ashland.news
May 19, 2024

OSF stage to host Rogue Valley Symphony holiday pop concerts

Joelle Graves, executive director of the Rogue Valley Symphony, with Tyler Hokama, interim executive director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, at the RVS office in Ashland. RVS photo
September 13, 2023

OSF actors to perform with orchestra at special Valentine’s Day show

By Jim Flint for Ashland.news

In a collaboration that speaks volumes about Ashland’s community spirit, Rogue Valley Symphony will present two new pops concerts under the direction of conductor Martin Majkut at Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Angus Bowmer Theatre.

Home for the Holidays, a pops concert, will be performed on the historic OSF stage this Dec. 15-16-17; and a Valentine’s Day pops concert will be presented on, yes, Feb. 14.

The collaboration exemplifies the commitment of the two organizations to provide year-round entertainment by utilizing OSF’s spaces during the festival’s off-season. Likewise, RVS will be able to expand its season with new winter offerings.

“This is an exciting opportunity for us,” said RVS Executive Director Joelle Graves. “Our patrons are asking us for more. We have not been able to perform a holiday pops concert for years because we couldn’t find a venue that could accommodate the symphony. OSF can, and we are thrilled.”

OSF Interim Executive Director Tyler Hokama echoed Graves’ enthusiasm for the joint ventures.

“We are really pleased to be part of this collaboration of two long-standing arts organizations,” he said. “And we look forward to sharing these concerts with our collective audiences.”

Graves says RVS has been working with OSF for several months to put the deal together. They first met on June 15 and the RVS board approved the agreement on Sept. 11. Contracts are being signed this week.

The Rogue Valley Symphony
When it all began

“It all began when I was asked to join a committee of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, comprised of business ‘pillars.’ We began to meet and we all shared the same hope: What can we do to support OSF as they reinvent themselves?” Graves said.

RVS was desperate for an additional venue. One of the board members reached out to OSF to see what might be possible, and a conversation was begun.

“I met with two members of OSF’s team and we immediately saw the potential,” Graves said. “The chamber and Neuman Hotel Group are joining the collaboration.”

RVS normally performs its regular season concerts in three venues on successive days — Friday night in Ashland, Saturday night in Medford, and Sunday afternoon in Grants Pass.

Looking for more seats

The Ashland venue, the SOU Music Recital Hall, consistently sells out. In addition, with so many arts organizations vying for performance space, the Ashland hall’s availability doesn’t always match the RVS schedule, in which case the Ashland concert has to be moved to another venue, usually the Craterian Theater in Medford.

With a concert seating capacity of 550, the Bowmer can handle 26% more concertgoers than the 436-seat SOU Music Hall. With the new arrangement, not only will the symphony be able to add two new concerts to its season, it also will be able to sell hundreds more tickets.

The win-win collaboration gives OSF additional revenue during its off-season. RVS will rent the theater, pay for OSF staff, and pay for Equity actors when they are hired for the Valentine’s Day program.

In deference to the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers, the holiday pops concerts will be scheduled around Rep Singers’ concerts that same weekend. Rep Singers will perform at the SOU Music Recital Hall at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16 and at 3 p.m. Dec. 17. RVS’s Home for the Holidays concerts are set for 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15, 1:30 p.m. Dec. 16, and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17.

Broadway star to guest

Literally “Home for the Holidays” will be former Rogue Valley resident and Broadway star Steffanie Leigh, featured artist for the holiday pops concert. When she was attending Ashland High School, Leigh was one of Graves’ voice students.

RVS guest artist Steffanie Leigh

“Martin and I invited her to be our guest artist. She said ‘yes’ and the December concerts had wings,” Graves said.

While on tour with the national company for “Mary Poppins,” Leigh was called to New York to take the place of Laura Michelle Kelly, the West End’s original Mary, who had been playing the iconic role at the New Amsterdam Theatre in The Big Apple. Leigh made her Broadway debut Oct. 11, 2011.

She subsequently appeared in other Broadway musicals, including “Gigi” in 2015 and “War Paint” in 2017. With a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting from Carnegie Mellon University, Leigh also has appeared in numerous regional theater productions.

Music for the holiday concert will include the “Polar Express Suite” and excerpts from “Nutcracker.”

“Steffi will sing ‘O Holy Night,’ ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas,’ ‘My Favorite Things,’ and more,” Graves said.

OSF actors to participate

The Valentine’s Day concert is “A Love Letter to Shakespeare” in partnership with OSF. Couples played by three sets of OSF actors will perform excerpts from “Romeo and Juliet,” “Troilus and Cressida,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” and “Henry VI,” all surrounded by music composed in honor of Shakespeare’s works: Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” Felix Mendelssohn’s wedding march from “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and more.

“The Valentine’s program was already written and ready to go,” Graves said. “In fact, we have three Valentine’s Day concerts ready for three consecutive years, and the same for the holiday concerts. This is beyond exciting for us.”

RVS and OSF look forward to collaborating further in 2024 and beyond.

Ashland Chamber Executive Director Sandra Slattery is pleased with the development. Adding winter offerings is expected to benefit the area’s business and hospitality community.

“This will offer more opportunities for our residents and visitors to enjoy exceptional entertainment,” she said.

Tickets for the added concerts will be available through the RVS website at rvsymphony.org, where purchasers can also choose their seats. They’ll go on sale to RVS subscribers in late September and to the general public on Oct. 16. The box office, at 541-708-6400, also will sell tickets.

Reach writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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