The Five: Jayce Ogren

Conductor, composer, singer Jayce Ogren

Jayce Ogren is an example of what is happening in classical music these days. He’s a conductor who has stood before some of the finest orchestras in the world. Ogren finished a tenure with the Cleveland Orchestra in 2009. He has also conducted the Boston Symphony, LA Phil, and City Opera. Before that, he was a conducting apprentice with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic under the New York Philharmonic’s Alan Gilbert. With conducting bona fides like these, Ogren could easily stick to cultivating a career as a conductor. But, this Hoquiam native is plunging into composing, songwriting, and on Friday he and a new band of Seattle area musicians — Young Kreisler — debut at ACT with a program of Ogren’s own music, kindred depressants Kurt Cobain and Mahler, and Louis Andriessen’s Worker’s Union.

Can you talk about a piece of music that changed you — as a person, musician?
Sibelius’s Seventh Symphony taught me a lot about myself.  My life and work tend to be about reconciling the urban and the pastoral, the human and the spiritual.  Sibelius wrangled with many of these same issues, and to me his Seventh Symphony is his most beautiful, urgent and purely distilled expression of these ideas.  Falling in love with that piece helped me understand which qualities I can’t live without as a composer and interpreter.

Is there one piece of music you would like to play but haven’t?
I would love to conduct Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”.  It’s a tremendous challenge for an orchestra and a conductor, but when it works, it’s incredibly rewarding.  Despite the fact that the piece is nearly 100 years old and hundreds of composers have imitated its rhythms and orchestration, it still sounds incredibly fresh every time I hear it.  “The Rite” was a milestone and a revolution, and someday I want to encounter it myself.

What piece of music defines you as a musician?
One of the new songs I wrote for Young Kreisler, “The Trail”, is a kind of musical autobiography.  It’s about struggles in love and work and the direction my life has taken over the last several years.  I’m trying to be as open as possible to my audience.  There’s pain and raw emotion, wistful sweet harmonies and searing dissonances, but an optimistic undercurrent is always present.  In the end the piece is about my drive to keep going, keep creating and keep loving.

Some people have strong memories associated with a piece of music; do you have a piece like this?
I wrote “Symphonies of Gaia” for my college wind band, and it was my first time conducting one of my own pieces with a full, virtuosic ensemble.  That first performance was–there’s no other way to put it–a catharsis.  I’d worked so hard and put so much love into that piece, and it was overwhelming when it all came to fruition.  From that moment on I knew that there was absolutely nothing in the world like having your own music performed.

Is there one piece of music more people should know?
Aaron Copland is known for his beautiful middle period works like Appalaichan Spring and Fanfare for the Common Man, but he started out as a modernist, and his Piano Variations is one of the great, thorny masterpieces of the 20th century.  It’s fiercely controlled, brash, strident, personal, passionate and wonderful.  He creates a complete emotional world out of 4 simple notes.  Go buy a recording and buckle-up.


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