Central Oregon Symphony holds spring concert

Coffee and cantatas with Michael Gesme

By David Jasper / The Bulletin


Published May 16, 2014 at 01:21AM / Updated May 16, 2014 at 06:29AM

If you go

What: Central Oregon Symphony Spring Concert

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Monday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Bend High School, 230 N.E. Sixth St.

Cost: Free, but ticket required

Contact: www.cosymphony.com, info@cosymphony.com or 541-317-3941

Each season, Central Oregon Symphony holds concerts in the fall, winter and spring.

To be sure, there are folks in town who would never consider missing any of them.

And each time I interview symphony conductor Michael Gesme over a cup of coffee, I’m reminded anew that we in Central Oregon are lucky to have him — and that everyone in town would show up if they were fortunate enough to hear the maestro wax eloquent about the upcoming concert.

And that’s not just the coffee talking.

It’s not too late for you to see and hear Gesme yourself. This weekend, the symphony holds its spring concert, featuring two longer works: Maurice Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite” and local composer Clyde Thompson’s 65-minute cantata, “We Have Spoken — Voices from Native America.” For the latter, the 48-voice Central Oregon Mastersingers, which Thompson directs, will also perform.

The concert opens with early 20th century composer Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite,” or Ma Mère l’Oye Suite.

Ravel is among a handful of composers “who took the time at some point in their careers to write pieces for children,” Gesme said. “But what they really are is pieces for pianists who are young in their study.”

Specifically, Ravel was inspired to write the suite for the children of an early 20th century couple whose Parisian apartment was frequented by the likes of himself, composer Igor Stravinsky and writer Jean Cocteau. A year after its 1910 debut, Ravel orchestrated the piano duet’s five movements.

“It’s charming beyond belief to me. It’s beautiful music,” he said.

The reason it’s called “Mother Goose” is because it’s based on fairy tales of yore, calling to mind miniature Tom Thumb, dozing Sleeping Beauty and those opposites Beauty and the Beast.

“It’s very light, and the piece as a whole is a massive feature for the winds section,” Gesme said. The piece is scored for, among other instruments, two flutes, two oboes, piccolo, English horn, two clarinets, contrabassoon and two bassoons, not to mention timpani, xylophone, glockenspiel, harp and other instruments that will be a sonic treat to rival the edible ones audiences may enjoy during intermission, along with their coffee.

Bend composer Thompson also orchestrated his “We Have Spoken” cantata, originally written for accompaniment by two pianos and percussion.

In 1991, Thompson was in Boston during a choir tour while doing doctoral work at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He stopped in a small bookstore, where the owner handed him a book titled “I Have Spoken — American History through the Voices of the Indians.”

Taken with both the poetry and directness of the language, Thompson knew he’d discovered great subject matter for the choral composition his doctoral work required.

The composition at the time contained three of the “We Have Spoken” choruses, but over the years Thompson continued “to read and gather texts that I knew were shaping up to be the libretto for a full-length cantata, which I intended to complete someday,” he writes in the concert’s program notes, which he shared with GO! Magazine.

Opportunity knocked in 2000, when a colleague invited him to write for the Chicago-based New Classic Singers. Thompson’s cantata premiered in Chicago in 2002, followed by a Cascade Chorale performance locally in 2003.

Since then, portions of the cantata have been performed around the country — including opening ceremonies of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

“This music is all about the words. Every time I read through these texts, they seem to become more and more powerful. Throughout them there’s a sense of spirituality, a sense of the sacred that was a natural part of the Indians’ daily lives, because their land, and all that was around them, was sacred,” Thompson told GO!

“Their music, their singing and drumming, is an expression of that spiritual connection. It’s not meant to be entertainment or art,” he continued. “I can only imagine where it comes from, where it goes and what it says. But it does bring to my mind certain images — I imagine the music coming from a spiritual center and being directed back to some spiritual source. It speaks to me of a world of spirit, with no acting, no show for the sake of show.

“And I’ve just tried to be as honest as I could in expressing my reactions to these extraordinary texts, and to the history of Native Americans.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0349, djasper@bendbulletin.com