Photo Courtey Delgani String Quartet

A Classical Comeback Story

Upcoming Oregon Mozart Players and Delgani String Quartet seasons bring together old and new compositions 

For 18 months, most of Eugene’s classical music ensembles stayed away from indoor performance. As venues re-open — some of which require vaccinations or a recent negative COVID-19 test — classical music is planning its comeback to local concert halls. 

The 2021-22 season for two of Eugene’s smaller ensembles features contemporary works, a rediscovered composer from the Classical period, familiar names and a traditional Persian microtonal musical scale. 

The Delgani String Quartet’s 2021 season — as well as its opening concert — is a balancing act of contemporary music and recognizable composers. 

“Often contemporary music is played once and never again,” says cellist Eric Alterman. “We really went looking for pieces written in the 21st century that we really love and wanted to be a part of the string quartet repertoire.”

When designing each of the four programs for the upcoming season, Alterman says the group starts with a contemporary work and builds on it. For the Oct. 31 and Nov. 2 “Echoes of Sound” concerts, that composition is String Quartet No. 3 by Reza Vali. 

Vali’s piece uses a modal version of the traditional Persian classical scale, Alterman says. “It’s perfect for the string quartet because we play unfretted instruments, so we can play the microtones of these Persian scales.” 

Western music divides an octave into 12 tones. In Vali’s piece, Alterman says, an octave is divided even more by microtones, intervals smaller than the Western semitone. 

Western classical music often focuses on harmony, counterpoint and interaction between voices, Alterman says. And Vali’s traditional Persian musical influences are based more on melody. “It gives the melody all of that nuance,” he says about classical Persian music. “There’s many places to put the note that change the character in subtle ways. And each scale has an association with feeling, so it’s very expressive.” 

Vali, who will attend the concert and speak to the audience, combines Western counterpoint and Persian melodic influence in the work, Alterman says. 

The rest of the concert features compositions inspired by traditional songs, Alterman adds. Antonin Dvorak’s Cypresses are connected to Bohemian folk music, Florence Price’s works are based on African American spirituals and Sergei Prokofiev’s Second String Quartet is inspired by the musical themes from the Central Asian Kabardinians tribe.

The 2021-22 season also features a new addition to the ensemble: violinist Anthea Kreston, who previously performed with the Berlin-based Artemis Quartet. “She played in a world class string quartet in Germany, so we’re excited to have her,” Alterman says. “We’re also excited by our group chemistry together and her enthusiasm.”

Delgani String Quartet has four programs for the 2021-22 season. The quartet has four concerts for each program, each starting in Salem, then two at Eugene’s First Church-Christ Scientist (1390 Pearl Street) and wrapping up in Portland. 

Oregon Mozart Players’s (OMP) first concert of the season, “Old School,” is Nov. 13. It opens with a work by Marianna Martines, an Austrian composer who worked during the Classical period, at the same time as Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. 

“Sinfonia in C Major” has characteristics found at that time, says Kelly Kuo, OMP’s music director and conductor. “The instrumentation is similar, there are winds, harpsichord, strings,” he adds. “Structurally, there are themes that come back.” 

He says that if you didn’t name Martines, most listeners would think her compositions were actually by Mozart and Haydn. “It’s that good of a quality,” he adds. But women weren’t able to advance their careers at that time, he adds, so she didn’t have the opportunity to develop as Haydn and Mozart did. 

Martines’ work is still being discovered by musicologists, he says, and “Sinfonia in C Major” was one of the first works of hers to be discovered. And the work is still new to the classical music world, he adds. “I think there’s one performance online, and it certainly hasn’t been recorded yet,” he says, “but the more performances occur, the more chance that people will recognize the composer.” 

When developing a program that includes underrepresented composers such as Martines, Kuo says he looks online at other ensembles. Some of that includes exploring programs created by female conductors who are dedicated to performing work by female composers, he adds. “I have a running list of pieces that are on my wish list to conduct, and this piece has been on my radar for a couple of years.” 

Martines isn’t the only underrepresented composer on the Nov. 13 program. The concert includes a “The Court Jester Amareu” from Suite in Old Style by British Bulgarian Dobrinka Tabakova, Franz Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata and the OMP-commissioned “Kohala” by Asian American composer Stella Sung. The latter two works feature Nokuthula Ngwenyama as a viola soloist. 

The season opening concert, held at First Baptist Church (3550 Fox Meadow Road), Kuo says, is a conversation between old works and new compositions. “What we can learn from the past and how we can move forward,” he adds. “That in general is something we as human society could use a good reminder of.”

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