Eugene Art Talk

Bob Keefer on art and music around Eugene, Oregon

Category: Music (page 1 of 12)

Symphony finalist No. 3: Francesco Lecce-Chong

The third and last finalist for the job of music director at the Eugene Symphony is in town and will conduct the orchestra in a regular season concert Thursday night.

Francesco Lecce-Chong, now assistant conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and music director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra, is 29 — which surprised me when I met him this week at the symphony’s office. Some of the most recent photos on his website make him look quite a bit older — and that is on purpose, he explained. “I got tired of people thinking I’m 14,” he joked.

A native of San Francisco, Lecce-Chong was raised in Boulder, Colorado, a city with much the same college-town vibe as Eugene. He’s an only child in a non-musical family; his father is an architect, and his mother, an artist.

As a child he worked his way through piano, violin and viola and was playing in a youth orchestra in Colorado when someone suggested he might try his hand at conducting. His first gig on the podium came at age 16 with a middle school orchestra.

“I couldn’t stop smiling,” he said. “It all goes back to what I love about conducting — making music with people, ideally with the most people possible. I love opera! You can’t get more people than that. The more complex it is, the better.”

He got his undergraduate degree in piano and orchestral conducting from Mannes College of Music at The New School in New York. He also has a diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music.

Lecce-Chong thrives on making order out of chaos. He loves conducting from the podium as well as conducting from the keyboard, and if he gets the job here you can probably expect to see and hear historically appropriate performances of early classical music.

He sees Eugene as an incredible music opportunity. “What has made this orchestra such a lovely place for young conductors is that they entrust the music director with so much responsibility,” he says. “And you have this thing going for you that most orchestras don’t — you always have a young music director.”

If he gets the job, Lecce-Chong says, he hopes to have the orchestra perform new music by young composers from the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance and elsewhere.

That sounds simple enough, but Lecce-Chong warns that new music can mean a huge commitment from both the music director and from the orchestra. New music, by definition without a performance history, requires a lot of careful work to perform well.

“So much of what can make a composer’s work successful is how the musicians react to it,” he said. As a result, he is very demanding with composers of new work. That pickiness benefits both the orchestra and the composer.

“I can’t afford to have a single misstep,” he says.

Similarly, he would like to see a more honest relationship between the symphony and its audience — one in which, for example, the concert-goers might feel free to “boo” a work they don’t like.

“In the 19th and early 20th century,” he says, “audiences felt completely free to react however they wanted to. All those people who hated ‘Rite of Spring’ [which caused a near riot at its premiere] did so because they felt comfortable.”

Lecce-Chong leads the orchestra at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 16, at the Hult Center’s Silva Concert Hall in a program that includes Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1, Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with soloist Soyeon Kate Lee; Mozart’s Overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio; and Ricard Strauss’ Suite from Der Rosenkavalier (1945 version).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve conned the Oregon Mozart Players into letting me judge a music competition Sunday

John Fawcet, a previous winner of  OMP’s Young Soloist Competition

Hold on here. Somehow this classical music-writing thing has gotten out of hand.

One day you write a short review of the Eugene Symphony. You manage to spell most of the names right and convince a few readers (not all) that you are slightly knowledgeable about the music you heard. Emboldened by accidental success, you go on to write something about the Bach Festival.

The next thing you know, you’re considered somehow an expert, and you’re invited to judge the Young Soloist Competition put on by the Oregon Mozart Players.

So that’s what happened. I’m going to help judge the competition at 6 p.m. this Sunday, Feb. 5, in Room 190 at the University of Oregon’s School of Music and Dance. The OMP, about which I’ve written off and on for some time, is a sizzling chamber orchestra that plays, yes, a lot of Mozart, and is smart enough not to allow me to be the sole arbiter of this competition.

In fact, on Sunday evening I’ll be safely in the company of three other judges who actually do know something about music: Kelly Kuo, the OMP’s music director; Alice Blankenship, OMP’s concertmaster; and Jane Allen, OMP’s principal harp. I trust they will keep me out of trouble.

