’s primary seedbed of new Oregon music.

“The Forum is at the core of the school’s composition program,” texts Robert Kyr, founder and director of OCF, and chair of the university’s composition department. “It offers our students the opportunity to compose and perform their own works and music by their colleagues, while also learning how to found and direct new music ensembles.”  Such experiences, he adds, “deeply connect audiences with an exceptional broad range of contemporary music, including multimedia collaborations.”

OCF premiers new music by young composers. Photo: G. Ferrington.

OCF premiers new music by young composers. Photo: G. Ferrington.

The forum promises a diverse menu of concert options and it all begins with a fall OCF concert at 7:30 pm (Pacific), Tuesday, November 10. This live-streamed event from the University of Oregon’s beautiful Beall Concert Hall, features an array of new music ranging from Li Tao’s Illusion of Fog (2013) for solo piano to large ensemble pieces such as Benjamin J. Penwell’s Kafkaesque (2015) for Flute, Clarinet, Horn, Trumpet, Percussion, Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Bass. Other selections include Passacaglia by Emily Korzeniewski, Echoes from the Void by Aidan Ramsay, Prayer for Roethke by Stephen Anthony Rawson, Tempest by Michael Dekovich, Stilly Sleep by Ramsey Sadaka, 7F by Cara Haxo, June by Madeline Cannon, Spaces by Izabel Austin, and Cascade by Nathan Engelmann.


Oregon Composers Forum preview: New voices from Eugene

Premieres of more than 30 new works by students in the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance’s composition program.


Spring is shaping up to be a season for exciting new music in Eugene. The University of Oregon Composer’s Forum (OCF), a group of graduate and upper division students committed to the creation and performance of new music, hosts two concerts of solo and ensemble work in May — Spring Adventures: Ten Premieres (7:30 pm Monday, May 4, live-streamed from Beall Concert Hall) and Celebrating Innovation: Nine Premieres (Aasen-Hull Hall, 8 pm Friday, May 22). Two more concerts at Aasen-Hull hall feature works by composition students of Dr. Terry McQuilkin (8 pm, Sunday, May 31) and those of Dr. David Crumb (7 pm, Sunday, June 7), and the March 28 Oregon Percussion Ensemble concert at Beall features works written or arranged by UO music students. Numerous individual student composition recitals will also be performed from late April into early June, making, all told, more than 30 new compositions by young Oregon composers premiered in the next few weeks.

 UO student composers organize, and often perform, or conduct, their work in public concerts. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

UO student composers organize, and often perform, or conduct, their work in public concerts.

ArtsWatch asked five OCF composers — Justin Graff, Nathan Engelmann, Pedram Diba, Brittany Studer, and Tao Li — about their compositions that will be performed in concerts this spring.

AW: The UO composition program is recognized for the many opportunities it provides for the public performance of student composer work. What do such opportunities mean for you?

“I feel like I’m experiencing my music with the same freshness as the audience,” Brittany Studer suggests about the public performance of her work. “I didn’t realize until recently how fortunate we truly are to have our pieces performed. I’ve learned that other student composers around the country aren’t so lucky; some never get a performance during college.”

Pedram Diba believes that the UO program facilitates student professional development and notes that participation in the Oregon Composers Forum teaches students “how to be a composer in the real world,” via its loemphasis on how to organize a concert, how to build audiences, how to recruit performers, and most important, meeting deadlines.

Nathan Engelmann agrees with Diba and adds that he appreciates the opportunity to “experience the role of the composer in a holistic sense,” he says, rather than composing “in a box. I feel like I really benefit from making connections with UO musicians, organizing rehearsals, and being able to enjoy my pieces with friends, colleagues, and family. It reminds me of why I was first drawn to composition, and why I continue to devote my time to writing music.”

“Every artist wants the same thing: recognition,”adds Tao Li. She suggests that recognition for composers comes about primarily by having their music performed, as it really can’t be “heard” if it remains an unplayed score. “In having my music performed, I not only learn the difference between my imaginary world and that of its actual performance, but I also increase my chances of gaining recognition for my work.”


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.



An avid promoter and performer of new music, award-winning soprano and educator Estelí Gomez will be a solo guest artist in residency at the University of Oregon’s School of Music and Dance May 12-19.

A member of the Roomful of Teeth ensemble, which received a 2014 Grammy award for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance, the California native will mentor Oregon Composers Forum composition students as they prepare eight new works that she will premiere at the Bamboo Salon in Portland on May 17 and in Eugene at Beall Concert Hall on May 18. This includes intense one-on-one and small group discussion about each piece and how to give it the most effective form for vocal and instrumental presentation.

Estelí Gomez’s third residency with the Oregon Composers Forum includes intense one-on-one and small group discussion about each piece and how to give it the most effective form for vocal and instrumental presentation. It’s part of the UO School of Music and Dance’s artist-in-residency program, which provides graduate and undergraduate composition students the opportunity to collaborate with professional musicians of all backgrounds.

Estelí Gomez performs Robert Chastain’s Bitter Winter. Photo: Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble.

“What is remarkable about her residency is that Estelí provides composers with the opportunity to (1) compose a new work, (2) work with the artist in developing the piece (3) having it performed by an artist of her caliber in two major city venues, and (4) to receive a recording of the work,” says Dr. Robert Kyr, the UO faculty member who directs the composition program. “Gomez is so generous to offer her time and expertise to composition students. She is not only a great performing artist, she is also a great teacher and knows so well how to work with each of the composers. She is well versed in all of the vocal techniques and compositional styles.”

ArtsWatch’s Gary Ferrington interviewed Gomez about the future of new music, audiences, and her mentoring of composition students and performing musicians.


The Fireworks Ensemble (Brian Coughlin, bass) conducts a reading session of OCF student work. February 22, 2014.

The Fireworks Ensemble (Brian Coughlin, bass) conducts a reading session of OCF student work. February 22, 2014.

Story and photos by GARY FERRINGTON

Most Oregonians with an ear for classical music will likely identify Eugene as the home of the Oregon Bach Festival. Yet Eugene also harbors a unique incubator of new contemporary classical music on the University of Oregon campus.

The Oregon Composer’s Forum (OCF), founded and coordinated by UO music professor and composer Robert Kyr, is composed of UO School of Music and Dance (SOMD) graduate and invited undergraduate student composers committed to the creation and premiering of new music. OCF composers’ music is often performed by visiting artists in residence or student-organized groups such as the Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble and Tai Hei Ensemble, which explores a dialogue between Western and non-Western traditions in music with works and improvisations by OCF composers and others from around the world.


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