It’s a fine time for music

Polk County Itemizer-Observer
By Aaron Newton
October 1st, 2013

MONMOUTH — The 2013-14 Western Oregon University Smith Fine Arts Series is a veritable who’s who in the world of acclaimed and celebrated musicians.

Featuring the world-renowned Chamber Orchestra of the Kremlin, Grammy award-winning jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, esteemed Celtic fiddler Kevin Burke and venerated jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas, the Smith Fine Arts Series has outdone itself.

In his fifth year as SFA coordinator, Keller Coker, music history and jazz studies professor at Western, might have had the easiest booking schedule yet as well.

“Two days after the Joe Lovano show last year, Kurt Elling’s agent called me and said, `We heard the Lovano show was great. Mr. Elling would like to come out,'” Coker said. “I’ve been trying to get him on the series for quite a while; we have never been able to get anywhere near having him here.”

Elling’s last 10 albums have all been nominated for either best jazz vocal performance or best jazz vocal album, with his 2009 album “Dedicated to You” winning the Grammy for best jazz vocal album.

The continued success and notoriety of the Smith Fine Arts Series has lent itself to booking such acclaimed acts, Coker said.

In booking the Chamber Orchestra of the Kremlin, Coker had to guarantee just one thing: that Western Oregon University professor Kevin Walczyk write an original piece for them to debut at the series.

Done and done.

Walczyk previously worked with the chamber — the group performed one of his pieces in Europe — and when the group booked another date on the West Coast, it called Walczyk.

“We’re the anchor for them coming out here. It’s pretty spectacular,” Coker said. “They’re not something we would be able to afford normally. I said, `OK, (Kevin), you’re writing a piece.'”

Shifting from years past, this year’s series features only musical acts; the funding wasn’t available to get the usually more expensive dance groups. However, Coker noted that the series is still strong and headed in the right direction.

“I’m already getting pitches for the 2014-15 season. I have a stack of six artist portfolios at home, all who are pitching to come out here,” Coker said. “We’ve got a reputation. The work we do with the artists and the writing we do for the shows is amazing.”


Jan. 24

Fiddler’s Night: Andrea Beaton, Kevin Burke and Cal Scott will perform Jan. 24, 2014 in Rice Auditorium, part of the annual Smith Fine Arts Series.

Two world-class fiddlers in one night. Cape Breton’s Andrea Beaton and Great Britain’s Kevin Burke will share the limelight of the stage for the first time. One of Cape Breton’s best fiddlers, Beaton comes by her music honestly. The power of her bow, the drive and swing of her timing, and the crispness of her attack reveal a musician of the highest caliber. Her recordings were nominated for Roots Traditional Solo Artist of the Year and Instrumental Recording of the Year at the East Coast Music Awards. National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Award recipient Burke was dubbed “One of the greatest Celtic fiddlers alive” by the New York Times. His recordings have garnered prestigious awards including Grand Prix du Disc at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Over the course of his career he has worked with such prestigious artists as Arlo Guthrie, Kate Bush, the Bothy Band (hailed as The Yardbirds of Irish music), and bluegrass star Tim O’Brian.



March 9

Smith Fine Arts Series will feature the Chamber Orchestra of the Kremlin on March 9, 2014 at Rice Auditorium on the Western Oregon University campus.Smith Fine Arts Series will feature the Chamber Orchestra of the Kremlin on March 9, 2014 at Rice Auditorium on the Western Oregon University campus.

Founded in 1991, the orchestra, comprising some of Russia’s finest young string players, has carved a niche for itself under the creative baton of its founder and music director Misha Rachlevsky. Whether it is the highly acclaimed CDs or its mesmerizing concerts, Chamber Orchestra Kremlin’s warmth and high energy create addictive performances that stay with listeners long after the last note has been played. The New York Times described one recent performance as “… warm, full-blooded and virtuosic playing with colorfully shaped, gleaming phrases.”



April 5

Grammy winner and one of the worldGrammy winner and one of the world’s foremost jazz volcalists Kurt Elling will appear with the American Metropole Orchestra on April 5, 2014 at Rice Auditorium at Western Oregon University. This is just one of the great performances that are part of the 2013-2014 Smith Fine Arts Series.

Grammy winner Kurt Elling is among the world’s foremost jazz vocalists. He has won every DownBeat Critics Poll for the last 13 years and has been named “Male Singer of the Year” by the Jazz Journalists Association eight times in that same span. Every one of Elling’s 11 albums has been nominated for a Grammy. Elling’s rich baritone spans four octaves and features both astonishing technical mastery and emotional depth. His repertoire includes original compositions and modern interpretations of standards, all of which are springboards for inspired improvisation, scatting, spoken word, and poetry. The New York Times declared, “Elling is the standout male vocalist of our time.” The Washington Post added, “Since the mid-1990s, no singer in jazz has been as daring, dynamic, or interesting as Kurt Elling. With his soaring vocal flights, his edgy lyrics and sense of being on a musical mission, he has come to embody the creative spirit in jazz.”



June 7

Completing the Smith Fine Arts Series schedule on June 7 will be acclaimed trumpet player Dave Douglas with the Western Hemisphere Orchestra. The performance will be at Western Oregon University at Rice Auditorium.Completing the Smith Fine Arts Series schedule on June 7 will be acclaimed trumpet player Dave Douglas with the Western Hemisphere Orchestra. The performance will be at Western Oregon University at Rice Auditorium.

Acclaimed trumpet player Dave Douglas and his unique contributions to music have garnered distinguished recognition, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Aaron Copland award and two Grammy nominations. His widespread musical interests are reflected in the diversity of his recorded works. From Miles Davis-like explorations of the music of the 1960s to his recent Americana-styled album “Be Still,” Douglas’ musical language is beautiful and engaging.


If You Go …

* Season tickets for the 2013-14 Smith Fine Arts Series at Western Oregon University are still available.

Tickets for all six shows are $119 for adults and $52 for students. You can also choose five shows for $99 for adults and $42 for students.

Individual tickets are $25 in advance or $28 the day of the show for adults and $11 for students, and can be purchased online, by phone or at Rice Auditorium.

Because SFAS hands out a number of free tickets to students during the year, there’s still a need for sponsorships. Tickets under this program are $11 apiece. Donations to the Smith Fine Arts Series are accepted and additional sponsorship opportunities are available.

For more information: 503-838-8333; email to; online at

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