We’ll be listening to nine finalists, four who are under 14 years old, and five who are 14 to 18. They’ve been selected by video audition, and if they’re anything like the young soloists I saw perform with OMP two years ago, they are all someday going to be rich and famous and performing in Carnegie Hall.

On their way to New York, the winners from this year’s competition will be featured in OMP’s May 6 concert in Beall Concert Hall. Each winner will perform the same piece they played in the final round of judging, except that they’ll be accompanied by the OMP orchestra and the piece will be played in its entirety.

The May 6 concert will also feature Elgar’s Enfants d’un rêve (Dream Children), Op. 43, and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1, Op. 25, “Classical.

 

Symphony conductor candidate No. 2: Ryan McAdams

Ryan McAdams

If Ryan McAdams becomes the new music director of Eugene Symphony next season, we can probably expect to attend unusual performances in unusual musical spaces.

We can also expect articulate talks from the podium.

McAdams, who conducted the orchestra last night at the Hult Center in a concert with works by Mozart, Barber and Brahms, is one of three finalists trying out with the orchestra to replace music director Danail Rachev when he leaves the symphony at the end of this season.

On the podium McAdams was energetic and assured, cutting an almost too-perfect figure of the handsome young conductor. If he has a flaw, it may be that he’s almost corporate slick.

Much like last month’s performance by Dina Gilbert, the first of the three finalists to conduct a public concert here, his music got noticeably better and more comfortable by the final piece, Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, which he had selected (the other two were assigned).

I talked with McAdams for half an hour on Monday at the symphony’s downtown office, and began by asking him to expand on his vision for including contemporary classical music in the orchestra’s performance schedule.

“This is not a question of repertoire,” he said. “It’s a question of format.”

By that, he meant that rethought productions of standard fare can feel as contemporary as new works.

As an example, he offered a performance he conducted in 2015 of the tried and true Don Giovanni with New York’s Venture Opera.

“We did this Don Giovanni on the Lower East Side in a dilapidated synagogue (perhaps better known as Angel Orensanz Center) with no sets,” he said. “The costumes were simple, large pieces of fabric. And the audience felt this was new, cutting-edge material.”

Opera News called the production “by far the most enjoyable and thought-provoking Don Giovanni New York has heard in many a year.”

In conventional performance spaces, he said, the audience can feel removed from the process of making music — a passive recipient of performance rather than an active participant.

All orchestras need to consider unconventional performance spaces, he said, if only to accommodate the large number of contemporary works that don’t fit into conventional venues such as the Hult Center.

“Composers are creating pieces that interact with very specific environments,” he said.

Those new works should be seen as not just an advertisement for the “real” performance in the main hall, but musical experiences that stand on their own.

Asked for an example of a small orchestra doing the kind of work he admires, McAdams immediately cited the Louisville Orchestra, under Teddy Abrams. In 2014 the orchestra performed Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with a choir of hundreds of singers cobbled together from professional and school groups.

“It was enormous,” McAdams said. “The concert became the definition of a community event.”

McAdams has deep personal roots in performance. His father was a theatre director; his mother, an opera singer. “I think of everything in terms of theater,” he said.

McAdams, who arrived in town late last week for a whirlwind of interviews, receptions and conducting, didn’t get to join the Women’s March in Eugene on Saturday. He was busy rehearsing the orchestra that day, though he got to see the marchers go by.

But his wife of a year and a half, dancer and performer Laura Careless, did join in, having flown in from New York just for the weekend.

McAdams chose his words carefully in taking about the pink-hatted protest and deftly turned the conversation from politics back to art.

“That’s part of what the march meant to me,” he said. “It was a group of people coming together to create the world we want to live in.”

Snow Queen 6: Recording the new show’s soundtrack album

Recording engineer Lance Miller runs the sound board at the Snow Queen recording session.

Something that most people don’t realize about orchestral music is this: It’s very hard for composers ever to hear what their compositions actually sound like.

I’m the first to admit I didn’t fully understand this until recently. Having been fascinated by the idea of computer music ever since I bought an Amiga 1000 computer back in the Bronze Age, I’ve always assumed that all you have to do is lay down MIDI tracks for all your instruments, hit a button, and then the computer plays your new symphony for you.

