Painting Back Stories

Salem Symphony x large
Salem Symphony, 2017, 60w x 20h

WHY I PAINT THE SYMPHONY

One Friday night in January, 2018, I was giving a short speech in a downtown Portland hotel, to about sixty people with  whom I had a deep and visceral connection, though I knew few of their names. My wife of one year, Bethany Evans, had a rehearsal at the hotel’s ballroom where the following night, Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra would be playing for community members who would be helping to fund some of the symphony’s 40 community outreach programs. As part of the fundraiser, I would be showing my oil paintings I had made based on this very symphony and its players. Since then I have been traveling through human connections like electricity on copper, and sharing my art in a completely unprecedented way.

When I set out to paint the symphony my first intention was simply to represent dynamic and kinetic beauty. I loved the glistening instruments. I loved the action, the expression, human excellence, poise, professionalism, strain, and triumph. And most of all: unity, community, ax1nd oneness. Individuality and the aggregate. For me there was definitely a sacredness flowing through the mathematics and the passion colliding in the music. I fell in love with the musical mastery wrought by discipline.

I started my first oil painting in my life, one called, Salem Symphony, a mere five months earlier, using a dozen small tubes of oil paint from a Zip-lock bag my mother had gifted to me, but it had taken me all of my creative life to envision how oil paint could translate this subject. Salem Symphony and Portland Columbia Symphony had many of their musicians in common and this would be the first time any of them would see my work.

In my many years of building and creating art in many mediums, I saw that contemporary art often lacked in execution the discipline these musicians exemplify. An orchestra could never function if musicians were held to the same standard as many contemporary visual artists, who are often held to no standard except a political one. I chose oil on canvas as my medium to convey if I could, the higher human experience of classical musicians working in masterful collaborarion.

For many years I felt like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill only to have to start at the bottom of the hill every new day he woke to. I started drinking more. I painted and sculpted a man, myself, and named him “Precarius,” and he was always pushing a giant wheel or gear, alone. Even though I was barely 40 I felt like I was wearing out until I underwent a complete, though harrowing, reconstruction. It is in contrast to escapist nihilism and so much waste-based contemporary art that the symphony works stand. The symphony rings out in every fiber of the vibrating air that we are built for cooperation and can aspire to higher ideas.

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“Precarius” 2013, Bronze

On that Friday night, I had parked a luggage cart laden with a few of my works in the hallway outside of the ballroom while I went to drive the van to the parking tower. The rehearsal would be commencing in another fifteen minutes or so. Bethany had already carted her harp to the stage where she was tuning its strings. When I returned from parking the van I saw that the paintings had been taken from the cart and set on easels to face the gathered symphony musicians on the stage risers. I was beckoned over by the conductor, Maestro Steven Byess. One of the paintings was of him: a charismatic and handsome white-haired gentleman. After a brief introduction I climbed the several steps to his podium. Cello necks rested on the neck of their player and drumsticks were at rest while violins lay in the laps of the violinists. I felt that they loved what I had done and they were grateful for it. I expressed to them that for me, the symphony was as visual as it is aural. I love their individuality and their characteristics, their relationship to their instruments and their action as a unified organism, and that when I see them I see a kind of radiant light.  Well, that’s what I would have said had I found the words to tell them why I paint them, and why I am going to I keep painting musicians, thousands of them, if I am allowed to.

I love this work more than I have loved any work I have ever done. I am part of a community that has grown and grown. I never paint the symphony without a prayerful heart overflowing with gratitude for the opportunity; that after all this time, all these broken but healing spiritual bones, that it is finally underway.

 

Nashville Symphony 2019 Approved Color Balance for Giclee
Nashville Symphony, 2019, 60w x 36h

WHOA! NASHVILLE

After a three day drive across the country, through Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri (loved the Ozarks), the southern tip of Illinois, Kentucky, and into Tennessee, I set up a 20 foot trade show booth, finishing at midnight, for the League of American Orchestras annual Conference. The main event would be a night at the symphony with our gracious hosts, the people of Nashville Symphony.

