Damien Geter Is Bringing Diversity and Urgency to Opera

“I keep hearing from people around the U.S. about how Damien’s music changed them.”

Damien Geter (Rachel Hadiashar/Photographer Rachel Hadiashar)

Age: 42

Occupation: Interim music director at Portland Opera

Why He Matters: Given that it’s been over a year since Geter was named Portland Opera’s interim music director, one could be forgiven for wondering how “interim” he really is. But regardless of how long he holds the position, he’s had an outsized effect on the organization, bringing diversity and urgency to opera, often the whitest and most staid of the performing arts.

While reshaping Portland Opera, Geter has continued his work as a composer, infusing classical music with various styles from the Black diaspora to create music in service of social justice. “I’m not afraid to talk about or write about subjects that have been traditionally left out of the concert hall,” he says. That ambition is reflected in An African American Requiem, which he composed for choir and orchestra. It was performed with Resonance Ensemble and the Oregon Symphony, and ultimately made its way to Kennedy Center.

Katherine Fitzgibbon, professor of music and director of choral activities at Lewis & Clark College and artistic director and president of Resonance Ensemble, says, “Damien’s vision, simply put, is to use music to change the world. And he’s doing it.”

Biggest Influence: “History.”

Greatest Personal Achievement: “I don’t think I’ve reached it yet.”

Favorite Guilty Pleasure: “Trashy TV, like Love Is Blind.”

Best Quote About Him: “I keep hearing from people around the U.S. about how Damien’s music changed them. People feel seen, understood and galvanized to take action.” —Katherine Fitzgibbon

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