The occasional dissenting voice I’d hear from people who knew anything about music, I managed to dismiss as elite audiophile grumbling.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

This all came to light this week, when Eugene’s OrchestraNext sat down in a spacious studio at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance to play – for the first time it’s ever been performed – and record Kenji Bunch’s brand-new score for Eugene Ballet’s brand-new production of “The Snow Queen.”

Composer Kenji Bunch listens as OrchestraNext performs his new composition for the ballet.

As OrchestraNext’s Brian McWhorter conducted 23 musicians from the student/professional orchestra, I sat in a small control booth, which was dominated by an enormous sound board that could have come from any rockumentary you’ve ever seen on MTV. UO recording engineer Lance Miller presided at the board, watching the orchestra through a glass window, and said things like “Take 47!” into a microphone as McWhorter and his forces launched into sections of the hour and forty minute composition.

Behind him, in chairs along one wall, Bunch and Eugene Ballet artistic director Toni Pimble sat side by side, scribbling notes and, in Bunch’s case, occasionally offering suggestions to Miller and to UO music professor Bob Ponto, the producer for the session.

The recording they were making will have two uses. First off, Pimble will use it in rehearsal for choreographing the ballet with her dancers when rehearsals start in January.

Second, perhaps 70 minutes of the music will be put on a CD, which will be available for sale at the Hult Center when the ballet opens there in April.

Back to my original point about sound quality: I had heard a brief MIDI extract of Bunch’s composition last summer, when I visited him at his Portland home for an interview. To be honest, he didn’t really want to play it for me, and I understood why as soon as the music started coming out of the computer and speakers.

I could tell that it was music, but the sound was all electronica and no orchestra. I couldn’t even tell what instruments were being simulated. I listened and thought – well, I’m not sure what I thought.

When I heard the same music played on real instruments this week, the sound was dazzling and wonderful, lush, dark and lyrical, with layers of interest and meaning that not only invite but demand further listening.

Here’s how Pimble put it when I asked for her impressions after one of the UO recording sessions this week:

“The opening of the ballet – which sounded like an ambulance siren on the MIDI recording – is actually a beautiful mysterious and icy sound that in no way resembles the MIDI sounds,” she said. “I have been listening to a MIDI recording for months now. It is less than ideal when trying to get a sense of the overall instrumentation of Kenji’s music. His unique blend of the usual and unusual pairings of instruments creates wonderful color to the sound of the music.”

Artistic director Toni Pimble offers a suggestion.

She went on to talk about the complexity of the composition.

“I think that this has been a challenging commission for Kenji. I have asked him to write a cohesive score, but the scenes of the story are very different. The Snow Queen’s palace, the romantic music of Gerda and Kay, the quirky music of the conjure woman’s garden, the fields of crows, the prince and princess palace and the gypsy scene are all very diverse scenes, not only in place and time but in the telling of the tale. He has handled this diversity wonderfully.

“The colors and sounds of each scene are clearly different and transport us to each scene and yet the segues into each scene are beautifully crafted and seamless. Some scenes are very rhythmical, others flow more with lush romantic sound.”

Pimble said hearing the music actually played by a live orchestra is helping her with ideas for choreographing the work.

“Music is the catalyst for me when choreographing, so the more I can immerse myself in the music before stepping into the studio to begin rehearsals with the dancers, the more prepared I am with ideas for the dancers and the rest of my fellow collaborators. Yes, I have been inspired this week!”

Hearing the live performance helped focus her ideas on particular scenes, Pimble said.

“I think the gypsy scene is going to be challenging music to choreograph to but very exciting, too. The field of crows is clever, complex music with a light touch and will definitely be fun to work on. Kenji told me he watched some TV programs on crows before attempting that scene.”

To prepare for this week’s recording sessions, McWhorter told me earlier, he has been studying the score – but not listening to the MIDI version of the music.