It was extremely interesting that a spectacular performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana followed the tender and movingly spiritual Heichalos, or Symphony No. 4 by Baltimore-based composer, Jonathan Leshnoff. His symphony takes the listener through seven rooms of meditation on God, described in an ancient Jewish text, in the hope of communion with the Divine. This 22 minute symphony was transportive and a faith-inspiring salve, and sacramental once shared with a rapt and attentive gathering of souls.

I was constantly entranced by conductor, Maestro Giancarlo Guerrero. He was simply beautiful. The beat and rhythms were always defined and crisp, but he danced with organic grace as he moved expressively, both inviting and commanding every heart in the unspeakably stunning Schermerhorn Concert Hall to follow him. The Schermerhorn glowed as if lit by candles and it was more cathedral than concert hall.

Nashville Symphony Chorus filled yonder seats while their sheet music and the white of button-up shirts glowed an eerie blue. The choir had the rush of wind flowing over a mountain ridge, and was precisely unified. The soloists rang in rich vibrato, and with feminine power and appeal. Nashville Ballet, slightly above the stage plane of the Symphony, translated Carmina Burana into a religious and sensual filling of all of the senses. The dance was mesmerizing, and simultaneously worshipful and erotic. There was no air that had not been breathed by dancer or musician, and then rebreathed by every patron, nor particle that had gone untouched by a yellow globe of flying light. It was a night of supplication to higher lights for greater meaning, in rebellion against the materially and spiritually mundane.

Also amazing, but in a completely different way, was an experience I had outside of the hall once the concert was over. At the four-corner interescetion a host of people waited on every corner to cross the street while cars had either a red or a green light. At once, all four corners gave the “WALK” sign and all the traffic lights turned red. People walked in their various directions for just enough time, and then the traffic lights went back to alternating red and green. I have lived in or visited so many towns or cities where pedestrian street crossing rules have tied up lines of cars forever. This was a beauty of creative thinking by somebody, as important as the idea of forming a line when physical competition for who should go first is undesirable. I hope I can do my little part to help this innovation of human organization to advance, and maybe in pedestrian-congested intersections everywhere, everyone will cross at once, then wait a few minutes to do it all again, and there will be a little more time to get on with what we meant to do when we set out.

The people of Nashville have been so friendly. Thank you.

 

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Wichita Symphony, 2018, 60w x 36h

THE KEEPER

The gentle plains of Kansas looked in late spring like primordial plenty. Driving southward toward downtown, enormous elevators suggested that Wichita is a place to gather things, starting with billions of bushels of grain into towering concrete monoliths of connected upright cylinders. These shapes gave way to the rectilinear boxes of the city center.

After several days’ drive I was taken aback by the perfection of the multicultural public art space that suddenly appears amidst the cubes. Intersecting with the caramel-colored Little Arkansas River gorged with an over -abundance of late spring rains, spanned two beautiful pedestrian bridges. These evoked the architecture of Plains Indians ceremonial clothing and leather cords, and even the pier blocks recall woven fibers of grips or mats arranged in herring-bone style to mimic the supreme architecture of a feather.

It seemed to me, a stranger there, to be a shockingly appropriate community space. Expertly fabricated in rusted red sheet metal, The Keeper of the Plains sculpture, by sculptor Blackbear Bosin, loomed above, joining sky to ground. This is an incredibly relatable piece, situated on a stone column amidst a xeriscaped garden. While winding through the garden path one is accompanied by the primeval beat of a Plains Indian drum.

I saw a harmonious convergence of culture, offered in one medium and then translated into another. Stone into humanity and music into a dream, caught and translated again as it passed through a symbolic bridge, like a woven web piercing a sunset Kansas sky.

