Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Conversation with Robert Kyr

Last week, I talked with Robert Kyr about the recent performance by the Oregon Symphony of his 12th Symphony, his composers symposium at the Oregon Bach Festival, and about his next work. I started out by asking him of his impression of the performance last week.

"I really think that the Oregon Symphony is phenomenal," said Kyr enthusiastically. "It’s in the top 10 orchestras of the US. I have no doubt about saying that because within the course of a year I do a lot of traveling and get to hear a lot of orchestras around the country. In my mind the Oregon Symphony easily compares with the top 10 orchestras in the US. And Carlos Kalmar is one of the finest conductors today."

"The Schubert Unfinished… you’ll never hear it performed better than the way the Oregon Symphony did," added Kyr. "A lot of orchestras will just bow and blow through it. They won’t give it the sort of weight and expansiveness that is part of its nature. The second movement is rarely as serene as it’s intended to be. This performance had everything. It was just phenomenal. The way the second movement unfolded and the each time the beautiful solo line came back. The oboe solo was just exquisite. Just the right tempo. The relationship between the solo and the orchestra was incredible. The conductor knows pacing and drama and knows what’s appropriate for any given movement. If you consider the sound that he was able to evoke from the orchestra in the Schubert, then my piece, and finally the Strauss. Each piece is very, very different. That’s the mark of a great orchestra with a great conductor: each piece has its own world. Stylistically, each piece really shines. There were connections such as the themes of conflict and reconciliation between those three pieces and he brought them out, too. I was thrilled about the performances of all the pieces every evening."

Kyr founded the Oregon Bach Festival Composer’s Symposium in 1994, and it has been an extremely successful program.

"We’ve had many wonderful composers in residence," said Kyr. "Our first one was Arvo Part. That was a very special situation. We had a translator from Estonia for him. He rarely does symposiums. He felt at home and comfortable. The symposium forms a community. People work well together under a spirit of cooperation. He spoke for over two hours and took question. His wife was there and two of his kids as well. Everything he said related to music had a poetic and philosophical to it. We also have had John Harbison, Judith Weir (from Scotland), Lou Harrison, George Crumb – it was during his 75th birthday and we celebrated that with 13 pieces commissioned in his honor – Murray Schafer from Canada (he had a lot to say about music and education), and Veljo Tormis – theme was conflict and reconciliation. Tormis spoke about the struggles of his own country and the role of music during the revolution One of his pieces is God Protect Us From War. That's one of his finest pieces. He is one of the greatest choral composers."

"This year, we’ve invited Martin Bresnick, professor of music at the Yale School of Music, to be our composer in residence, and Lisa Moore as our artist in residence," added Kyr. "She is the pianist in Bang in a Can. Her concerts are legendary. Bresnick and Moore are husband and wife."

"The premise for this summer is making music together," explained Kyr. "We are trying out a new model this year, inviting composers, composer/performers, and performers. They will work in collaboration with the composer in residence and the artist in residence. There is a whole new layer of activity that is performance based. We’ve got the largest number of applicants (over 130) for 55 places, and people are still calling. There are master classes of all sorts and Lisa will be performing four new works by participants. Three wild nights improv cafes. Participants are bringing all of the instruments that they play. So this will have notated compositions and improvisation. Also a composer’s gamelan concert. So many people have signed up for it that I’ve split it up into three groups. We're calling it the "Gamelan der Tausend." Each is composing a short piece for gamelan. Composers are encouraged to combine any instrument they would like with gamelan."

Somehow Kyr still finds time to compose.

"My next big project is an hour-long piece called A Time for Life," explained Kyr, "which will be performed in November in Portland by Cappella Romana. It’s on the theme of the environment. I’m creating the text myself from source texts. One of the source texts is an orthodox service for the environment. A monk from Mt. Athos was a wonderful poet on spiritual topics. He was commissioned to create this service in the 1960s. I’ll also use prayers and invocations from around the world. I’m creating a musical drama that will use the entire space of the hall. The audience is inside the piece. There is no outside. No passive spectator is allowed."

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