(Above: The Oregon Cascades are the subject of a new work by Benjamin Krause that will be performed by the Delgani String Quartet.)
By Randi Bjornstad
Music that describes sublime landscapes is on the program for the opening concert of the third season of the Delgani String Quartet.
Two of the pieces are familiar: Alan Hovhaness’ 1936 “Mysterious Mountain” and Antonín Dvořák’s American Quartet.
But the third is a brand new work by Benjamin Krause (pronounced Krausay) that the Delgani String Quartet commissioned as part of its Cascade Quartet project, which they describe as “a documentary on the Oregon Cascade Range” and which is being underwritten by a Creative Heights Grant from the Oregon Community Foundation.
Although Krause lives in Indiana, he is familiar with the Oregon Cascades, having done his graduate work at the University of Oregon from 2007 to 2010. That’s where he met Wyatt True, a violinist and founder of the Delgani String Quartet.
” I had written a couple of pieces for Wyatt already, so I was excited when he approached me about doing a piece of a substantial string quartet,” Krause said. “My composition is based on the landscape around McKenzie Pass and the Dee Wright Observatory.”
Because of other commitments, Krause scheduled his return to Oregon to reacquaint himself with the mountain range in October of 2016.
“I drove up to the pass on one of the last days that the (McKenzie Pass) highway was open,” he recalled. “I knew I was taking a chance, but I didn’t have much flexibility in my schedule.”
When he got to the pass, “it was misty, with very low visibility,” he said. “There was freezing rain, and it was really windy — it was really an incredible atmosphere with the lava fields visible just occasionally through the frozen mist.”
He was alone on the mountain “except for a couple of other cars that passed by,” Krause said. “It was rather like a moonscape, kind of surreal.”
Coupled with memories of the mountains on fine summer days when he could see majestic peaks in all directions, that stormy day helped round out his emotional perspective for composing the Delgani piece, he said.
“I started thinking about the close-up part of the landscape — the rocks and the nooks and crannies and plants — that are so up close but that you don’t think so much about on a clear day when the beautiful mountains dominate your attention.”
The fact that he couldn’t see them on that stormy day gave him the inspiration for the fourth movement of his composition, which he calls “Those Distant Monuments.”
The first three segments of his String Quartet No. 1: “Cascades” recall his initial sense of the vast loneliness of the lava fields, followed by his introspection on the sharp shapes and edges of the individual rocks and then his romantic notion of the stunted trees struggling to survive “like castaways on the rocks” of an ocean.
Krause, who also is an accomplished pianist, is visiting assistant professor at Valparaiso University. His recognition as a composer includes scoring Timothy Lanzone’s 2011 feature film, “Traveling Salesman,” which was named an “official selection” at the 2012 New York International Film Festival and the same year won the Best Picture award at the Silicon Valley Film Festival.
Work with Krause on the Cascades project has been “a real treat,” True said.
“Like all good composers, he has his own unique way of writing what he hears on paper,and our job is to interpret the notes and bring the music to life,” he said. “This process of working with a living composer is unique and rewarding because we can actually have a discussion and even propose changes — it is a continual work in progress until the performances begin.”
That’s literally true, according to Krause, who will be in Eugene for the two performances of the work on Nov. 5 and 7.
“Composing is 20 percent hearing what you want it to be and then 80 percent working on the rest to make it what you want,” he said. “I’m having a bit of a hiatus from composing right now — the quartet has really taken a lot out of me during the last 10 months.”
However, he’s really looking forward to coming to Eugene and hearing the Delgani quartet play his composition.
“I’m really excited,” Krause said. “I love Eugene so much. And Oregon.”
The Delgani Quartet: American Landscape
When: 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 5 and 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7
Where: United Lutheran Church, 2230 Washington St., Eugene
Musicians: Jannie Wei and Wyatt True, violins; Kimberlee Uwate, viola; Eric Alterman, cello