Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard
The whole thing got started when Brian McWhorter found out that Eugene Ballet wasn't using live musicians anymore for its Christmas performances of "The Nutcracker."
"To me that's almost a cardinal sin," said McWhorter, a professional trumpet player who teaches at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance. "When I was in New York playing Broadway, we had to protest the Broadway houses' use of prerecorded music in shows.
"I was on the picket lines. I get kind of pumped up about this."
Although it had contracted in the past with musicians from the Eugene Symphony to play in its "Nutcracker" performances, Eugene Ballet - strapped, like most arts groups, by the recession - has used recorded music here for the last four years.
The obvious solution might have been to raise money for the ballet to hire musicians. McWhorter had another idea.
"What if I can get an orchestra together?" he said. "A training orchestra. A place where students can sit next to professionals."
Eugene has various levels of classical orchestras, from the Eugene Symphony and the Oregon Mozart Players on the professional end of the spectrum to the University Symphony and the various Arts Umbrella student orchestras in town. But none gives students the opportunity to perform side by side with working pros.
Enter Orchestra Next, McWhorter's idea. He's drafted 15 professional musicians to take on the principal roles and is looking for up to 30 students to take part. And after some discussion about the challenges involved, the Eugene Ballet has signed on enthusiastically, Managing Director Riley Grannan said.
"It's cool," Grannan said. "A training orchestra. A perfect thing for students. And I'm confident this will work."
Anything can happen
The challenges, of course, are many: The ballet's professional dancers will be performing a showcase work to music played by students led by a conductor - McWhorter himself - they've never dealt with on the podium.
The biggest problem, of course, is in the timing. Dancers love performing to taped music, because it never varies from one performance to the next.
In live music, anything can happen - and does.
"We're interested in the quality of the music," Grannan said. "There is a potential for train wrecks, so we've invested in this group by adding rehearsal time."
Using professional musicians playing a familiar work such as …