Music News & Notes: New Music USA seeds new music in Portland

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Opera Theater Oregon’s Justin Ralls is collaborating with Rose Ann Abrahamson on a new opera that received support from New Music USA’s new grant fund.

Portland is the first city in America to pluck the financial fruits of a new initiative from America’s most prominent contemporary classical music advocacy organization. Ten local new music organizations will each receive one-time grants of $3,000 for general operating costs supporting programming and collaboration with US-based composers and artists from New Music USA’s new Small Grant Fund

Chosen from among 47 applicants, the recipients will be familiar to readers who’ve followed ArtsWatch’s long and extensive commitment to covering homegrown new music: Albina Music Trust, Big Mouth Society, Fear No Music, Montavilla Jazz, Opera Theater Oregon, Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, REBELWISE, Resonance Ensemble, Third Angle New Music, World Stage Theatre. 

How did Portland become the program’s bellwether? “Portland is one of 13 cities we have connected with over the past three years as part of our current focus on increasing New Music USA’s support of organizations and music creators beyond New York,” NMUSA President and CEO Vanessa Reed told ArtsWatch. “We held community convenings on Zoom or in person in these cities to discuss challenges and opportunities they’re facing as well as build community. Portland is the first city in this new program because we know it’s home to a vibrant community of groups and music collectives who would benefit from this support and we happened to be in discussion with a donor who has connections to the city [and] wanted to be creative and intentional about how their money was spent. Together we came up with the idea of focusing on a city that was meaningful to them, and allocating their donation via small grants that would benefit a number of different groups.”

The program is doing more than doling out cash. “New Music USA will also work to build connectivity amongst the organizations we support to facilitate shared learning, exchange of ideas, and opportunities,” the press release states. The organization’s grants director recently arranged an informal gathering of the groups supported in Portland in conjunction with the performance of a co-commission by Vijay Iyer with the Oregon Symphony, which is part of NMUSA’s Amplifying Voices program.

The new grants program complements another NMUSA capacity building effort that includes mentoring and organizational development. (Full disclosure: I’ve contributed freelance stories to NMUSA’s NewMusicBox publication, but have no other connection to the organization, and learned of this program through the recipients.)

• The grant is the latest of several that will support the upcoming new opera, Nu Nah-Hup: Sacajawea’s Story, produced by one of that first crop of recipients, Opera Theater Oregon with music by Portland composer Justin Ralls. On May 13-14 at Portland Opera’s Hampton Opera Center, OTO will premiere a 35-minute scene of this new work in development alongside excerpts of music, soundscapes, and presentations of traditional Agai-Dika/Lemhi-Shoshone music, language, and culture by collaborators Rose Ann Abrahamson and Hovia Edwards. Performers include Kwagiulth and Stó:lō First Nations mezzo-soprano Marion Newman premiering the role of Sacajawea and veteran Portland baritones Richard Zeller as Toussaint Charbonneau, and Dan Gibbs as Captain William Clark. 

Portland Opera itself received a $25,000 NEA grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support its upcoming contemporary opera Thumbprint, by composer Kamala Sankaram and librettist Susan Yankowitz. Inspired by the true story of courageous Pakistani feminist activist Mukhtar Mai, the opera runs at Portland’s Newmark Theatre, March 18-26.

• Another NEA grant devotes $10,000 to Eugene Concert Choir’s Black is Beautiful project, which includes a four-day residency by EXIGENCE, directed by Eugene Rogers, for a 4-day artist residency. Highlighting artistry within Black and Latinx communities, EXIGENCE is composed of professional vocal artists including solo performers, educators, conductors and composers. During the residency, director Eugene Rogers and representatives of EXIGENCE and its famous parent, Detroit’s Sphinx Organization, will lead workshops on racial justice through musical expression presented for the community, schools, and at the University of Oregon. The project will culminate in ECC’s Black is Beautiful concert on Sunday, May 7, 2023 at Eugene’s Hult Center Silva Concert Hall.

Portland Columbia Symphony has been selected to join a consortium of 30 North American orchestras that will perform original works by women composers newly commissioned by the League of American Orchestras. It’s part of an ongoing effort, most recently prompted by the #metoo movement, to redress classical music’s notorious sexist discrimination against female composers. In an upcoming season, PCSO will perform British-American composer Anna Clyne’s The Moment, inspired by inspired by the calligraphy of renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. 

Crystal Cortez

• The Oregon Arts Commission’s seven 2023 Individual Artist Fellowship winners include venerated Portland composer/musician/educator Darrell Grant, Portland sound installation artist Crystal Cortez, and Portland violinist-looper, vocalist and community organizer Joe Kye

Musical Homecomings

On February 17, Oregonians can offer live or virtual feedback to Oregon State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation about the nomination of the city’s Jim Pepper House for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The pioneering Kaw / Muscogee Creek jazz musician and composer, who died in 1992 after incorporating rock and Native American elements into jazz, spent much of his childhood and adult life in his family’s Parkrose neighborhood home. Architectural historian Caitlyn Ewers, who prepared the nomination, offered testimony from fellow musicians Gordon Lee, Tom Grant and Ron Steen, Native advocate Ed Edmo, and other colleagues, friends, and family members. A decision is expected this spring. Jim Pepper Native Arts Council hopes to turn Pepper’s old family house into an educational and cultural center. More info here.

