the orchestra world

Season 28: almost done

Photo of downtown Portland from the bank of the Willamette River. A bridge crosses the river in the middle ground.

Yeah, it’s been quiet around here. I’ve come close to just shutting down the blog and doing a professional performance site here, but people keep coming and reading the old stuff that I’ve written (thanks, and sorry!) so I’ve left it up as a sort of archive. Still, every now and then I feel the desire to write something. Sometimes I quash that urge (good judgement for the win) and other times I come back from blogger-semi-retirement and write a few things. Who knows, it could be that blogging will come back into vogue before I decide to throw in the towel?

I thought I’d just write a self-promotional look at what’s coming up for me and what has happened over most of this season in the hopes that is of interest to anyone aside from me.

The biggest change has been that I’ve been serving on the Oregon Symphony Players Association Orchestra Committee (OSPA OC), the start of a two-year term. Additionally, I’m co-chair along with our Principal flutist Martha Long. Dividing the workload is definitely the way to go, as each year seems to be (in talking with past OC chairs) full of many issues that need our attention. The Oregon Symphony is a union shop, but unlike some other orchestras, we do not have a designated union steward who handles issues that deal with working conditions and the CBA (collective bargaining agreement). Instead, the OC handles these issues and liaises with management over them. It’s a ton of work, for which we are not compensated, but it really gets one familiar with the contract and with all of the various issues that come up on a regular basis on the player side of the orchestra. It really ought to be required of all players at least once in their careers, but I can also see why that might not be the best stance to take.

There have been lots of great concerts this season, but two of the most memorable have been with two recent guest conductors, both of whom happened to be women. One thing to understand, most guest conductors are just ok. They might have high profile gigs elsewhere, but it’s kind of hard to come in to a new orchestra as the “substitute teacher” and make both a good impression on the players and achieve significant artistic results. It feels like a lot of guest conductors have a “do no harm” policy. This also makes sense if you look at it as meaning “do no harm so I can come back and make some bank with this orchestra again”. So they don’t rock the boat, let us out early, and overlook some deficiencies in the course of their week with us.

But there have been some standouts. Early in the season we had Markus Stenz, who was a last-minute replacement for another guest, and who had a great sense of humor and used it to get good results without ruffling any feathers in the orchestra. He also learned the horrifically complicated piano concert by Hans Abrahamsen on super short notice and rehearsed and led it very expertly, which I found very, very impressive!

Let’s get back to our two talented women conductors that I alluded to earlier. They were Kristiina Poska and Delyana Lazarova, who led our Classical 14 and 15 concerts respectively. Poska is from Estonia, and Lazarova from Bulgaria. They both led complicated programs with not only confidence and point of view, but also were easy to follow and understand visually. They also led successful concerts which were enjoyed by both the orchestra and the audiences. To have even just one good guest conductor a season is pretty remarkable, but to have three excellent ones, two of which were female, is bordering on unicorn territory! I hope that they both return as often as is possible, and that if there is a time when Jun Märkl has to leave his position here as Principal guest conductor, then I’d welcome either of them in that position, including Stenz.

Anyway, enough Oregon Symphony stuff. Also going on: 45th Parallel Universe concerts. In April the Pyxis Quartet did a major concert – Lost in Deep Time – at Straub Collaborative which involved coordinating music with visual artworks by artist Bradley Johnson. There were five pieces on the program, the most substantial of which was Andy Akiho’s piano quintet Prospects of a Misplaced Year with pianist Yoko Greeney. It’s a huge work which also involves a ton of work to learn and perform due to its technical demands and formidable rhythmic construction. There were six other pieces by inti figgis-vizueta, György Ligeti, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, and Anna Meredith. It was a sold out evening full of very cool music and visuals. You can read a review of that concert here.

Photo of cellist Leo Eguchi in a vineyard.

Upcoming with 45th Parallel are two concerts that have a connection to me. First is a solo recital on Thursday, May 23 by Boston-based cellist Leo Eguchi, who is familiar to Portland audiences as C0-artistic director and cellist of the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival which takes place in wine country each August. He has a wonderful project which is touring the US this year called Unaccompanied. The program is entirely commissioned pieces by composers who are either immigrants to the US or first-generation Americans. It is at the Madeleine Chapel and it should be fascinating – get your tickets here! If you’d like more insight into the concert, you can read an interview with Leo by 45th Parallel Executive Director Lisa Lipton here.

Another upcoming 45th Parallel concert is entitled Unapologetic. It takes place at the Madeleine Chapel on June 4 and features two works by composer Damien Geter (String Quartet No. 1 Neo-Soul and Woodwind Quintet I Said What I Said) and the Nonet, Op. 38 by 19th century woman composer Louis Ferrenc. It will be a wonderful concert of three highly accessible works from two highly-skilled and talented composers. Concert info and tix.

I have a pretty full summer of festivals to tell you about, but I’ll wait until mid-June to do that. In the meantime, enjoy all of the wonderful music and arts that is still happening this season, and I’ll see you next time!