 

Rogue Final 2019 008
Rogue Valley Symphony, 2018 60w x 36h

ROGUE VALLEY AFTERGLOW

At the end of September 2018, on Rogue Valley Symphony’s opening night of the season in Medford, Oregon, the skies opened up a downpour of rain, like nature knifing through a smoke tarp suspended overhead at the corners and heavily laden with water. Enormous raindrops bounced off the ground while I ran a block in my suit to retrieve the 30×30 portrait on white canvas I had painted of the Symphony’s charming conductor, Martin Majkut.

I hadn’t seen Joelle Graves since our first meeting in Chicago in June for the League of American Orchestras Conference, where, having survived a gauntlet of aggressive panhandlers outside the stadium, we sat a few seats away from each other for a White Sox home game. Within a few innings we had established that we were both from Oregon and both new to our orchestra work, with Joelle as a recently minted executive director of one of the most adored symphonies per capita in the country, Rogue Valley Symphony, and I as a painter of symphonies. We left the conference a few days later with a conspiracy to paint a portrait of Martin, if not the whole symphony, and quite possibly both.

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Martin Majkut, 2018, 30 x 30

Soaking wet I arrived back in the lobby ninety minutes before the season’s first concert, with the portrait facing downward to keep the oil paint out of the rain. Our initial idea was coming together much as we had first envisioned it. Martin’s exhilarated and buoyant passion came out in the portrait, and it was a strong likeness except for the lower jawline and an eyelid confusingly indistinguishable from a lens of his glasses. I had roughed in the painting only a week before, and most of my painting is done with a palette knife, so after rummaging through my leather and canvas messenger bag and not finding such a tool, Joelle and I searched the concert hall for anything that might stand in for one. Upstairs in a reception room she found a cheese spreader and I made progress on the eyelid and jaw on the spot, and then took the painting home until the work on both sides of the painting, administrative and artistic, could be finished. After the concert, plans progressed quickly and a full symphony painting due for auction in February got put on my calendar.

The symphony almost completely sells out each of three venues: Medford, Ashland, and Grants Pass, each time it puts on a concert. I could see why, beginning when Maestro Majkut took to the stage for a pre-concert lecture about the night’s performance to come. Martin is personable, engaging, wicked smart, and funny. I understood a lot of what he said, but Bethany also was interested and informed by his remarks. He was able to illuminate the program for me, a newcomer to classical music, while still engaging someone with surpassing classical music knowledge, like Bethany. In his opening remarks on the new season, Maestro Majkut acknowledged the welcome rain on a region that for the night was basking in an illusion of relief from worst-in-a-generation wildfires; an illusion because the worst fires in the region’s recorded history were still to rear.

When the rosy light shone behind the musicians and Martin conducted lightly on the balls of his feet, I could feel the affinity of the full house knitted together with their symphony. By the time the full symphony painting was on my easel a few months later, it had been hell for thousands of neighbors not far to the south. The sky of the painting was a mixture of the last minutes of sunset and a prolonged clearing of smoke. I saw a lot of fire in the painting and also washes of that natural beauty of sage, and purple peaks, a floor of golden grasslands, and a glow that had settled on the mountains and valleys as Bethany and I left for our 4 hour drive home to the north, when the Rogue Valley took a fresh breath between ordeals, in reflection of its more constant and rugged grace. And speaking of grace, it is women musicians that are the essence of this painting, and the focus of the symphony’s upcoming season.

 

Foxspokhires
Spokane Symphony, 2018 60w x 36h

SPOKANE AND I GO WAY BACK

Spokane comes in and out of my life like a train depot. It seems as I travel that I step off a train and look up to see that it is Spokane’s sign overhead again, and I am never quite sure how to feel about that. Even though I can’t quite pin down the feelings, they are surely there, like visitors on the depot platform, most of whom are family in some stage of separation. I guess the feeling is somewhat anxious and a little melancholy. More than any other of my symphony paintings, this one evokes the host of people and an enormous set of doors that lets them in and through which they depart after some kind of meeting together, a meeting that has moved them and stirred the imagination, but not without complications.