He and Pimble, McWhorter added, have been consulting with Bunch by telephone or by email about once a week as Bunch developed the piece. I asked if this amounts to composing music by committee.

“We try to be as delicate as possible,” the conductor said. “It’s this funny dance. Kenji is so open to ideas, as opposed to a composer who has a rigid vision. He’s not dogmatic, at all.”

McWhorter and Bunch have been friends since they were students together at the Juilliard School years ago. “I am considering Kenji’s sensibilities almost more than anything. That comes from knowing him. What kind of things he values. He’s not one of those composers tied to the two-dimensionality of the score.”

This is the sixth story in an occasional series, sponsored by Eugene Ballet, about the company’s creation of a new Snow Queen. The new work is funded by grants from the Richard P. Haugland Foundation and the Hult Endowment.

See Part One, on artistic director Toni Pimble; Part Two, on scenic designer Nadya Geras-Carson; Part Three, on composer Kenji Bunch; Part Four, on costumer Jonna Hayden; and Part Five, on dancers Isaac Jones and Sara Stockwell.

“The Snow Queen” will have its world premiere at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 9, 2017, at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in Eugene.

 

Brian McWhorter

Conductor Brian McWhorter

 

Dina Gilbert makes a nervous debut as conductor job candidate

img_3718

Everyone who has met her likes Dina Gilbert, the young French Canadian conductor who is in town this week as the first of three finalists to take over as music director of the Eugene Symphony next season.

She’s smart, quick, funny, enthusiastic and charming, and she just wrapped up a three-year stint as assistant conductor at the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, under Kent Nagano.

It was clear the audience was pulling for her the minute we walked into the Hult Center lobby this evening to hear her conduct the orchestra. “Did you see her talk?” one friend said. “She’s fabulous! Can’t they just hire her now?”

I had some of the same reaction after meeting her on Monday.

But, of course, the proof is in the music, and that was what we all came to hear.

Gilbert, with symphony executive director Scott Freck, answers questions after the concert.

Gilbert conducted four pieces this evening: two prescribed by the orchestra (Mozart’s overture to The Magic Flute and Korngold’s violin concerto) and two of her choosing, which turned out to be Stravinsky’s Petrouchka and Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

In the first half of the program – the prescribed Mozart and the violin concerto – she seemed nervous on the podium, waving the baton so energetically at times that she seemed to be flailing. It was sheer bad luck that the violin soloist, Elena Urioste, is tall and glamorous (the Washington Post has called her “a drop-dead beauty”), so their juxtaposition on stage emphasized Gilbert’s youth, as did her bouncing ponytail.

Visual cues aside, the music in both the Mozart and Korngold seemed dutiful but uninspired, as if she were rushing through to get the job done with.

The big surprise for me came in the second half of the program. Gilbert was still nervous. She tried at one point to make her entrance before the orchestra had tuned up, then turned and headed back offstage.

But from the moment she launched into Petrouchka it felt, for the first time, like she had her teeth into something. The orchestra was with her, and so was the audience. The music was solid and moving, and Gilbert was no longer bouncing wildly on the podium, but simply and calmly conducting. That energy continued through all four movements of the Stravinsky and right through the Dukas.

It was an amazing transformation. Perhaps it was because she was playing music of her choosing; perhaps her nerves had finally settled. Whatever the reason, she began to shine.

At a public question and answer session after the concert, she talked – again a bit nervously – about her love of contemporary music and her ideas for attracting a younger audience to symphony concerts. About a third of the audience at Orchestre symphonique de Montréal concerts is under 30, she said, and she hoped she could attract more young people to the symphony if she gets the job here.

I hope so, too.

Canadian Dina Gilbert kicks off symphony conductor try-out concerts at the Hult on Thursday

Dina Gilbert_01

It might have been inevitable that Dina Gilbert would become a conductor. The animated young French Canadian woman talks as much with her hands as she does with her voice.

That became clear in a half-hour interview this morning at the offices of the Eugene Symphony, where Gilbert is one of three finalists to replace music director Danail Rachev when he leaves his post at the end of this season. She will guest conduct the orchestra Thursday in its regular season concert.

