Oregon Symphony to Record American Repertoire


James DePreist
James DePreist
Photo courtesy of the Oregon Symphony

The Oregon Symphony and its music director James DePreist are the recipients of a $1 million grant designated specifically for recording. The monies will be used to establish the Gretchen Brooks Recording Fund, named for its donor.

The gift, which also recognizes DePreist’s 20th anniversary with the orchestra, gives the Music Director complete artistic freedom over record label, producer, repertoire, venue, and even medium.

“I think that when you have the flexibility to do anything you want, it can be dangerous,” DePriest quipped. In choosing repertoire, he balances multiple considerations. He looks for works that the Symphony wants to make part of their recorded legacy and also have a good chance of commercial success, pieces like Stravinsky‘s Firebird and Rite of Spring, which they recorded this past September.

DePreist also wants to record music that he feels “should be brought to the public’s attention.” He met both of these requirements with Symphony’s best-selling recording to-date, a 1995 tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. released on Koch International, featuring Nicolas Flagello’s The Passion of Martin Luther King and Joseph Schwantner‘s “New Morning for the World: Daybreak of Freedom.”

DePreist’s initial repertoire list for the Brooks Fund recordings includes four American works: Persichetti‘s Fourth Symphony; Daugherty‘s Hell’s Angels; John LaMontaine‘s Wilderness Journal; and André Previn‘s Piano Concerto.

The Persichetti Fourth Symphony was first recorded by the Philadelphia Orchestra for Columbia, and according to DePreist has long deserved a place in the CD catalog. He became familiar with John LaMontaine’s Wilderness Journal when he was serving as Associate Conductor of the National Symphony. The work is scored for organ, orchestra, and baritone solo. “It has really been unjustifiably neglected in performance and recording,” DePreist stated. He calls Michael Daugherty’s Hell’s Angels “one of those serendipitous discoveries.” The music was presented to him by the Oregon Symphony’s principal bassoon, Mark Eubanks. The piece is scored for solo bassoon quartet and orchestra. “The bassoonists in the orchestra have a group called the Bassoon Brothers,” DePreist laughed. “It only seemed natural to include it.”

DePriest studied composition with Persichetti at the Philadelphia Conservatory, and while he does not feel that his own experiences as a composer have directly affected his choice of repertoire for this project, he does think that his teacher’s influence has made itself felt. “He was so open, as a teacher, to the compositional bents of his students. He wasn’t locked into any one school. It was really an object lesson in the kind of openness to a variety of good music that should inform any repertoire decision.”

Projects funded by this grant will extend through the remainder of DePreist’s tenure with the Symphony, which will end in June 2005. Before the Fund runs dry, the Symphony plans to record another CD that features Previn’s concerto, with Andre Watts as soloist, in addition to works by Bernard Rands and Benjamin Lees.

In the past, DePreist and the orchestra have recorded for Delos and Koch. No label or medium has yet been designated for the new project.