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A new festival in Ashland

A new music festival — to be named The Ashland Fine Art Music Festival — is in the works. Composer Webster Young, with help from the Robert Ellis Crawford Music Foundation of St. Louis, is taking steps to establish annual performances of operatic and classical music performances to highlight the best talent the Rogue Valley has to offer.

"The festival would have an emphasis on opera," says Young. "Along with showcasing the best singers, we'd like to feature the best string players and form an orchestra. We'd also like to present some of the accomplished groups based here and some of the choirs. There's also an exceptional community of classical guitarists in the area."

Young based himself in Ashland from 1980 to 1994. In 1985, he helped found Ballet Oregon's Ballet in the Park staged in Lithia Park, an effort that earned him an Oregon Arts Commission Fellowship Award. He later became director of Long Island Opera in New York. He is a published composer and the subject of three documentaries, including "Two for Ballet," which was filmed in Ashland and aired on PBS in the '90s.

Young and Robert E. Crawford will discuss the formation of the new festival at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3, at the Ashland Community Center, 59 Winburn Way. The festival will be partly supported by the REC foundation, and it will have links to its language academy and music facilities in Seattle, says Young. The official purpose of the REC foundation is to promote new classical music composers.

A highlight of the presentation will be two arias sung by soprano Chrystelle Couturier of Nice, France, and a performance by Ashland violinist Aaron Moffat.

At 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 6, Couturier will present a concert of opera arias from her dramatic soprano repertoire at the community center. Moffat also will perform. Admission is $5 at the door.

Documentaries about Young and his work will be presented at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, Sept. 8 and 10, at the center. The first, "One for Shakespeare," tells the story of how Young mounted "As You Like It" as an opera in 2004 in New York City. It includes an interview of Young that was taped at Ashland's RVTV studio. The second, "A U-Tube Music Fair," is a collection of videos of the ballet performances in Lithia Park and others that Young had posted on YouTube.

A free concert at Butler Bandshell in Lithia Park will cap the weeklong event. Couturier, along with Moffat and other Ashland musicians, will perform at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 12.

A 50-foot scenic backdrop of Paris from the old Metropolitan Opera in New York City will be hung at the bandshell for the concert. Young is owner of five such drops from the old theater.

"While I was director of Long Island Opera, I rescued the scenery several times," says Young. "It finally it ended up in my possession."

The drop to be hung at the bandshell was painted in 1935 by Joseph Urban. It has not been seen publicly since the 1950s production of "Manon," with Nicolai Gedda, at The Metropolitan Opera.

Young has discussed a possible collaboration with Rogue Opera with its director, Noel Korran, and has plans to present Opera in the Streets, a program organized by Rogue Opera's Dan Gibbs.

The REC foundation may provide a program called Artsconverge, a computerized form of supertitles, that would translate opera performances into more than one language, including Spanish.

Young was born and raised in New York City and has been a composer of opera, ballet, orchestra, piano, solo strings and solo guitar since his college days at the University of California's Davis and Berkeley campuses. He also studied at The Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music.

Young spent the past five years in Santa Fe, N.M., and returns to Ashland to make it his home. E-mail operacompany@onebox.com for information.

Soprano Chrystelle Couturier will perform at two events introducing the new Ashland Fine Art Music Festival. - Photo courtesy of Webster Young