As with the last three conductor searches, this one has drawn a lot of interest around the country and around the world. Basically, everyone out there who owns a baton wants to work with the orchestra that propelled Marin Alsop to fame and glory with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, followed by Miguel Harth-Bedoya (who went on to become music director at the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra) and Giancarlo Guerrero (now at the Nashville Symphony ).

Gilbert – pronounce her last name as the French do, “jeel-BAIR” – is perfectly positioned for the youth vote, just in case any young people get a say in the selection process. At 32 she’s an advocate for new music who likes to conduct soundtracks for video games and film. In person she’s so animated she seems hyperactive, her hands flying constantly as she speaks.

She’s premiered more than 30 works by young Canadian composers – including one, Alexandre David, who was one of the artists I met in October during my residency at Brush Creek Ranch in Wyoming. (David spoke highly of her as a conductor and as an advocate for new music. “Hire her!” he said.)

Gilbert arrived in Eugene last last week, got to spend a day exploring the community, and then plunged right in on Saturday – her birthday – by meeting the orchestra for a first rehearsal for this week’s concert, which will feature works by Mozart, Korngold, Stravinsky and Dukas. (The symphony board later sang her “Happy Birthday.”)

She said she’s amazed to find an orchestra of this caliber in a city the size of Eugene. “Nothing like this would exist in Canada,” she said. “No regular orchestra in a small community.”

Gilbert just wrapped up a three-year non-renewable appointment as assistant conductor at the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, whose previous music directors have included Zubin Mehta and Charles Dutoit.

She was often called on to step in for current music director Kent Nagano in rehearsals. The first time she said, he called her to the podium to conduct parts of the first movement of Beethoven’s third symphony while he stepped out into the hall. Finally, without warning, he asked her to conduct all other movements as well.

Fortunately she had prepared to conduct every piece of music the orchestra might play while she was there – even if that meant studying scores late every night after work. “It’s normal for me to have just four or five hours of sleep each night,” she said. “That’s OK. When I’m in a rehearsal I’m giving everything, but I’m receiving a lot back from the musicians, too.”

In fact, when I asked her what the public least understands about the job of a conductor, she said it was the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes. “Our job is 99 percent done when the concert starts,” she said. “I spend 70 percent of my time reading scores. The public doesn’t see all the preparation we need to do before getting there.”

Gilbert grew up in a small town in Quebec, the fifth of six daughters in an all-girl family. She started playing piano, switched to clarinet, and took up conducting when a teacher told her she had “an intuitive way of communicating” with her hands.

She is founder and artistic director of Ensemble Arkea, a chamber orchestra in Montreal that performs innovative interpretations of orchestral music.

She has a PhD from the Université de Montréal; her work for the degree was on syncing orchestral music to film. She also has a bachelor’s in clarinet performance and a master’s in conducting.

The program for Thursday’s concert is:

Mozart: Overture to The Magic Flute
Korngold: Violin Concerto (Elena Urioste, violin)
Stravinsky: Petrouchka (1947 version)
Dukas: The Sorceror’s Apprentice

Two other finalists for the music director job have also been named.

Ryan McAdams will be here to conduct the January 26 concert, and Francesco Lecce-Chong will conduct on March 16. Read more about all three finalists here.

Annie Get Your Gun at the Shedd: A fun night’s entertainment, if culturally uncomfortable

 

agyg-1m_01

Annie Get Your Gun, which opened tonight and runs through December 18 at The Shedd in Eugene, isn’t the most problematic old musical out there when it comes time for a 21st century revival in these days of cultural sensitivity.

But it’s not the easiest, either, mostly on account of the stereotypical way it presents native Americans in telling the stylized story of the real life Annie Oakley and her romance with sharpshooter Frank Butler amid William Cody’s spectacular Wild West show, which captivated much of the western world as the 19th century drew to a close.

The production at The Shedd doesn’t dance around the foibles of the script. In fact, this show, directed by Ron Daum, harks back to the original 1946 version, with book by Dorothy and Herbert Fields and music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. One song has been cut — “I’m an Indian, Too” — but for the most part the musical barrels right ahead, including passages that make you wince.

