robert kyr

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.


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.”


“Ode To The Future”: Nurturing young Oregon composers

Eugene Symphony's November 17 concert features the world premiere of collaborative composition produced in innovative educational program


When the  Eugene Symphony began planning its 50th anniversary, the organization wanted to celebrate the past while looking to its future. Executive Director Scott Freck decided to invest in the future of Oregon music with an inventive, multifaceted  new program that combines mentoring and making new music.

That effort culminates this Thursday when the orchestra premieres Ode to The Future. The nine-minute theme and variation piece, written by five young composers in collaboration with Dr. Robert Kyr, head of the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance’s Composition and Music Theory and his graduate students this past summer, concludes the Oregon Young Composers project.

Young composers Wesley Coleman, Marissa Lane-Massee, Joseph Miletta with Dr. Robert Kyr. Photo: Eugene Symphony.

Young composers Wesley Coleman, Marissa Lane-Massee, Joseph Miletta with Dr. Robert Kyr. Photo: Eugene Symphony.

The Ode to The Future will first be performed during the symphony’s November 15th iCompose Youth Concert in which some 3,000 elementary school students will also hear pieces by other composers, such as Mozart and Bizet, who began writing music in their youth. Also planned is an activity that will introduce the children to the building blocks of composing by encouraging them to participate in a creative music-making task at the concert.


Music News & Notes

Recent happenings in Oregon music

Been awhile since we rounded up recent news in Oregon classical music, so here’s some items that lit up our screens in recent months.

Laurels and Plaudits

• Composition Champ. University of Oregon composition professor Robert Kyr was one of four American composers to win this year’s American Academy of Arts and Letters $10,000 Arts and Letters Award for outstanding artistic achievement by a composer who has arrived at his or her own voice.

Mia Hall Miller

Mia Hall Miller

Wonder Woman. Pacific Youth Choir founder and director Mia Hall Miller received the Oregon Symphony’s 2016 Schnitzer Wonder Award, a $10,000 prize that “honors an individual or organization that directly works to build community through the next generation of artists and/or student musicians.” Now in its 13th year, PYC boasts almost 300 singers in 10 choirs.

Violin Virtuosa. Portland violinist Fumika Mizuno is the only Oregonian selected among the 109 young musicians (age 16-19) from across the country for the fourth annual National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America. It’s her second stint with the NYO, which (after a training residency in New York) performed with the great pianist Emanuel Ax at Carnegie Hall in July, then played concerts led by Valery Gergiev at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, in Montpellier France, Copenhagen, and Prague.

• Operatic ascent. Portland tenor A.J. Glueckert was one of six winners of the $10,000 George London awards, one of America’s oldest vocal competitions.

Eugene jazz musician Tony Glausi. Photo: Tyler Sams. 

Eugene jazz musician Tony Glausi. Photo: Tyler Sams.

Trumpeter on the rise. Eugene jazz trumpeter and composer Tony Glausi has been named the recipient of the 2016-17 Laurie Frink Career Grant, a biennial $10,000 award to give a “young brass player an opportunity for serious study or to undertake a creative project.” One of America’s most revered brass instrument teachers, Frink, who died in 2013, played in some of the finest jazz orchestras (including those of Maria Schneider, Benny Goodman Orchestra, Mel Lewis, Gerry Mulligan, John Hollenbeck, Darcy James Argue and more), performed with Broadway orchestras, co-wrote the definitive book on trumpet improvisation, and mentored some of today’s top trumpeters including Dave Douglas and Ambrose Akinmusire. Read Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch profile of Glausi.

The Marylhurst Chamber Choir performs at the 2016 Cork International Choral Festival.

Choral Voyagers. Marylhurst University’s premiere choral ensemble, the Marylhurst Chamber Choir, was one of only 34 choirs from around the world, and the only American choir invited to perform at the Cork International Choir Festival in Cork, Ireland in May. It placed third to choirs from Sweden and Turkey in a close contest for the placed third in the festival’s top honor, the Fleischmann Award and won the Peace Award for the choir that best embodied the spirit of the festival.


OBF Composers Symposium: Collaboration, co-creativity, community

University of Oregon program shows composers how to build connections and reach audiences 

Story and photos by GARY FERRINGTON

When Shannon Lauriston, a student at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia,  checked in on first day of the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium this summer, she felt an “instant sense of community.” Lauriston and 90 other composers and guest artists were about to set course on an intense 12 day journey of collaboration and co-creativity that would culminate in the preparation and public performance of 76 compositions — 55 of them world premieres.

Since 1990, the biennial University of Oregon symposium has brought together composers, composers who perform, musicians who compose, vocalists, instrumentalists, conductors, and emerging directors of music ensembles to participate in a new kind of culture for the creation and performance of contemporary music.

“We provide a creative context for our participants to interact and engage in creating and performing new works, but equally important, to deeply connect with each other in order to develop future projects and collaborations across the boundaries of their cities, states, and nations,” symposium director Robert Kyr explains. “We are not merely a composing and performing organization: we are committed to stimulating and encouraging new kinds of collaborations, and a wealth of future opportunities for co-creation, creative interaction, and community-building.”

Composer/performer Rebecca Larkin (flute) plays "Monkey Puzzel" by Nathan Engelmann.

Composer/performer Rebecca Larkin (flute) plays “Monkey Puzzel” by Nathan Engelmann.

The symposium envisions the composer as an individual who can take on various tasks needed to pull off collaborative performances of new music: conducting, performing in an ensemble, curating, administering, presenting and more. Such skills are essential today, when audiences who want to hear contemporary music and composers who want to be heard face limited opportunities to do either.

“Today, the most prominent emerging composers are wearing all of these hats and they understand that collaboration and community-building are essential to the artistic (as well as professional) success of their creative endeavors,” observes Kyr, who also chairs the UO music school’s composition department. He sees this as a welcome change from what he experienced in the latter part of the last century when there was often a “painfully strict divide between composers and performers.” Now, Kyr suggests, “many composers are more complete musicians, who are committed to building strong, collaborative communities of composers, performers, and listeners. And in the future, nearly all composers will probably be engaged in this way.”


Mentoring a community of 21st-century composers

Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium brings new music to Oregon listeners and prepares composers for a life in music

Story and photos by GARY FERRINGTON

The Oregon Bach Festival, as its name implies, primarily concentrates on music of the past. But every other year, it also adds a focus on the present and the future, via the biannual Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium (OBFCS).

From June 26-July 7, new music fans can hear a selection from the 30 or more new works written by symposium participants in the five-part New Pathways concert series at the University of Oregon School of Music. Performers include  soprano Estelí Gomez, former Kronos Quartet cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, and Duo Damiana (guitarist Dieter Hennings and flutist Molly Barth) among many others.

Composers Symposium to premier new music in Eugene.

Composers Symposium to premier new music in Eugene.

The symposium’s primary value, though, is helping foster tomorrow’s music. Every two years some 90 international composers and visiting artists gather at the UO School of Music and Dance to form a collaborative and creative community for writing and performing contemporary music for instrumental and vocal ensembles. The intensive symposium offers seminars, master classes, rehearsals, public concerts, mentoring by guest composers-in-residence and visiting artists, a film music festival, attendance at selected OBF rehearsals and concerts and, if not entirely exhausted by day’s end, nightly social gatherings that sometimes last into the wee morning hours. The symposium provides abundant opportunity for composer/performer networking and collaboration now and in the future.


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