Composer Rebecca Oswald thrives on variety. She has written works for piano, chamber ensemble, orchestra, choir and solo voice. Her symphonic work “Man of Oregon” was premiered by the Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra in its full orchestral glory and by the Central Oregon Symphony in its chamber orchestra version. Concert pianist Mary Au has performed Oswald’s Sonata No. 1 several times, and Oswald’s choral work “Die Alster” won the 2013 Houston Sängerbund composition competition. But that’s not all. Oswald’s music reaches beyond the usual boundaries for serious composers, extending to narrated concert works for young audiences, theme music for a television miniseries and video games.
Oswald grew up in Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas. In her 20s she became well-known in Houston as a solo pianist, accompanist, band keyboardist and studio musician. In her mid-30s she enrolled at Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton, New Jersey, earning a Bachelor of Music degree in music theory and composition. Three years later, in 2001, she graduated from the University of Oregon with a Master of Music degree in music composition, studying under noted composers Robert Kyr and David Crumb, who also received an Oregon Arts Commission fellowship this year.
Now Oswald is embarking on new territory: writing an opera based on the verse novel “Vía Láctea” by award-winning author and poet Ellen Waterston of Bend, Ore., who has received several OAC Career Opportunity grants and an OAC Artist Fellowship in 2009.
“I was introduced to Ellen by Michael Gesme, the music director of the Central Oregon Symphony,” explains Oswald. “There was interest in turning her verse novel into an opera, and he thought that my compositional voice would be a good fit. Ellen and I met and discussed the project’s potential. I am really excited about applying my full range of compositional skills to the broad arc of this story and its colorful characters.”
Waterston, with five published titles to her credit, is currently revising “Vía Láctea” into an operatic libretto.
“Ellen’s verse novel will translate very well into music,” said Oswald. “There will be four principal roles, a few minor characters, a chorus, and, of course, an orchestra.”
“Vía Láctea” will be premiered in a fully staged production created by OperaBend in the spring of 2016.
“I work best when I carve out large blocks of time and can give a project my entire creative focus,” notes Oswald. “I like to immerse myself in a single project until it’s complete.”