That’s mostly OK. The core story here is a feminist fairytale about Annie’s struggles to find true romance with Frank without, ahem, upstaging him. That’s a story we’re comfortable with, and it gives us such wonderful nuggets as “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” and “Anything You Can Do,” which are performed to near perfection by Shirley Andress in the strongest performance I’ve seen her give. Andress is tough, cute and winsome by turns as she sings her heart out about the difficulty of romancing a man who doesn’t shoot as good as she does but thinks he can.

Matt Musgrove is also strong as Frank, whose masculine charms cause the entire female dance ensemble to swoon at various times in the show.

The cultural trouble, of course, comes from the show’s depiction of Indians, and they are as stereotyped here as it’s possible to be. Just one or two nods to the 21st century — a line about Standing Rock, say?– might have helped, but instead the show grinds right ahead, oblivious, even though George Comstock did a presentable job as the stereotypically wise old Chief Sitting Bull, who gives Annie paternal advice.

This is all in the realm of cultural misdemeanor, though. Nothing here is bad-hearted, and the show itself has enough energy to carry us comfortably through its three-hour run time (including two intermissions).

Caitlin Christopher’s choreography is nicely done throughout, and the set, by Janet Whitlow, is simple and elegant, with a few delightful surprises.

The orchestra, conducted by Robert Ashens, was muddy as the play opened tonight, and then appeared to miss some sound cues later in the show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Wyoming, and that election, tonight’s symphony was a sumptuous version of heaven.

The view from Mezzanine Center F 209

The view of five young composers from Mezzanine Center F 209

OK, I’m back from Wyoming. It’s taken me a week and some to readjust to being home — first, because I loved spending an entire month doing nothing but hiking in the Wyoming mountains and making art in a studio at the wonderful Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, but also because I happened to fly back home on election night, and landed in Eugene at the stroke of midnight to discover I had entered some kind of parallel universe I had never imagined inhabiting.

But tonight’s Eugene Symphony concert went a long ways toward restoring sanity.

The program featured pianist Stephen Hough, a British keyboard celeb (composer, performer, poet, MacArthur genius grant recipient), who turned out one of the best piano concertos I’ve ever  heard performed. Hough’s rendition of Beethoven’s third piano concerto, Op. 37, wasn’t flashy and it wasn’t dramatic. What it offered instead was a steady, reserved brilliance that went on and on without a break for more than half an hour.

I may have been swayed by the seats I got at the Hult’s Silva Hall — just about dead center on the mezzanine — which, in that very uneven hall, offered the best and most seamless blend I’ve heard there of piano and orchestra. But I don’t think it was just acoustic perfection. Hough’s playing was eerily right at every single moment, without his showing the least strain. It was like he could kick out perfect Beethoven in his sleep.

I wanted to talk with him, but Hough was too big a fish to land for an interview, despite my best efforts. He saves his energy for talking, it seems, to outlets like the New York Times and The Economist.

The concert opened with a piece called Ode to the Future: Variations on Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy,’ which was put together by five young — very young, as in high school age — Oregon composers. The five — Marissa Lane-Massee, Joseph Miletta, Wesley Coleman, Cayla Bleoaja and Katie Palka — each worked out a variation on the last movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. The five short movements were then combined and performed together as a single piece.

How do I put this, so Eugene Symphony understands. DO THIS MORE! Do this at every concert! Play more new music, not just by high schoolers but by college undergraduates just exploring music for the first time and by grad students looking at it as a career. We have a music school here. There should be new music on every single concert program!

OK. End of lecture.

The evening concluded with Shostakovich’s symphony No.11, a very brooding, intense, Russian piece that’s, sadly, terribly appropriate to today’s world a full century and some after it was written.

I was able to tuck back into my seat and be taken to  place where suffering is universal, and accepted, and where the president to be just seems another distraction from all the beauty that is out there, if only we can look and listen.

