As the world track and field championships come to Eugene, we honor one of Oregon’s greatest champions, Steve Prefontaine. Before his untimely death in 1975, he set 14 American records in distance running and legends of his accomplishments still resonate across the world today. Featuring original music by Oregon’s best-known composer, David Schiff, this stirring multi-media project will be enhanced with imagery projected on a screen above the stage and punctuated with spoken accounts of Steve’s life performed by Oregon Contemporary Theatre actors.
Francesco Lecce-Chong, conductor
Linda Prefontaine, Creative Consultant
Actors of Oregon Contemporary Theatre | Stage Direction by Craig Willis
Curtis Anderson, Research Consultant
Saturday, June 4, 2022 7:30 PM | Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center
Eugene Symphony Guild Pre-Concert Talk 6:30 PM | Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) | Overture to Candide
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) | Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
I. Allegro con brio
II. Andante con moto
David Schiff (b. 1945) | PREFONTAINE
(World Premiere and Eugene Symphony Commission)
II. School Days
Funding provided by
The Nils & Jewel Hult Endowment Fund of The Oregon Community Foundation
Creative Heights Grant from the Fred W. Fields Fund of The Oregon Community Foundation
by Curtis Anderson
Seven years ago, when the audacious idea of bringing the World Athletics Championships to Eugene was formally adopted, local stakeholders promised it would be far more than just another track meet.
They said it would be “transformational,” both for the sport, and the community at large.
And now, with the global showcase just a few weeks away, those assurances have begun to take shape as Oregon prepares to welcome the world's greatest track and field athletes to Hayward Field for 10 days of exhilarating competition.
It will mark the first time that this prestigious event has been held in the U.S., and by hosting an estimated 2,000 athletes representing more than 200 nations, it will be the second-largest sporting event in the world this year.
Truly, an unprecedented moment in time.
From the beginning, the challenge for the city of Eugene, Lane County, and really, all Oregonians, became a question of how to best connect with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
In short, what exactly does transformational mean and what does it look like?
The answers have slowly begun to emerge over the past few years with the unveiling of numerous ambitious projects, but few struck a chord quite like the Eugene Symphony's idea to commission an original piece of music by an Oregon composer to celebrate the life and legacy of one of America's most iconic distance runners — Steve Prefontaine.
To begin with, he is one of our own.
Born and raised in the hardscrabble town of Coos Bay, he achieved his greatest fame as a runner at the University of Oregon, setting numerous collegiate and American records along the way, making UO track meets must-see events, and becoming one of the first to stand up against the hypocrisy of amateur athletics.
His gut-wrenching fourth-place finish in the 5,000 meters at the 1972 Munich Olympics when he was only 21 years old – a race that he elevated by taking the lead with two laps to go and forcing it to the finish line in an astonishing four-minute final mile – showed the world what he was made of.
Yet Pre also had a profound effect off the track.
Besides being a tireless champion for athletes’ rights, he was a frequent volunteer at a local junior high school, he founded a running club for the inmates at the Oregon State Penitentiary, and he was a vocal advocate for healthy air quality as he fought to eliminate the practice of field burning.
With his front-running style, indomitable spirit and rebellious nature, Pre captured the imagination of thousands of young runners across the globe.
Today, 47 years removed from his shocking death in a car crash at the age of 24, he continues to inspire new generations of runners, especially those who seek to emulate his total commitment to wringing everything possible out of what he called “the Gift.”
A writer inspires with words, an artist with brushstrokes, a singer with their voice, and a composer with their notes, just as Pre inspired his “people,” both past and present, with unforgettable performances in an all-too-short life.
It is this uncanny ability to inspire which provided the foundation for tonight’s world premiere of PREFONTAINE, an original multimedia concert with music composed by David Schiff.
It promises to be a magical evening.
Program Notes: LEONARD BERNSTEIN (1918-1990) | Overture to Candide
Leonard Bernstein’s Candide was born from a collaboration between the composer and American playwright Lillian Hellman, who, at Bernstein’s request, adapted the 1759 French satire by Voltaire into an operetta. The work opened in New York City on December 1, 1956, and though it closed less than three months later, would go on to hold a special place in musical theater repertoire.
The overture to Candide is pure Bernstein, full of cleverness and personality. Like many overtures, it is a collage of different themes from the full operetta, giving listeners a chance to hear the greatest hits from the show, including themes from “Oh Happy We” and “Glitter and be Gay.” It begins with a fanfare in the brass, followed by cascading winds. From the outset, there is a sense of momentum and drive, catapulted forward by uneven rhythmic patterns and repetition. The middle section features a warm, pastoral theme in the clarinets and violas that is soon taken up by the whole orchestra. The piece fades away, only to begin a bouncing theme in the woodwinds, filled with anticipation. Soon, the entire orchestra joins in as we are swept into a brilliant conclusion.
Program Notes: LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) | Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67
Ludwig van Beethoven was a man who believed that nothing worthwhile was accomplished without struggle. Among his memorable quotations is this: “What is difficult, is also good.” Almost every aspect of his life was defined by struggle: his relationships with family and friends, finding and keeping work, cultivating meaningful romantic relationships, and even composing music. Looking at Beethoven’s sketchbook is like looking at a Jackson Pollock painting: Every page is chock full of musical notation that has been violently crossed out as he agonized over his ideas. Despite these difficulties, it was through music and composition that he was able to take the struggle that permeated his life and transform it into victory and joy.
