Think Globally, Listen Locally

Two concerts feature contemporary work from local musicians

It’s been a treat to see classical music institutions in Eugene and Oregon finally break out of the museum music doldrums and perform more music from our own time — the 21st century.

Too many institutions still look to big-name New York or L.A. composers to score some wannabe cosmopolitan cred — ironically, a sure sign of insecure provincialism.

Look instead what happened when my old hometown of Austin, Texas, confidently cultivated its own local music scene. It wasn’t long before recording biz honchos were flocking to SXSW to find the Next Big Thing. Same with Oregon craft beers.

Oregon composers, too, are increasingly brewing up some delectable music, and it’s been an even tastier treat to see more Oregon classical presenters programming that music. Eugene’s own Delgani String Quartet has led the way, and they’re opening their fifth season by demonstrating a commendable commitment to the creative culture of the community that nurtures them.

On Sept. 7 and 8 at Springfield’s Wildish Theater, Oregon’s finest string quartet offers a concert of contemporary classical vocal and chamber music written entirely by composers from the Eugene area. 

Two pieces by award-winning Eugene composer Paul Safar highlight the program, including the jazzy first movement of his “Quartet In Red, Black and Blue.” Safar’s setting of the “The Walrus and the Carpenter” musically evokes the whimsicality of Lewis Carroll’s verse, intoned here (as on Delgani’s fine Invisible Light CD) by Rickie Birran from Man of Words Theatre.

The show also features that CD’s scintillating title track by Terry McQuilkin. Another stirring local voice, Siri Vik, sings the poetry of Sara Teasdale, Federico García Lorca and W. B. Yeats set for voice and string quartet by John Lundblade. Singers Laura Wayte and Gretchen Farrar premier Anice Thigpen’s “What Death Can Touch,” which owes some of its inspiration to J.S. Bach and a Kaddish poem by Jehudah Halevi.

You may remember Thigpen’s 2017 opera A Woman of Salt. This new composition sports visuals by Lillian Almeida and Sunny Selby. The show also features quartets by Andrew Lewinter and David Sprung. It’s a great opportunity to not only hear listener-friendly locavore sounds performed by one of the state’s top chamber ensembles, but also to get a snapshot of our community’s creative musical culture.

Safar’s music also comprises half the program in another all-Oregon contemporary classical show next Saturday, Sept. 14, at Unity of the Valley Church. The other half belongs to music by Portland composer Ted Clifford, who’s president of Cascadia Composers, the Oregon-based composers group that’s one of the largest and most vital in the U.S.

This concert opens its 10th anniversary season, and you couldn’t ask for a more accessible combo than two of its most impressive members, Safar and Clifford (also a jazz performer/composer), who are also both sterling keyboard players. They’ll join an all-star lineup of Oregon musicians including Delgani, pianists Asya Gulua and Maria Choban, vocalist Nancy Wood, jazz improvisers Tom Bergeron, Mary Ellen Grace, Chris Higgins and Charlie Doggett, Iridescence flute and piano duo, Coco Bender, Sean Brennan, David Burham, Ben Lincoln and Baird Quinn.

They’ll perform a pair of Eugene premieres: Safar’s “Incantation,” inspired by the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz, and Clifford’s powerful “Song of Remembrance,” based on poetry by Oregon poet laureate Lawson Inada that commemorates Oregon’s World War II civil rights assault on the immigrant Japanese-American community.

There’ll also be songs, jazz, free improv, poetry and more. Together, these two concerts make a stirring celebration of Oregon music and art and a fitting kickoff to the music season. Let’s hope they herald a new and earned confidence in our own creative musical community, and more concerts of homegrown sounds.

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