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Portland, Oregon

Proving Up: Missy Mazzoli, Karen Russell, & Gabriel Kahane (Rebroadcast)

A conversation about adaptation and the creative process with composer Missy Mazzoli, writer Karen Russell, & Oregon Symphony’s Gabriel Kahane.

In this episode, we share a The Archive Project exclusive: a collaboration with Oregon Symphony, featuring their Open Music program. Open Music is a new concert series in which composers featured in the classical subscription season offer a window into their spirit and creative process through an evening of music and conversation at an intimate venue in Portland.

In March, composer Missy Mazzoli joined the program. Time Out New York called Mazzoli “Brooklyn’s post-Millennial Mozart,” and she was recently commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to adapt George Saunders’s novel Lincoln In the Bardon. At Missy’s Open Music evening, one of the pieces featured was an aria, “Who Owns the Land?,” from her opera Proving Up, which is based on a story from Karen Russell’s collection Vampires In the Lemon Grove.

This intersection of music and literature seemed ripe for further discussion, so we gathered Missy, Karen, and Open Music host and Oregon Symphony creative chair Gabriel Kahane at Literary Arts in downtown Portland for a conversation about adaptation.

These are three creative geniuses, and it is moving to hear them explore the narrative strengths of both the page and the stage. They go beyond direct adaptation of a source text, touching on how media consumption becomes source material, and their relationship to that as artists – how something ends up translated from one medium to another. The conversation is a fascinating look into the creative process.


Missy Mazzoli has composed works for opera, orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo artists, vocal artists, and films. As a performer, Mazzoli is active as a pianist and keyboardist, and often performs with her band Victoire. Mazzoli’s works have been commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Young People’s Chorus of New York, pianist Emanuel Ax, Kronos Quartet, and the Detroit Symphony, among others. Her music has also been performed globally by eighth blackbird, the New York City Opera, the Sydney Symphony, and the Minnesota Orchestra. Mazzoli received a B.M. in Music Composition from Boston University in 2002, and an M.M. in Music Composition from the Yale School of Music in 2006. She also participated in graduate studies at the Royal Conservatory of Den Haag in the Netherlands. Mazzoli joined the faculty at Mannes College of Music at The New School in 2013.

Karen Russell won the 2012 and the 2018 National Magazine Award for fiction, and her first novel, Swamplandia! (2011), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She has also written Orange World and, most recently, Sleep Donation. She has received a MacArthur Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship, the “5 under 35” prize from the National Book Foundation, the NYPL Young Lions Award, the Bard Fiction Prize, and is a former fellow of the Cullman Center and the American Academy in Berlin. She currently holds the Endowed Chair at Texas State University’s MFA program, and lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and son.

A singer-songwriter, pianist, and composer, Gabriel Kahane works at the blurred edges of journalism, ethnography, storytelling, and music. He is currently the Creative Chair of the Oregon Symphony, which commissioned his 2018 oratorio, emergency shelter intake form. Over the last decade, Gabriel has worked in an array of diverse musical spaces. Memorable projects have included tours with Andrew Bird and Punch Brothers; recordings with Sufjan Stevens, Phoebe Bridgers, and Blake Mills; and an arrangement of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” written for Paul Simon’s Farewell Tour in 2018. As a composer, he has been commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and Carnegie Hall. Gabriel is also a regular guest on American Public Media’s Live From Here with Chris Thile.

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