Unstoppable Force Makes Intangible Concept Real and the Result is Spectacular!
– by Lee Greene
On Saturday, November 15, a Gala Celebration Concert and reception were held, commemorating the opening of the new Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University. It’s a grand sounding institution, but don’t go searching around Ashland’s Southern Oregon University campus looking for a new building with that name etched on it – because there isn’t any new building with that moniker on the SOU campus. What then IS the new Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University, that is the cause for such gala celebration? The Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University is the brainchild of Dr. David Humphrey, the recently installed Director of the “recently created” Performing Arts Department at SOU unifying the previously independent departments of Music and Theatre Arts. Dr. Humphrey brings over 30 years of experience in management of artistic organizations to SOU. Before arriving at SOU, he was the director of the Museum of Performance & Design in San Francisco, and earlier was part of the management team at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The now combined department includes 46 full and part-time faculty, and offers a wide variety of student-involved musical and theatrical performances each year.
“The Center is an academic division of the University but it also serves a broader purpose as a community arts presenter, partner and producer.” “The new Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University educates artist practitioners and scholars in a diverse environment that cultivates Southern Oregon University’s values of creativity, collaboration, communication, and adventure. Its focus is on the training, nurturing, presenting and honoring of Oregon artists. ” “The unique Oregon setting of the Oregon Center for the Arts at SOU serves as a creative catalyst for the mixture of students, educators, and artists, from the state, the nation and the world. This diverse combination infuses the Oregon cultural landscape with artistic excellence.” The core component of the Center is its Academic Programs: Creative Arts, Music, and Theater Arts. A second component of the Center is the Schneider Museum of Art, which exhibits art work from artists from Oregon, the United States, and the world, and presents works of innovation and exploration in collaboration with all areas of the arts. A third component of the Center is the Allied Arts Program, a set of university-related arts programs including Chamber Music Concerts, the Institute of New Writing/Ashland, the High School Honors Band and Choir, the Shakespeare Visiting Schools Program, and the proposed SOU-Oregon Shakespeare Festival joint partnership ShakespeareAmerica Institute. Finally, the fourth component of the Center is the Community Arts Partnerships involving relationships between the University and community arts organizations, such as (but not limited to) the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Britt Festivals, Ashland Independent Film Festival, Rogue Valley Symphony, Southern Oregon Repertory Singers and many others. These community arts organizations not only provide valuable arts experiences for SOU students, but the long history of collaboration between the University and the community arts organizations have created a rich cultural environment for the region and the state.
In essence, the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University is an intangible concept, a reorganization and restructuring of existing academic units of the university and arts-related arms of the university in collaboration with community arts related organizations that have some affiliation with the University. So the Center is not a grand edifice, it’s a grand concept, tying all the arts-related pieces of the university and the surrounding arts community under one conceptual roof. And how did this come to be?
At the Gala Celebration Reception, new SOU president Roy Saigo explained that after he first arrived at SOU, Dr. Humphrey would make frequent visits to his office and expound upon his vision for a unified arts entity at the University. Dr. Saigo relates that he would nod his head as Dr. Humphrey passionately and emphatically pressed to make his vision a reality, as a sign that he was listening, but Dr. Humphrey would interpret every head nod as an agreement to the immediate proposal being offered. President Saigo exclaims that Dr. Humphrey simply wouldn’t accept no as an answer, and would press ahead. David Humphrey was an unstoppable force in envisioning the concept of the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University and bringing it into existence.
Which brings us to November 15, and the Gala Celebration. Having gotten it done, and brought all the pieces together, it was time to show off what the Center could accomplish. The Gala Celebration Concert, which was presented in the Music Recital Hall on the Southern Oregon University campus, was, in a word, spectacular.