Jim Pepper House

Another great Portland jazz musician, composer/bassist Esperanza Spalding, is also trying to set up a “sanctuary space” for artists of color in Portland’s St. John’s neighborhood, and has raised over $300,000 toward buying a property for that effort. Spalding recently announced that she’s leaving her teaching post at Harvard University after five years. Citing the school’s history “inextricably linked to Black and Native subjugation,” she had proposed an educational initiative there called Black Artist-Educators Decolonizing and Placemaking that would offer some of its land and properties to Black and Native artists, scholars, students, and activists. “I am no longer willing to endorse a cultural norm whereby artists & artist-educators passively participate-in, and benefit-from institutions born and bolstered through the justification, and/or ongoing practice of exploiting and destroying Black and Native life,” she wrote in the proposal.

Hello, Goodbye, Help

• One of Oregon’s most valuable showcases for homegrown music, The Old Church Concert Hall, announced that it’s current board chair, Constance Bracewell, will become its new executive director. She succeeds Amanda Stark, who served as TOC’s ED for 12 years.

The Old Church’s Constance Bracewell.

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble announced that guitarist/composer Ryan Meagher will succeed Douglas Detrick as artistic director. Meagher’s name and music are familiar here, thanks to his role Programming Director of Montavilla Jazz, PJCE’s Director of Operations and Director of PJCE Records. He’s also an editor of Jazzscene Magazine, and an educator with Mt. Hood Community College, University of Portland, Lower Columbia College, and Metropolitan Youth Symphony. “You can expect us to carry on our mission of creating and performing original jazz music that engages and supports our community’s diverse artists, cultures, and places,” Meagher said in a press release. “But you can also expect to see and hear that mission realized in new ways. We will be putting out new music in live performances and recordings, widening our educational outreach, and creating opportunities for more people to feel truly invested in our work.” The appointment confirms Meagher as one of the leading stalwarts of and advocates for new Oregon jazz.

Sponsor

Portland Center Stage Young Americans Portland Oregon
Portland guitarist, composer and teacher Ryan Meagher.

• As Bob Hicks noted when it happened, Portland Baroque Orchestra chose British conductor and keyboardist Julian Perkins as its artistic director, succeeding the legendary Monica Huggett. ArtsWatch’s James Bash thought Perkins’s audition performance with PBO the best among the three accomplished finalist candidates.

Eugene Symphony music director Francesco Lecce-Chong will depart after the 2024-25 season. It will be a long goodbye. Appointed in 2017, he will extend his tenure by an additional season, through 2023-24, then become the orchestra’s “Artistic Partner” for the following season, in which he’ll conduct three concerts, while the rest will be led by candidates to succeed him, plus another by a big-name conductor. As with Perkins, ArtsWatch (in a story by Tom Manoff) called it when Lecce-Chong auditioned.

During his ESO tenure so far (which coincided with his directorship of California’s Santa Rose Symphony, Lecce-Chong conceived of the C3 series that examined the interconnected themes of creativity, connection, and community; launched the First Symphony Project to commission full-length orchestral works from four emerging American composers, extended the orchestra’s digital footprint through several online initiatives, and more. The orchestra’s board will appoint a search committee for his successor this month, which will have the best possible advisor in Roger Saydack, the Eugene attorney who led the previous five searches and literally wrote the book on how to find a symphony music director. The plan is to announce five finalists in March 2024. 

Francesco Lecce-Chong will be moving on from the Eugene Symphony. Photo: Amanda Smith.

• Former Oregon Symphony percussionist, and Oregon Ballet Theater music director Niel DePonte has become interim artistic director of the Beaverton Symphony after the sudden death of Travis Hatton. The MetroArts founder led the orchestra’s November memorial concert and will serve out the rest of this season and next as a search for a successor commences. 

• The great Portland blues/jazz keyboardist and composer Dave Fleschner suffered a serious head injury in November and, though he’s out of hospital and back home with family and friends, could use help from Oregon music lovers. Check out his family’s CaringBridge and GoFundMe sites.

Dave Fleschner. Photo: Jim Dorothy.

• Sound and intermedia Francisco Botello is also fundraising to help recover from the loss of his laptop and other sound editing equipment.

• Last November’s passing of Oregon’s finest classical composer, Tomas Svoboda is somewhat assuaged by the release of recent recordings of his compositions by Oregon musicians. This month, Portland Youth Philharmonic, which memorably premiered his second symphony in 2016, dropped a disk via Parma Recordings containing that instant classic as well as premieres of Svoboda’s Folk Concertino for 7 instruments and Variations for Violin and String Orchestra and his Child’s Dream, Cantata for Children’s Choir & Orchestra. You can also check out the digital version on Navona Records. Music director and Svoboda champion David Hattner promises more recordings and performances of Svoboda’s music in future.

Eugene’s Delgani String Quartet has also released a new all-Svoboda album, and if it sounds anything like its thrilling performances of his quartets we’ve heard in recent Oregon performances, the recording will be a must for Oregon classical music stans. 

Got more news about Oregon’s music scene? Let us know at music@orartswatch.org.



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