I was born in Spokane in 1972 but I remember very little except a swing in the backyard of a beloved aunt and uncle, a dollhouse under construction on the uncle’s work bench, and a crushing bear hug from a beloved old fellow named Spencer W. Kimball. Almost all of my childhood memories begin in New Mexico after age five and contain the dirty gullies where I hunted blue tailed lizzards and horny toads with my best friend, Levi. My first experience with the symphony was “Peter and the Wolf” with my school class, and I remember being thrilled with the way the musical instruments matched the personality of the characters. I had a strangely transportive experience in the creation of this painting when my mind put that symphony experience as a child in this, the Martin Woldson Theatre at the Fox, but this memory isn’t true. I am sure, however, that I sat on the far right hand aisle of whatever venue it was that hosted that mystery symphony.

When Cicely and I settled our young family in very rural eastern Washington in an abandoned church we were remodeling into a home, we passed through Spokane from time to time. My patent attorneys had offices in downtown Spokane and I had numerous meetings there and paid tens of thousands of dollars out of my back pocket for a 32-count Utility Patent for a new construction system that I demonstrated with 1/8 scale toys I had poured into molds on my kitchen counter. I secured several other Design Patents as well for modular masonry fireplaces that I first put on display in front of a downtown masonry supply store. Whenever I visited Spokane it was with a weight of mixed feelings, for it was these downtown streets where I was doing business that had seen my Grandpa Ben deliberately leap to his death a few years before. My Uncle Don and I spent many nights together in those patent days, sitting at a window that faced east toward Spokane, or on the deck facing east from a vantage high above the plains and coulees, drinking beer and talking over complicated though eviscerating family pain. I was compared, a time or two in my growing up, to Grandpa Ben who had died a severe schizophrenic, because I was somewhat crazy in my late teens and twenties. I was as torn in two as a guy could be because of religious dualism that I couldn’t understand, and I was giving my life to live creatively with no idea at the outset how to make money doing it. It was during the late night beer-laden and cigarette smoke-filled talks that I learned from Uncle Don that Grandpa Ben had been kicked hard in the head by a horse as a young man, and so jumping from a building’s upper floor need not be my destiny, though all three of us might have had a Coleman family depression in common nonetheless. And now, at the time of this painting, Cicely, my former wife and friend of nineteen years, calls Spokane her home. Uncle Don and I mourn our devastated friendship because I returned to my family’s faith after twenty years away and he never found anything to like about that faith that his brothers and a sister had joined without him. And it is four years this month that I no longer drink alcohol or smoke.

So, I guess my original analogy holds up pretty well. I pass through Spokane but I don’t stay. Maybe it keeps a certain kind of residence in me. This painting is a very spiritual one for me. There is a light above mere mortality that illuminates this darkened sphere that we will pass into and out of, and for a moment we try to do the impossible and suspend judgement, and surrender to that music on vibration, so that it can penetrate all the way through all of it, in a very human, but very uniting, and even healing way.

 

Newport Symphony original size
Newport Symphony, 2018, 60w x 36h

MOVED BY NEWPORT

Many of Bethany’s musician friends perform with Newport, Oregon’s Symphony. It is a rather small symphony and, thus, very intimate and much beloved by its small, tight-knit coastal community. I have accompanied Bethany several times when she has performed as second harp, to her friend, Martha Griffith. The best conversations I have had in the audience have been with Newport Symphony’s friendly patrons. I am quite shy but someone has always engaged me there. Newport was one of the very first symphonies that I approached with my idea to do an oil painting to auction off as a fundraiser. I was thoroughly vetted by the symphony executives before I was given access. What came next was a feeling of inclusion that gave me chills from the center of my bones to the surface of my skin.