There were five performances on the concert program, involving the Rogue Valley Symphony, the combined voices of the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers and SOU Chamber Choir, narration by Oregon State Representative Peter Buckley, and internationally renowned pianist (and SOU Music professor) Alexander Tutunov. And there was some speechifying by now Director of the new Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University, Dr. David Humphrey as well as by SOU President Dr. Roy Saigo. Usually in a concert, there is an easily identifiable featured piece, which is the highlight of the program, the star vehicle, around which everything else is program filler of variable quality and likeability. Not this concert! Each of the five performing arts pieces were magnificent; each were memorable, outstanding performances that thrilled the capacity-house audience. The program began with the Rogue Valley Symphony, under the direction of Maestro Martin Majkut, performing a rousing rendition, trumpets and brass blaring, of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. Not to be sexist in this politically correct era and environs, that was immediately followed by an equally stirring performance by the Symphony of Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman.
Then Dr. Humphrey spoke, welcomed the audience, utilized some of his charisma and spun some of his immutable vision of the grand concept of a unified arts entity for the audience. No wonder that President Saigo couldn’t say no. Next Dr. Saigo spoke, wrapped in the magical web just spun and greeted with applause and adulation. He proceeded to thank Dr. Humphrey for his effort and accomplishment and to predict great things for the new Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University. Then it was back to the performances. The Southern Oregon Repertory Singers and Southern Oregon University Chamber Choir joined the Rogue Valley Symphony on a filled stage to present an outstanding performance of the exquisite Vaughn Williams choral masterpiece, Serenade to Music, directed by SOU Music Professor extraordinaire, Dr. Paul French.
After an intermission, the appreciative audience returned to their seats, only to be further wowed by a stirring performance of Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait by the Rogue Valley Symphony, with well-spoken Rep. Peter Buckley providing the narration.
With nary an opportunity to sit back, relax and take it all in, the program moved to its finale: an absolutely fabulous, passionate and downright exciting performance of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue by the Symphony, with the incomparable Alexander Tutunov at his absolute best playing the piano solo. A concert just doesn’t get any better than this. This concert was truly spectacular. The audience couldn’t have asked for more (though Dr. Tutunov did play 3 encores to an audience which couldn’t stop expressing their approval and appreciation). Dr. Humphrey had made his point: bringing all of the pieces of the arts community together, the result WAS greater than the sum of its parts. Since it was nearly impossible for me to select one piece to provide a representative excerpt of for you to get a sense of this concert, I instead will offer something unusual here – a highlight reel of snippets from each of the 5 pieces:
Highlights of the performances at the Gala Celebration Concert commemorating the opening of the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University, on Nov. 15, 2014 at SOU Music Recital Hall, Ashland, Oregon.
After the Gala Celebration Concert, a Gala Celebration reception was hosted at the Schneider Museum of Art, also on the SOU campus. A much smaller gathering mixed amidst various interesting rooms of paintings and artwork, nibbled on attractive and appetizing catered finger foods, and socialized among themselves, and with Center impresario David Humphrey, SOU President Roy Saigo, and various other principal participants from the concert, including Symphony conductor Martin Majkut, Choir Director Paul French, and piano virtuoso Alexander Tutunov. A Celebration sheet cake was cut and distributed to guests and more speechifying followed, including President Saigo telling of his early encounters with the unstoppable force that is David Humphrey, in pursuit of his grand concept, the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University.
The Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University is not only a reality now, but under its rubric is offering a continuing stream of performing arts events, including concerts of various kinds, theatrical productions and more . (I counted at least 20 events between now and the end of June, and many of those are being presented in multiple performances spanning several different dates.) For details about upcoming Oregon Center for the Arts at SOU events and to purchase tickets, go online to http://bit.ly/1F6QIH4, call the box office at 541-552-6348, or visit the box office in the lobby of the SOU Music Recital Hall on South Mountain Av. in Ashland, OR.
This review was originally published by the Jacksonville Review on October 4, 2014 at http://jacksonvillereview.com/unstoppable-force-makes-intangible-concept-real-result-spectacular/