Yair Strauss is being remembered as a long-time conductor and musician in the Rogue Valley, including leadership of the Rogue Valley Symphony and the Southern Oregon Concert Band. He died last Wednesday at 74.
A longtime Ashland resident, he was born in Israel and came here from a post with the Salem Symphony Orchestra. He conducted the Rogue Valley Symphony for six years, starting in 1980. He played clarinet in three area bands — Rogue Valley Symphonic Band, Southern Oregon Concert Band and Ashland City Band.
He taught Hebrew at local synagogues and worked as a real estate agent here also.
“He was a remarkably gentle and kind man, entirely devoted to music. He played in all three community bands I played in and would always make the first call after the first set of concert music was passed out,” said clarinetist Ed Wight, who works at Cripple Creek Music. “He was the first to want to get started. He was very supportive, gentle and an excellent conductor. Once he took a band over, we started playing a more difficult repertory and doing it better. He liked to play chamber music and was in several groups — windwood quartet, duets, a recorder ensemble.”
Don Bieghler, the conductor of the Ashland City Band for 20 years, was on the interview committee for Strauss’s job here in 1980 and played six seasons with him.
“I was so impressed with his knowledge of all the instruments and his skill in developing the concept and interpretation of the music,” said Bieghler.
Flautist and friend Phebe Kimball of Ashland said she enjoyed playing with Strauss as a duo, soon inviting a bassoon for a trio, then working up to a woodwind quintet.
At its weekly concert at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Lithia Park bandshell, the Ashland City Band will play a collection of Israeli folk dances, “Rikudim,” in memory of Strauss.
The program will also include members of the Ashland Middle School Summer Band Camp. They will play “Red Rock Canyon” by Robert Sheldon and an arrangement of music from recent Disney films. Featured soloist is trombonist Mike DeRoest, playing Alexandre Guilmant’s “Symphonique Morceau.” Pre-concert music by the Ashland Brass Quintet begins at 6:15 pm.
A memorial for Strauss will be held at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Havurah Shir Hadash.
—John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.