Just prior to the last concert of the 2017-18 season, Newport had seen the passing of one of its favorite people, Mr. David Ogden Stiers, aka Major Charles Emerson Winchester III from MASH.  He was much beloved as a Conductor-in-residence for the symphony, and when concert time came the community was still grieving. Maestro Adam Flatt conducted a moving musical tribute to him that I observed from the side of the stage. As I watched, I was able to feel Mr. Flatt’s passion. I had told Flatt before the concert that I thought the best perspective for the painting might be looking toward him from the left side of Tubist, Jay Steele. At last, and as agreed, I climbed the several steps to stand beside Jay and his tuba for the final piece. My heart raced to study and film a conductor from within the symphony, albeit the back corner in the semi-dark where I stood wearing all black and with my camera raised. I was thrilled and moved. It is one of the most precious sensory experiences I have ever had. I hoped to paint Flatt’s intrinsic action and command. I hoped to portray the human individuality of the musicians, and I hoped to create a painting that would convey the architecture of this community’s ties, and their elemental relationship to their place.

 

wallawallasymphony
Walla Walla Symphony, 2018, 60w x 36h

WHENCE WALLA WALLA?

I had owned my own business since my early twenties, starting as a self-styled and self-taught stonemason and sculptor with a permanent place in a pretty good art gallery. The stone masonry was a staple as I also secured patents for inventions of block systems and toys, more art platforms of mostly lackluster success, designer concrete contertops, Buddhist Shed construction, etc, etc… but I decided not to keep it going after 19 years, continually restless and reinventing what I wanted to do. Then came the total final gut punch of launching a new incarnation of my business in the height of 2011’s fiscal cliff debacle that didn’t do my nascent pizza oven product any good in the afterglow of a great recession my business had barely survived. For the first time that I recall in my life I created a job resume and I sought regular work. Weeks and weeks later and dozens of resumes delivered and rejected, I got an offer of a part-time job as a janitorial assistant. After some serious thought I didn’t accept. Weeks later and some 70 resumes delivered, I was offered a tour of Walla Walla Foundry. I was blown away. I had never seen anything like it: glowing liquid metal pouring from crucibles, enormous cyllinders made of cooked plaster that were being demolished in columnar- basalt-like pieces to reveal rough, sprued castings,  red wax forms floating in tubs of water, a metal shop full of the cacauphony of metal welders and chasers while Britney Spears and Ozzy Osbourne blared from a PA speaker. Six weeks later I was offered a job in the filthiest corner of the compound for ten dollars an hour, working under the tutelage of a twenty-something potty-mouthed video game affecionado. Five years later after serving as sand casting and crating lead, Walla Walla Foundry had provided me the hardest and most astonishing work experience of my life. I had been a part of making and delivering some of the most impressive art in the world today for A-list artists whose skills and insights ranged from wholly impressive to juvenile and profanely weak.

I relocated less than two years ago to Salem, Oregon, to live with my wife,  world-class harpist, Bethany Evans, after a year of weekend visits. Sometimes Bethany and the kids, or Bethany alone came to me, but usually I left for Salem right after work on Friday afternoons. Making the most of her visits to me, Bethany was featured in Walla Walla Symphony’s Heart Beat concert series in 2016 and performed for the Kirkman House music series. My favorite of her performances was at the church I attended, where she played a solo aria by Mikhail Glinka, named, “Nocturne” that melted me down and delivered great peace. This painting is a very meaningful convergence of both of our lives.

The piece depicts the symphony as conducted by Maestro Yaacov Bergman, with Cordiner Hall warmly enveloping the musicians in a soft glow. I sought to convey Maestro Bergman’s uncontrived style and his gentle control, as well as a hint of each musician’s personality. Symphony Executive Director, Leah Wilson-Velasco, said of the painting, “Wow!  This is gorgeous! It’s amazing how I can see the personality of each of our musicians!” This painting is an homage to Walla Walla Foundry, with my infusing of copper into much of the oil paint. Still residing in Walla Walla is my beautiful and beloved daughter, Veronika, and many dear friends, making this project particularly close to my heart.

