(Above: Singer Siri Vik in one of her signature biographical concerts featuring the work of major 20th-century women singers; photos by Paul Carter)
By Randi Bjornstad
Eugene songstress Siri Vik has made a name for herself delving into the lives of vocal divas of the past — Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, to name a few — and bringing their stories and their music to her audiences at The Shedd Institute for the Arts in downtown Eugene.
The one-woman projects take months of planning, research, writing and memorizing, studying the music, choosing the songs, rehearsing and pouring heart and soul and vast quantities of energy into multiple performances.
Vik probably would be doing that again about now, except for the need to attend to her health after working through — and worsening — the chronic back pain she has suffered for the past several years.
“I finally realized that I had to have some rest and relaxation to deal with my back issues, and part of that was the need not to mentally have a one-woman show in the back of my mind,” Vik said.
She and James Ralph, The Shedd’s executive director, already had another idea in the works, but both agreed that she had to have a break.
“Deciding what I’m going to do at The Shedd is always a kind of dance between me and Jim (Ralph),” Vik said. “But he was totally supportive of my not doing what we had already planned. He said he wanted me to be part of the opening of the new Jaqua Concert Hall without having to carry an entire show.”
What Ralph proposed was a return to The Shedd’s — and Vik’s — roots, which meant classical music. The result is “Sure On This Shining Night,” featuring vocal and chamber works by two of America’s most venerated composers, Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland.
On Nov. 9, Vik will sing part of the program, including eight of Copland’s 1950 Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson and a half-dozen songs by Barber, among them “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” composed in 1947 and based on James Agee’s 1938 prose poem, as well as five of Barber’s other works, including the one that gives the concert its title.
Nathalie Fortin will be the pianist, and Robert Ashens will conduct the chamber orchestra, which will perform two instrumental works, Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” from 1944 and Barber’s 1936 composition, Adagio for Strings.
The two composers lived through much of the 20th century, Barber from 1910 to 1981 and Copland from 1900 to 1990.
“When (Ralph) mentioned the Barber to me, I had done it, and I said I would love to do it,” Vik said. “Then came the decision about what to pair it with. So, is this my show or an appearance with the orchestra? It’s both.”
The performance might include some of her signature conversational narrative about the music and its composers, Vik said. “It won’t be in the cabaret style that I have done with my other shows, but it will be comfortable and familiar.”
Her one-woman shows take a year to produce — “It’s like birthing something,” she said — and while this one is not like that, it does give her the chance to bring a greater awareness and understanding to her audience of the poetry and life of the poet, Emily Dickinson, as set to music by Copland.
“When I was in my 20s, I bought her big volume of poetry, and I began to appreciate the genius she really was,” Vik said. “She was much deeper than her poetry sometimes implies, and her life was much more complex and her writing sometimes almost avant garde in her use of language.”
Vik also is excited to be part of the first handful of concerts to take the stage in the newly rebuilt and renovated facilities at The Shedd.
“It’s still the old historic building, but it’s also so modern and perfect for this region” she said. “The bamboo floors are beautiful, and the whole thing is very stylish.”
Sure On This Shining Night
When: 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9
Where: Jaqua Concert Hall, The Shedd Institute for the Arts, 868 High St., Eugene
Tickets: $15 to $36 (half-price for students with valid ID), available from the ticket office, 541-434-7000, or online at theshedd.org/; pre-concert meal at 6 p.m. at $21.75 for adults, $16.75 for children, available by advance reservation