Jeannine: Your writing career spans several decades as the classical music critic for The Oregonian. As an organist, I always admired and was extremely thankful for your unwavering publicity for organists, organ concerts, and new organs in the Portland area. This is rare. Why were you drawn to our little niche of the world?
Mr. Stabler: You’re too generous. Right after I arrived at The Oregonian in 1986, John Strege, then the organist/choirmaster at Trinity EpiscopalCathedral, called to say they were building a new organ. I agreed to take a look. Days later, he picked me up and took me to the church where we watched Manuel Rosales and his colleagues put this incredible instrument together. I returned every few weeks to document their progress and then watched in awe as Strege dedicated Op. 11 with a concert to a standing-room crowd. Organs, organ music and organ players fill their spaces with glorious, complex, astounding music, so I was irresistibly drawn to it.
Jeannine: Would you share with us one – or two or three – favorite stories from your music critic days?
Mr. Stabler: So many stories. I remember a Russian pianist whose cummerbund snapped apart during Ravel’s “Gaspard de la nuit” and landed on his lap. Instead of letting it sit there, he tried to fling it away, but it landed on the piano strings, buzzing and jumping. Still playing, he half stood and swiped at it, but it wouldn’t move, so he gave up and finished with John Cageian flourishes.
But seriously, I learned it’s easier to write about a really bad or a really good concert. The ones in the middle are death to write about. The best concerts stay with me — a Schubert piano trio at Chamber Music Northwest that made us swoon, and not because of the torrid summer night in the old Reed College Commons. It was the kind of performance where I felt connected to everyone in the room, and to the players, almost as if we were breathing together. And the night Leontyne Price sang art songs and spirituals to a quarter-filled house at Schnitzer Hall. “We love you!” someone shouted. “I love you, too!” she said.
I also loved writing a series called “The Sounds of Oregon,” where I recorded and wrote about iconic sounds of the state: a thunderstorm above the Snake River Canyon, a wildfire in Roseburg, water falling at Multnomah Falls, a Friday night jam session in Burns.
I would just like to add that I’m terribly sad that newspapers around the country — and the world — have decreased their arts coverage so quickly and decisively. Just a few years ago, The Oregonian had 15 full-time critics on staff, covering Portland, mostly, but also festivals and events throughout the Northwest. Now, the paper has a TV critic, a food critic and an arts editor who writes mostly about books and oversees freelance coverage. The Oregon Symphony hasn’t had a newspaper review in several years. I remember one summer, I covered the “Ring” Cycle in Seattle, then flew to Medford to cover the Oregon Music Festival in Coos Bay, and music events at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
What we lose when a mass media publication decreases arts coverage is the chance to extend our thinking and conversation about art beyond the experience itself. Most of us are naturally curious to know what others thought about a play, a dance, an exhibit.
On the plus side, we are lucky to have Oregon ArtsWatch,
an online, non-profit arts journal that dispatches dozens of freelance writers to cover the arts, mostly in Portland.
Dr. Jeannine Jordan, concert organist with her husband David, media artist, are the creators and performers of Bach and Sons, From Sea to Shining Sea, and Around the World in 80 Minutes — live organ concerts with multi-media.