 

 

 

 

 

Richard P. Haugland, 1943-2016

800px-r_haugland

Richard P. Haugland, a major financial supporter of Eugene arts organizations, died last night in Thailand after a battle with brain cancer, according to his friends at the Eugene Ballet. He was 73.

With his wife, Rosaria, Haugland was a founder of the Eugene hi-tech business Molecular Probes. With the profits from that company, the couple created charitable foundations that have given large gifts to Eugene Ballet as well as to Oregon Contemporary Theatre and Eugene Opera, among other organizations.

“I first got to know them when their daughter, Marina, studied ballet at our school over 30 years ago,” Eugene Ballet Artistic Director Toni Pimble said today. “He was a very generous, kind and thoughtful man whose philanthropic gifts spread far beyond Eugene. His generous soul touched all who knew him. He will be sincerely missed.”

The Hauglands supported the ballet in its early years and, more recently, gave more substantial gifts that enabled the organization to purchase the building that became the Midtown Art Center on South Willamette Street.

Later he offered funding to Pimble and the company to create a new children’s ballet, and the result was 2013’s “Mowgli, the Jungle Book Ballet.” Pleased with what he saw at the premiere, he immediately offered to support a second new show.

With a $200,000 grant from the Richard P. Haugland Foundation, the ballet is currently at work on an all-new production of “The Snow Queen,” which will premiere here in April.

“We are so very sad that Richard will not see the results of his support for this second work,” Pimble said.

In recent years, Haugland lived in Thailand, where he supported – both financially and with hands-on work – needy children and orphans.

“Eugene is fortunate that he and Rosaria chose to grow their company here and to simultaneously play major roles in the growth of several of Eugene’s arts groups,” said Craig Willis, artistic director of Oregon Contemporary Theatre. “What I find even more inspiring was his dedication to improving the lives of AIDS orphans in Thailand. He so clearly loved these children and found joy in enriching the lives of people who might otherwise be cast-offs.”

 

 

Consider Yourself going out to see Oliver! at The Shedd

consider-yourself-1

That old stalwart Oliver! presents a special challenge for theater: It has a whole lot of kids in the cast.

The production that runs through October 2 at The Shedd as part of the Shedd Theatricals series must have 20 kids on stage at the same time, acting, singing and dancing — and they pull it off with verve and style.

Oliver himself, played here by a young lady named Kenady Conforth, is right on top of the role. Conforth has a sweet young soprano that’s perfect for songs like “Where is Love” and “Who Will Buy.”

Adapted from the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, the musical — with book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart, for whom it would be his best known work — opened in London’s West End in 1960 and got to Broadway in 1963. It was made into a 1968 film that took several Oscars. With its rough and tumble rags to riches story, the play has been pretty much in continuous production somewhere in the world for more than half a century.

The Shedd show, directed by Peg Major, with music direction by Robert Ashens and choreography by Caitlin Christopher, is a fine production with occasional moments of glory.

The first of those comes in the Act I, when Oliver, who has been causing problems at the orphanage, is sold to the undertakers, the Sowerberrys, played here as goth Addams Family figures by Matthew Woodward and by Christopher herself. Christopher, who danced for two seasons with Ballet Fantastique, glides onto the stage like a tall, raven-black puppet, an amazing sight. The audience sighed.

She could have stolen the show at that moment, but then Lynnea Barry, as the bad guy Bill Syke’s girl Nancy, sings the desperately sad “As Long as He Needs me” to close out Act II, her sheer power and loveliness overcoming contemporary issues of sensitivity to domestic abuse (she’s got a black eye from Bill as she’s singing).

And then there’s Sykes himself, played powerfully by Ward Fairbairn, who I last saw as the creepy vice principal in Cottage Theatre’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Ffinally there’s Fagin, the over-the-hill shyster thief who runs the gang of young thieves into which Oliver is inducted. Tom Wilson’s got this one down; his Fagin is softer and sweeter then I recall ever seeing, a man who has lived a life of vice and is now confronting his destiny with humor and grace. He also sings a treat.

All in all, a great show. Go see it.

 

 

 

 

 

Older posts

© 2017 Eugene Art Talk

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