American Master

A contemporary opera, Gabriel Royal and — of course — Bernstein on tap

Has any musician ever had a year like Leonard Bernstein did between November 1943 and December 1944?

The 25-year-old wunderkind won national fame for fill-in conducting the New York Philharmonic on short notice in a nationally broadcast concert from Carnegie Hall, conducted the premiere of his first symphony and the recording of his scintillating first ballet, Fancy Free (which the New York City Ballet premiered that year and which ESO performs in November), wrote a hit for Billie Holiday and saw his first musical, On the Town, open on Broadway.


On the Town is best known for “New York, New York, a hell of a town,” but the rest of the score sparkles just as brightly. Its dance episodes open Eugene Symphony’s season (and Eugene’s season-long celebration of Bernstein’s centenary) next Thursday, Sept. 27, at the Hult Center, and the rest of the program is equally compelling.

Shostakovich’s magnificent fifth symphony was a Bernstein fave he did much to popularize in the West, and Lenny recorded Ernest Bloch’s popular cello concerto Schelomo (King Solomon) twice. The Swiss-born composer wrote it in 1916, just before he moved to the U.S. (where it premiered), long before he settled in Agate Beach in 1941. (He died in Portland in 1959.) Soloist Julie Albers stars in Bloch’s “Hebraic rhapsody.” 

Dance music also pervades the new made-in-Oregon chamber opera Tango of the White Gardenia, which comes to the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall Oct. 1. Composed by UO alum Ethan Gans-Morse and librettist Tiziana DellaRovere (who still live in Oregon), the opera uses a tango competition as a metaphor for the challenges facing teenagers and others — especially bullying, family crises and self-esteem.

Is tango — that is, life — about competition or self-realization? This original, made-in-Oregon opera, commissioned by Cascadia Chamber (formerly Concert) Opera, was produced by Lincoln City Cultural Center and is touring Oregon this year. It’s performed by a quartet of experienced instrumentalists and a sextet of singers, doubled by another sextet of dancers from Eugene’s Ballet Fantastique. UO prof Karen Esquivel de Castro stage-directed this production and sings one of the leading roles.

The night before, on Sept. 30, the UO’s Chamber Music @ Beall series brings the excellent Eroica Trio to town. Maybe by the time you check the school’s website, they’ll have gotten around to telling us just what these renowned chamber musicians will play for us.

We do know what Ensemble Primo Seicento will perform earlier that day at their free 2 pm show at Hope Abbey Mausoleum: early Baroque music from Venice. The great Italian composer Monteverdi, who helped invent opera as we know it, is the best known composer of that crucial transition period out of the Renaissance, but plenty of others created stirring music, much of it only recently brought back to light.

The ensemble of early music experts (three singers and instruments of the time, including harpsichord, viola da gamba and cornetto) sings and plays music by Sigismondo D’India, Legrenzi, Sances, Riccio, Benedetti, Barbarino, Corradini, Merula, Hume, Cima and of course Monteverdi himself.

Not everyone who plays “classical” instruments plays only classical music, including Bernstein, who was known to jazz around on piano in NYC nightclubs. Gabriel Royal got his start as a busker on the New York City subway, accompanying his original songs with his cello. He also taught himself piano and drums, and still teaches music in New York schools. You can hear Royal sing and play his songs at the Hult Center’s Soreng Theater next Friday, Sept. 28.

David Bromberg also plays a “classical” instrument, the violin. He also makes, collects, refurbishes and sells them at his renowned violin shop in Delaware, which houses possibly the world’s largest collection of American violins. Before he entered that field in 1980, Bromberg was one of America’s best-known folk musicians, a multi-instrumentalist (banjo, dobro, guitar, fiddle, mandolin) on Greenwich Village’s fertile mid-’60s coffeehouse scene with Bob Dylan and so many others.

Bromberg toured and recorded relentlessly, working with Dylan, George Harrison, Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson, Jerry Garcia and more, but, burned out, left performing for two decades to get into the fiddle biz, returning in 2002. When he brings his quintet to the Shedd Oct. 3, expect lots of old-time blues, folk, country and other American classics.