Portland Columbia Symphony Becomes Orchestra Nova Northwest

The shift comes in preparation for the 2024–25 season, with ONN staying committed to performing underrepresented orchestral work.

Orchestra Nova Northwest, photo by Phil Pasteris.

In preparation for its 2024–25 concert season, Portland Columbia Symphony has officially become Orchestra Nova Northwest. With the name change has come a renewed sense of purpose in the orchestra’s mission to highlight underperformed orchestral music.

“Since its inception, the orchestra had the mission to perform rarely performed but deserving repertoire,” ONN music director and conductor Steven Byess says. “You can look at a survey of 100 orchestras in the United States alone, you see particular pieces that come with an overwhelming frequency of performance. It’s just unimaginative, non-creative, traditional programming. That’s not what our orchestra has always been about.”

Byess first began conducting for ONN, formerly Portland Columbia Symphony, in 2010, and with the renaming, remains dedicated to performing lesser-known orchestral pieces to his audiences.

With the addition of executive director Kevin Irving in 2022, ONN has doubled down on this commitment by focusing its programs on new pieces and pieces created by female and BIPOC musicians.

ONN’s rebrand comes in light of how having “Portland” in its former name created an expectation that it played only in Portland. In reality, the orchestra regularly plays in Gresham, Troutdale and Beaverton. ONN decided to rebrand to Orchestra Nova Northwest, with “nova,” deriving from a Latin word meaning “new.” This, combined with nova explosions being the signifier for a new star being born, is something that ONN believes will highlight its focus on new and underplayed music.

“We’re not doing any Brahms symphonies, we’re not doing any Beethoven, we’re not doing any Mozart, we’re not doing any Schumann,” ONN board member Ann van Bever says. “These are pieces the Oregon Symphony plays, and plays super well. There are many other orchestras in town that play the standard orchestral works, so we’re trying to find a new place for us that’s not just repeating what other people do all the time.”

ONN will begin its season Sept. 14, and plans to feature two arrangements by Black female composer Florence Price. Price first came into public view in 1933 after winning a contest that led to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing her first symphony.

“She won this contest and it helped her career immensely, but it never took off like her male counterparts’,” Byess says. “Now, people are discovering the music and saying, this stuff is extraordinary! Not just good music, but great music!”

From September to May, pieces by new underrepresented composers, such as Anna Clyne, Caroline Shaw, and Margaret Bonds, will be performed by ONN.

SEE IT: Orchestra Nova Northwest performs at Reynolds High School, 1698 SW Cherry Park Road, Troutdale, novanw.org. 7:30 pm Saturday, Sept. 14. Orchestra Nova Northwest performs at Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, 12625 SW Crescent St., Beaverton, novanw.org. 3 pm Sunday, Sept. 15.

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