Festivating with the Eugene Symphony
Eugene Symphony horn players
Festival season is here early this year. I don't know what it is about festivals, but as the PR person for the Eugene Symphony said to me, "Eugene's a festvial town." Perhaps she was referring to the Helmuth Rilling-headed Oregon Bach Festival, which has probably accustomed Willamette Valley-ites to lectures and hoopla surrounding music. Perhaps she meant that our summer weather attracts people from more humid parts of the country. Whatever she meant, we're through our first festival and moving hurriedly toward the Track and Field Olympic Trials, which happens to coincide with the Bachfest. (Yikes.)
I do know that the Symphony created a long-range plan over the summer of 2007 and announced several resulting events at the beginning of the 07-08 season. One of the plans -- a plan immensely popular among patrons but not ... quite ... worked out yet according to the exec director, to whom I spoke a week or two ago -- calls for summer concerts in the park. (I wrote about the Symphony's announcements of all of this here.)
In any case, last week, there was much festival activity in Eugene. And I had enough Maurice Ravel to last another, oh, 20 years or so.
You see, the city of Eugene undertook a much maligned (on balance rightly so, I think, for reasons I'll discuss someday in this forum) "Cultural Policy Review" last year, discussing problems and strengths of the arts in Eugene. You can get to the final report from this page if you look up to the right (really, they should have it available as HTML instead of simply the PDF version, but the City of Eugene website needs to be put out of its misery and resurrected like Fawkes). One of the most common complaints I heard at the (many, many) CPR meetings from arts community folks was that they couldn't get play with the UO and that they wanted more collaboration.
The UO has a gorgeous, acoustically stunning concert hall, but it's often full up with faculty and student recitals, the UO Chamber Music Series (read that brochure for an example of language that might drive away more than a few casually interested folks) -- and I have to say, though I am mostly able-bodied and prefer walking there anyway, construction and parking issues near the hall mean that it's intimidating for non-UO folk to find their way to the building. That said, the Eugene Symphony and the UO School of Dance and Music somehow found a way to collaborate on the Daphnis and Chloe festival.
But there were other collaborations. About 150 people attended a kickoff concert in the rotunda of the newish public library (one building that the hippies, timber barons, progressive downtown folks, folks who want big box stores downtown, developers and students all agree is lovely) during Eugene's First Friday ARTWalk (do not ask about the capital letters; I simply go with it), and at least 100 more drifted by on their way upstairs or to the children's section of the library. Combined with an art contest that had elementary school students making murals based on the music and the story of Daphnis and Chloe (er, perhaps not too much of the story), this event meant that quite a few people heard about the festival and the concert.
Monday night (a week ago) was the collaboration with the UO, a student and faculty concert of French music. I counted more than 90 people there just before showtime, but more may have drifted in (after they found parking spaces, of course). The unquestioned highlight, the unbelievable highlight, was soprano Laura Decher Wayte's performance of six chansons from Germaine Tailleferre. What a voice, and in that space with its history and sound, what an experience. Decher Wayte is an adjunct instructor in the UO's vocal program, but I know she performs in various capacities in the area (and in California). I won't miss her again.
Despite my distaste for Ravel's music (sets my teeth on edge; that's visceral, not logical), I enjoyed the smaller lead-up concerts and was sad that teaching a journalism class interfered with the more academic event, a "talky" bit where a music prof, an art history prof and other scholars discussed how the story of Daphnis and Chloe has been expressed in art over the past 2,000 years.
And I survived the Symphony's performance of the full ballet (without the dance bit, with a well-trained chorus that had to be madly bored by singing "oooooooooo" over and over again). I'm sure it was lovely, but it's an hour long, and I have to say that at minute 48, after a false climax (ahem), I just about made a break for it. If I'd been sitting in an aisle seat ... Point is, even those who aren't Ravel-struck could have had fun at one or two of the festival events, put on entirely for free and cosponsored by a bewildering array of local arts groups and business folk.
Good on you, Symphony. Now for more town-gown and arts groups collaborations in the future!
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