The Fifth Symphony was composed between 1804 and 1808. During this time, Beethoven, who was an avid follower of politics and world events, watched intently as the Napoleonic Wars raged across Europe, Austria endured political upheaval, and Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops occupied his home city of Vienna. Now in his mid-thirties, his hearing had deteriorated to a point beyond hope — he knew there was little he could do to prevent his eventual complete deafness. When socializing with friends, he was forced to request they write their words in a notebook he kept with him at all times.
LOOK for the three trombones in the final movement, the first time in history a composer used the instruments in a symphony.
It was within this context that Symphony No. 5 in C minor was born. The opening movement, Allegro con brio, begins with a four-note motif that has become one of the most recognizable in all popular culture. The entirety of the symphony is built upon these four notes. The first movement is tumultuous and in the key of C minor, a harmonic center associated with tragedy. A second lilting theme is introduced by the violins, but its attempt to brighten the mood is quickly swept away. The movement ends at the height of despair, with no hope in sight. The second movement, Andante con moto, is a set of variations on a theme introduced by the violas and cellos — the melody is bold and possesses a sense of regality. The woodwinds intone a chorale between each variation and repeat the same four-note rhythmic motif that appears at the beginning of the symphony.
LISTEN for the four-note motif at the opening of the piece that recurs in various guises throughout the course of the entire symphony.
The third movement, Scherzo: Allegro, begins with cellos and basses whispering ominously before being interrupted by blaring French horns, again repeating the short-short-short-long motif from the opening. The middle section is a display of virtuosity, with a wickedly difficult passage that catapults through each section of the strings. The ending of the movement falls to a dramatic ebb, with a timpani providing a quiet pulse, before a thrilling crescendo sweeps us directly into the fourth and final movement. The last movement, Allegro - Presto, is the victory to the struggle of the opening movement. The tragic key of C minor has now transformed into C Major, a key associated with light and purity. Brass, now including trombones, call proudly as strings and woodwinds sing happily. The four-note motif, still present, now feels like the war call of an army arriving to rescue the listener from the darkness of the opening. The symphony ends in almost a frenzy of joy, bringing this journey from tragedy to triumph to a stirring end.
SCORED: For two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings.
HISTORY: First performed by Eugene Symphony in November 1979 under the baton of Lawrence Maves, and last performed in October 2012 under the baton of Danail Rachev.
DURATION: Approximately 31 minutes.
Program Notes: DAVID SCHIFF (b. 1945) | PREFONTAINE
Eugene Symphony’s musical homage to the life and legacy of legendary Oregon runner Steve Prefontaine is a collaboration Oregon composer David Schiff, Oregon Contemporary Theatre, and sports journalist Curtis Anderson. It was conceived to premiere in the lead-up to the World Track and Field Championships originally scheduled to take place in Eugene in August of 2021. Schiff, Anderson, OCT Producing Artistic Director Craig Willis, and Eugene Symphony Music Director & Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong and Executive Director Scott Freck worked closely to bring the project to life, including a trip to Prefontaine’s hometown of Coos Bay, Oregon, where they visited his sister, Linda, who has served as Creative Consultant. She led the creative team on a tour of the city, specifically locations connected to her brother: the house where he grew up, the trails and tracks and where he trained and raced while in high school, an exhibit of memorabilia at a local museum, and the cemetery where he is buried.
David Schiff wrote about the visit and the piece that it inspired:
“The visit to Coos Bay filled my mind with musical ideas and images and before long the shape of work began to emerge. The beautiful changing vistas of the drive from Eugene, the specific locales of Steve Prefontaine’s life, and the huge and lasting impression he made on his home town, his home state, and on runners from all over the world were all sources of inspiration. When I returned home, I read as much as I could find about his life and his ideas. He had a flair for expressing his core values in memorable phrases. One of the most famous is: ‘To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.’ While this phrase sums up the endless dedication and discipline that Steve Prefontaine gave to running, it also applies to the gifts that each of us may have, and the challenge of nurturing them. As I began to compose, this phrase turned into a musical theme, first played on the flugelhorn at the opening of the first movement. This ‘motto’ also led me to think of the work as a concerto for orchestra that would showcase the gifts of all the orchestral musicians, a symphonic tribute is in three movements:
Terrain can be heard as the changing impressions of mountains, woods, streams, dunes, bay and ocean that I encountered on the drive from Eugene to Coos Bay and back. It is written in the form of a passacaglia—variations on a repeated ostinato—but I inverted the usual texture of this form, placing the ostinato in the upper register rather than the bass. The listener can think of the repeated treble figure as an image of the Cascade Mountains, the defining spinal column of the Oregon landscape. I wanted the music to evoke and celebrate the environment that shaped Steve Prefontaine’s entire life. Just as the musical texture turns the usual pattern of a passacaglia upside down, the music reverses chronology, moving from death to life. The musical journey begins at the site in Eugene known as Pre’s Rock where so many people have left memorial tributes ever since Prefontaine’s tragic death in a car accident on May 30, 1975, then traces the way to the Oregon coast, where he was born and grew up. Near the end of the movement nature gives way to human activity with the sounds of the port and the timber mills of Coos Bay.
