It's all about the MANDOLIN
Oregon Mandolin Orchestra on stage Friday at the Walters Cultural Arts Center.
Brian Oberlin and the Oregon Mandolin Orchestra have been playing concerts at the Walters Cultural Arts Center since 2010. Their upcoming holiday concert on Dec. 16 will mark their 20th time performing at the venue.
"We really like it. It's fantastic, especially when it's a full crowd," said Oberlin, a mandolinist who directs the group. "Our Christmas show usually sells out every year."
Back in 2008, Oberlin and Liz Feral, his ex-wife, were in talks the Walters staff about starting up an orchestra to tour around and play, partly due to Oberlin's connections with the local mandolin community.
He acquired piles of music sheets, interested folks, and even wrote an original piece for the group's first show in 2010 to make up for lack of songs. Oberlin spent hundreds of hours studying the art of conducting, which eventually paid off, both in-state and out.
In 2014, Oberlin traveled to Anchorage, Alaska to help start up a mandolin orchestra. There, he wrote music and helped another conductor to train them — the group is still going strong.
Soon, he returned to his home in Forest Grove to tend to his home-grown orchestra. As the group's founder, conductor and musical director, there's always work to be done, Oberlin said.
"The Oregon Mandolin Orchestra gives eclectic and unique performances that highlight the historically-rich and dynamic sounds of the mandolin family and revive the beauty and popular impact of the turn-of-the-century art form," said Walters Cultural Arts Program Supervisor Bridie Harrington.
Set up much like a string quartet, the group comprises 24 members, and features the sounds of mandolins, mandolas, mandocellos and mandobasses.
"Every concert we're well prepared. We rehearse a few times a month," said Oberlin. "I push them hard especially leading up to a concert. And the way I set it up — it has non-profit status — it has some integrity, so when I move away, it can still keep going."
Many mandolin orchestras have fizzled out since the early 1900s, although some, like the Milwaukee (Wisc.) Mandolin Orchestra, which formed in 1910, as well as another in New York, continue to play today. Oberlin first heard the mandolin when he was 18 years old. His friend popped in a cassette tape of a bluegrass band. Already an adept with the guitar, saxophone and drums, he quickly took a liking to the new instrument. In fact, he was so enthralled by bluegrass, that he learned to play all of the instruments.
"I love teaching people. One of the things I like with the orchestra is that I get to use my knowledge, and that keeps me going — the fact that I can teach and create opportunity," he said. "And I like that these holiday concerts we play are more of a Hillsboro thing. I play a lot of smaller town venues, things that are more community-based. You get an idea of who's there. Plus a lot of people have seen my concerts, so they get my jokes."
Friday's concert will feature selections from Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker," three pieces written for mandolin orchestra by Italian composer Amedeo Amadei, "Adagio ma non Troppo" for Mandolin and Piano by Beethoven; and Christmas favorites like "Sleigh Ride," "White Christmas" and "Silent Night."
In keeping with their tradition, the orchestra invites a special guest or guests to perform in the holiday concert — and this year the performance will feature Oberlin's new western swing band, The Swinging Doors.
The line-up features Oberlin on electric mandolin and vocals, Dan Lowinger on electric guitar, Rusty Blake on steel guitar, Tommy Chiffon on drums, and Chris Kee on bass.
"Imagine old time swing music from the 1930s, but born out of Texas," said Oberlin. "The instrumentation is different, it's very cowboy swing, and it features the best players in Portland."
The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Walters Cultural Arts Center, 527 E Main St. Tickets are $18 in advance and $22 day of show, and can be purchased at www.brownpapertickets.com or by calling the Walters office 503-615-3485.
Beer, wine, coffee, sandwiches and concessions will be available in the lobby before the show and during intermission from Longbottom Coffee and Tea.