Idit Shner

Sax Master

Jazz, Bach and choral music coming to a venue near you

Is Idit Shner a jazzer or a classical musician?

Yes! A native of Israel, the longtime University of Oregon music prof is a master of the classical saxophone repertoire. The instrument was invented for classical orchestras. She’s recorded several CDs of 20th-century music for sax. Shner also maintains a prolific career as a jazz performer and recording artist.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, June 25-26, she’ll be recording her next jazz quartet album live at Eugene’s own Jazz Station, with local lights Torrey Newhart on piano, bassist Garrett Baxter and drummer Ken Mastrogiovanni. They’ll play original compositions written for this concert as well as jazz standards. 

 Shner is also a respected teacher, winning several teaching prizes. A composer herself, Shner used the proceeds from her 2016 University of Oregon Faculty Excellence Award to commission new classical music for saxophone, a relatively young instrument whose repertoire could really use expansion to keep up with the many fine players and ensembles emerging in the classical world.

Some of the fruits of that project emerged in April, when Shner released a fascinating new CD, Minerva, which was recorded at the UO’s Beall Hall by Billy Barnett and mixed by another familiar Eugene musician, Shner’s fellow UO faculty member Brian McWhorter. It includes four of those 10 new compositions — two of them by emerging Oregon composers.

Now a music prof herself at McMinnville’s Linfield College, UO alumna Andrea Reinkemeyer has won national awards and is one of the state’s most promising new music voices. “Saturation,” her striking contribution to Shner’s new album, “explores sonic and emotional saturation points,” the composer writes. “In the early months of 2017, tensions were running high, and the winter was wet, even by Oregon standards. The monotonous and continuously driving rain cast a dark pall over everything; eventually, the ground and rivers swelled, unable to absorb even a drop more. In many ways, nature mirrored strain in my life.” Her music blends the sax’s squawky side with spare, melancholy passages to traverse a complex emotional landscape. 

Another of today’s finest composers who happens to be female, Chicago’s Stacy Garrop offers the eventful “Quicksilver,” sonically evoking Mercury’s mythological adventures as a toddler, on earth, in the underworld and finally in Olympus. Shner’s soprano and alto saxophones are accompanied by pianist EunHye Choi on those tracks.

The melodious five-part title suite by Oregon composer Evan Paul (who also plays piano) ranges from meditative to danceable to lamenting.

Israeli composer Ziv Slama’s plaintive “Na’ama” gives Shner a chance to stretch solo. The album is a strong contribution to contemporary saxophone repertoire, and I’m looking forward to hearing the other compositions Shner has nurtured into being.

On Saturday, the Jazz Station’s series of shows by Portland jazz stars brings one of that city’s most valuable players, John Nastos, who plays regularly with the busy Mel Brown and Alan Jones sextets and in many other contexts, including tours with singer Dianne Schuur and Portland native Esperanza Spalding. (Like Shner, he also plays contemporary classical music and has appeared with the Oregon Symphony.) The saxophonist/clarinetist/flutist is bringing his regular quartet of top Portland players (Eugene native Greg Goebel on piano, bassist Dave Captein, drummer Christopher Brown) to play his own music and standards.

You can hear another hot young jazz talent Sunday at Broadway House’s latest intimate show featuring young New York City jazz pianist and composer Ben Rosenblum with his trio at the little bungalow at 911 West Broadway. Rosenblum’s amiable 2017 debut album, Unheard, reveals a fluid player with a gift for melody on both originals and covers. To reserve seats, email

There’ll be plenty of choral music at the Oregon Bach Festival next month, of course, but you can get an early dose Tuesday when The Shedd’s new Choral Society sings a short, free concert featuring Johannes Brahms’s sentimental Six Songs and Romances, Opus 93a, a staple of Helmuth Rilling’s repertoire.

Municipal choral groups are also a fixture in Norway, where many towns support men’s choruses. Next Friday, June 21, at Eugene’s First Baptist Church, nearly 100 singers will perform traditional Norwegian, Scandinavian and American choral music in a concert that’s part of the 2019 Pacific Coast Norwegian Singer’s Association (PCNSA) Sangerfest (Song Festival). Skaal, y’all! 

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