School Days sprang from our visit to Marshfield High School in Coos Bay, where Steve Prefontaine found his calling as a runner, and where his skill and his charisma already made him a legend among his classmates. Here I drew also on my own distant memories of playing tuba in the New Rochelle High School marching band for half time shows and parades.
5k is named for the race most closely identified with Steve Prefontaine. It is organized as a sequence of twelve compact fugues that represent twelve laps in a 5k race, each one approximating Steve Prefontaine’s actual best timings, and each scored for a different group of players, beginning with small ensembles and gradually building to include the entire orchestra. Each lap has its own theme and character, ranging from exhilaration to exhaustion to final victory.”
In addition to Schiff’s music, the piece includes projected still imagery, quotations from and about Steve Prefontaine, and words of tribute submitted by his fans across the country.
SCORED: For two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, English horn, three clarinets including E-flat clarinet, also saxophone, three bassoons including contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones including bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion, and strings.
HISTORY: This is the world premiere performance.
DURATION: Approximately 45 minutes.
David Schiff | Composer
The wide-ranging, category-defying music of David Schiff, composed for symphony orchestras, opera companies, chamber ensembles, jazz musicians, blues musicians, klezmer musicians, synagogue cantors, church choirs and even for stand-up comedian, has been performed by major American orchestras, at music festivals around the world, including Portland’s Chamber Music Northwest, The Aspen Music Festival, Tanglewood, and Aldeburgh (UK), at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, at the Central Conservatory in Beijing and at the Palais de Luxembourg in Paris, and by such world-renowned soloists as Regina Carter, David Shifrin, and David Krakauer. His music often brings together artists from different parts of the musical world, notably in Four Sisters, a concerto for jazz violin and orchestra, which Regina Carter has performed many times with the Detroit Symphony (and two years ago with Portland’s Metropolitan Youth Symphony), Bridge City, which was premiered by the Oregon Symphony and the Curtis Salgado Blues Band, Singing in the Dark, premiered jazz saxophone great Marty Ehrlich and the Miami String Quartet, and Road Maps, for improvising musicians and chamber orchestra, played by such innovative improvisers as Larry Karush, Myra Melford, Marty Ehrlich and Eugene’s own Brian McWhorter and Molly Barth.
Born in New York City, Schiff holds degrees in English literature from Columbia University and Cambridge University, and advanced degrees in music composition from the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School. His composition teachers included John Corigliano, Ursula Mamlok, and Elliott Carter. He is the author of books about the music of Elliott Carter, George Gershwin, and Duke Ellington, and has written many articles about music and musicians for The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, and the Times Literary Supplement (UK). He recently retired from teaching at Reed College, where he was the R.P. Wollenberg Professor of Music, and conducted the student orchestra.
Craig Willis | Stage Direction
(Producing Artistic Director – Oregon Contemporary Theatre)
Craig has been at the helm of OCT since 2003. He has worked with theatre and dance companies in California, Ohio, and his native Washington State. Select directing credits include Buyer & Cellar, The Roommate, Stupid F@#*ing Bird, I and You, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, as well as world premiere productions of Blackberry Winter and Dontrell Who Kissed The Sea all at OCT. Craig’s musical directing credits include: Fun Home, The Last Five Years, Next To Normal and Assassins. He has recently served as a guest artist with Western Washington University and Oregon State University, and collaborated on the Eugene Ballet’s adaptation of the children’s story of The Large Rock and The Little Yew. Craig has an MFA in Directing and a PhD in Theatre Arts from the University of Oregon. In 2008, he received an Oregon Arts Commission fellowship to train with Anne Bogart and SITI Company.
Curtis Anderson | Research Consultant
Curtis Anderson, 67, grew up in Wisconsin. Always passionate about sports, he played basketball and baseball in high school and spent one season as a walk-on baseball player at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in journalism in 1978. After moving to Oregon that summer and a one-week stint as a commercial salmon fisherman, he began a 35-year newspaper career, which included stops in Newport and Coos Bay before joining The Eugene Register-Guard in 1986. He spent 27 years at the R-G, where track and field eventually became his main beat. He was the 2008 recipient of the Jesse Abramson award for excellence in track and field journalism by the Track Field Writers of America.
In the fall of 2013, he left the newspaper industry to become Director of Communications at TrackTown USA. He enjoyed assisting his former colleagues at the 2014 World Junior Championships, 2016 World Indoor Championships, 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials and 2017 TrackTown Summer Series. After five years in that role, Curtis became the press officer for Oregon Track Club Elite, and he remains active on a part-time basis with TTUSA. He will officially hit the finish line at the conclusion of this summer's World Athletics Championships. He is married to Linda Zang, a longtime physical therapist in Eugene. They have two grown children, both graduates of Oregon State University: Austin, 29, Albany; and Monica, 27, Corvallis.
Opening Night, October 8