 

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Tuning Low Strings, 2017 60w x 20h

DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH

Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra performs in the First United Methodist Church in downtown Portland, Oregon. The chapel is high-vaulted in hardwood beams and trim. Along the entire South wall is a full floor to ceiling bank of stained glass panels in red, blue, and rose that reflect the interior glow back onto the instruments on the stage. The effect is a warm and comforting mellowness. I painted “Portland Columbia Symphony Low Strings” at about the same time that I painted “Tuning Low Strings”, the subject of this post. Both paintings focus on the same group of musicians: those who work directly in front of where I routinely sit while admiring my sweetheart through their bows, instruments, and elbows.

One of my favorite parts of the symphony is the activity that takes place before the conductor takes his podium for the concert. There is usually a pre-concert lecture which is essential for providing context for the works that will be performed, followed by the wonderful activity and cacauphony of all of the instruments being tuned. The context of the lecture expands the imagination and my feeling of connection to the composer’s intent, and the tuning builds pregnant suspense in an insect-like swarm of sound. I was sitting there, after Maestro Byess offered some background to John William’s prolific career as blockbuster movie score composer, and I saw a very special glow of soft femininity in the midst of all these men in their sharp tuxes, like a diamond enclosed in carbon and rock. There, surrounded on every side by symphony men, I glimpsed Bethany standing at her harp, her right arm bent upward behind it, tightening tuners with a key, her left hand stretched and plucking at long strings made of gut, copper, and steel. Her left leg is straight while her right dances and kicks expertly at one of seven pedals going from flats to sharps. Tonight her shifting shoulders are mostly bare above the scoop of her black gown. All around were men clothed high up the neck in stiff collars, but within them, and through a window of instrument necks and sculpted cellos, was the soft femininity of a radiant woman poised in elegant work.

I am old-fashioned in my love of contrast, and even here in the unifying nature of the symphony as a single organism, rightly inclusive of all, I love the symphony for the beauty of women and soft curves against hard angular lines and handsome manliness, and glows amid pure blackness. I saw that night a repeating theme of timeless beauty, and although at the symphony, in a church, I ached as a man for this woman’s natural allure in the simplest way.

 

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“Chicago Symphony” Oil on canvas 72w x 48h. Painted for artist debut at League of American Orchestras Conference, Chicago, 2018

CHICAGO IMPRESSIONS

It was a 33 hour drive, in a minivan full of oil paintings of symphonies, from Salem, Oregon, to downtown Chicago for the League of American Orchestras annual conference. I loved the drive, fatiguing as it was. I had an overnight visit with family in North Salt Lake and was touched by the way they rallied around me to offer encouragement before sending me further down the road. Traveling east from the Wasatch Front in Utah, was Wyoming, stunning in desolate beauty. Then all the way across Nebraska’s prairies, serenely mimnimal. And then my first time through Iowa, comforting and gentle with verdant knolls. I really loved Iowa. I left Illinois for the last day of driving and entered Chicago with time to spare.

I parked at the loading dock of the Palmer House Hotel and gracelessly moved large paintings on ill-fitted luggage carts up freight elevators. Behind the other paintings I had on display, my painting of Chicago Symphony rested under a new canvas drape awaiting its unveiling during the conference. When I unveiled it, I described that in the history of music there have only been dozens of symphony paintings. I hoped to be the one to paint thousands of classical musicians before I am done. This piece, a little unlike others, is more about seeing the music, and my inability, when watching the symphony at work, to focus on the whole symphony at once. Rather, my focus drifts between musicians and the conductor, continually moving, like the air full of vibration.

Last night I watched Chicago Symphony from the sixth floor balcony, its floor so sloped forward it seemed that at any moment a patron could topple forward over the precipice and into the chasm of the balcony below. Maestro Riccardo Muti has left an impression of great character and grace on my imagination. He is subtle and vibrant. He seemed extremely communicative to the musicians as well as the audience. This is a gorgeous symphony. Yo-Yo Ma danced all over his cello for a Shostakovich symphony that my ears are not yet refined enough to properly appreciate. Though sacrilegious to say, I would have given my right foot for him to do Ennio Morricone instead. The pre-concert lecture was almost my favorite part: entertaining and incredibly informative. Chicago has left an enriching and colorful impression on me.

 

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Symphony Harpist, 2016 70w x 36h Spray paint on board
salem for email
Salem Symphony, 2017, 60w x 20 Oil on canvas

HARP-CENTRIC

I went to the symphony a few times in high school and I really loved it. And then I never went again until I started dating a symphony harpist twenty-five years later. I lived in Walla Walla and Bethany lived in Salem, Oregon. Whenever she had a Friday night concert at Portland’s First United Methodist Church, with Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra, I would have arranged to leave work at Walla Walla Foundry midday on Friday. I would drive 3 1/2 hours west through the beautiful Columbia River Gorge so that I could get to the church in time to change out of my jeans, T-shirt, and steel-toe boots and into dress slacks, a white button-up shirt, black dress shoes and a blazer. Every time I sat near the front row and slightly to the right, directly in view of the harpist. She was often nestled behind the cellos and bassists or sometimes she was situated in the front. My first symphony painting was in my choice of medium at the time: rattle-can off-the-shelf spray paint. I don’t think I had even noticed yet that the harp has seven pedals, but I had painted Bethany at her harp almost immediately after my first experience seeing her there.

My first symphony oil painting was “Salem Symphony”, where she was out front on a slightly lower platform than the rest of the symphony. My second full symphony painting was “Portland Columbia Symphony Low Strings” that places her so prominently, and accurately to my vantage and affection, that the rest of the symphony seems to fade into the distance. But I love this symphony and I am making friends there.

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Portland Columbia Symphony Low Strings, 2018, 60w x 20h

And so, based on the core of musicians directly in front of me, is the following cropping:

I look forward to painting Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra again, but next time I intend to show just a little less harp-centric bias.

 

Kamron Colman
Maestro and Virtuoso, 2017, 60w x 20h

HISTORY AT HISTORIC ELSINORE THEATRE

About a year ago, history was made at the historic Elsinore Theatre in Salem, Oregon. The theatre is like a boroque castle with gothic cathedral domes and ornate trimmings on every edge and corner. Maestro Anthony Parnther, guest conducting from Los Angeles, joined with Joshua Bell and Salem Symphony to create a truly moving and thrilling performance for a packed house. I was seated in the upper balcony where the air had been steadily warming over the duration of the concert. Bethany had played harp in the first half and now was free to sit with me for the second half. Even to my less-than discerning eye and ear for violin virtuosity, Joshua Bell was exceptional to see and hear. His physicality was like an organism to which the instrument was an intrinsic part and the music was unlike any I had heard in its clarity, fluidity, and elevation. I loved the way Maestro Parnther moved. His substantial frame light and bouant on the balls of his feet as his hands danced lightly like he was conducting fantastical woodland creatures, and his largeness swooned with the flow. I felt the audience swell in joy and appreciation as minutes disappeared into transport. The audience’s internal criscendo erupted into applause and shouts of, “Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!” Mr. Bell consented to an unheard of eight curtain calls in the triumphal culmination of Salem Symphony’s inaugural, and as the musicians discovered only a matter of months later, its final season.

I met with Maestro Parnther a few months later as we dined in Eugene, Oregon. I liked him and our conversation never slowed, and even diverged for a few minutes into our common ties to Samoa in the South Pacific. I have largely forgotten the language though I used to be fluent, and his Samoan mother had taught him in some of the culture’s ways. And so I painted this painting to remember this special night in a special way, and to acknowledge the greatness of human experience possible with collaboration.

 

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