nancy ives bio
Photo by Rachel Hadiashar

Nancy Ives

Composer and Cellist

2024-2025 Artist In Residence

nancy ives
Photo by Joe Cantrell

Artist Statement

Pando and I haven’t met in person yet, but I have already been inspired by what I’ve learned from Friends of Pando and the work of previous Artist in Residence Jeff Rice to write a piece for orchestra named Pando, which premiered in Portland, OR in March 2024. The Metropolitan Youth Symphony had approached me about commissioning a new work, and when I asked the young musicians of the orchestra what they wanted the piece I would write for them to be about, they told me they wanted something that dealt with the environment and climate change. I began looking for a meaningful way to honor that wish without resorting to doom and gloom. Music has the power to bring people together in shared emotional experience, and I would rather use that opportunity to celebrate the beauty and resilience of nature and to galvanize enthusiasm about finding solutions to the climate crisis. I wanted to honor their generation’s love of the natural world without ignoring their concerns for the future. Creating a musical portrait of Pando fit the bill beautifully — plus, the thought of a single organism that looks like many individuals captivated me as an analogy for a symphony orchestra! The very idea that such an organism exists is awe-inspiring, and learning about it thanks to the work of Friends of Pando gave me a delightful subject for the piece.

Early notation sheets from the "Pando" by Nancy Ives
image of sheets from the pando symphony score
Enjoy a sample from the "Pando"" by Nancy Ives performed by The Metropolitan Youth Symphony

Another example of this approach is a piece I wrote in 2018, …black snow, dark ocean… (shown below)I started with the fact that the Arctic is warming three — now four — times faster than the rest of the planet and the ways these changes are threatening the ancient way of life of Arctic peoples, but I ultimately found key inspiration from the work some climate scientists have been doing with Inuit elders to incorporate their knowledge and experience into the science. This kind of knowledge and awareness and the accompanying emotional responses have led me in exciting musical directions, sparking new and unexpected artistic concepts. 

Enjoy a performance of " snow, dark ocean..."
Performed by Valdine Ritchie Miskin
(Credit: Valdine Ritchie Mishkin, Nancy Ives, Third Angle New Music, 2019)

Every time I learn something more about Pando a new crop of metaphors pops-up in my imagination. For instance, the fact that Pando is constantly renewing itself evokes the nature of musical performance; for a piece of music to exist, the sounds must be generated anew each time. However, this sort of insight is still essentially abstract, while music is palpable and alive, often experienced viscerally. I expect that actually visiting Pando and experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of its presence — really taking in its size and condition, and actually exploring what sounds I can make in concert with its own sounds — will lead to a deeper level of understanding and inspiration. I’m not sure what form the resulting work will take; true collaboration requires receptivity and beginning with an open mind. Having created a brief — only 10 minutes long — portrait of Pando feels like the barest introduction to the artistic possibilities inherent in such an extraordinary subject, and I eagerly look forward to making music with Pando and seeing where this cross-kingdom collaboration will take me.

Listen to Nancy's Performance Work on Spotify

Nancy Ives Bio

Composer and cellist Nancy Ives is a musical icon, having “built a career of such spectacular diversity that no summation will do her achievements justice.” (Artslandia) As “one of Oregon’s most prominent and accomplished classical musicians,” (The Oregonian) Ives enjoys an illustrious performance career that informs her eloquent and enduring compositional style. “Modernistic but melodic and compelling… [with] a refreshing musical breadth, a diverse but integrated approach,” Ives’ music communicates “a uniquely personal voice.” (Oregon ArtsWatch) By way of an adventurous and multifaceted career – which includes more than 20 years as Principal Cellist of the Oregon Symphony, collaborations with virtually all of the region’s premier performance organizations, and a history of service within the cultural community – Ives is a gracious and essential cornerstone of musical life in the Pacific Northwest, “a local treasure,” according to the Portland Mercury. 


By creating music that is deeply inspired by the natural world and is at once informal and relatable while also offering depth and complexity, Ives effortlessly captures elements of style that reflect an Oregonian approach to life. A relative of the legendary composer Charles Ives, she carries on the tradition of her ancestral namesake with modern relevance, through highly-acclaimed performances of her work given by the Portland Chamber Orchestra, Fear No Music, Friends of Rain, Portland Cello Project, Siletz Bay Music Festival, Oregon Bach Festival, and OBF Composers Symposium as well as broadcasts on All Classical Portland and KBBI (Alaska). Committed to creating music of consequence, Ives works with indigenous communities to authentically capture, amplify, and relay their stories to wider audiences. For example, her recent large-scale, multimedia orchestral work, Celilo Falls: We Were There, traces geologic and human history with “stunning, assiduously crafted, and mostly melodic music… a many-splendored artistic experience… universal in [its] artistic, social and political impact.” (Oregon ArtsWatch) With the help of a grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council, Ives is completing a recording for which she commissioned six leading Oregon composers including herself to write new works inspired by the Allemandes from J. S. Bach’s Suites for solo cello. 


In addition to her role as Principal Cellist of the Oregon Symphony, Ives is a member of the Palatine Trio, the Rose City Trio, and the trailblazing ensemble, Fear No Music. She has recently appeared with Chamber Music Northwest, Third Angle, Portland Piano International, the Oregon Bach Festival, Portland Cello Project, 45th Parallel Universe, and in solo concerto performance with the Oregon Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, Portland Columbia Symphony, Clark College Orchestra, and Cascade Festival of Music, “demonstrating with attentive grace that technically challenging and sonically difficult music can still be beautiful.” (Oregon ArtsWatch) A regular performer in live radio broadcast on All Classical Portland’s Thursdays @ Three, she was also the “Cellist in Residence” for a year on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s arts news magazine State of Wonder. 


Having received a DMA from the Manhattan School of Music, Ives thrived in New York City where she was Principal Cello and a founding member of the Grammy-nominated Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, and Principal Cello of the American Chamber Opera Company. She was a regular recitalist at the Friends of the Arts Beethoven Festival and the Apollo Muses Festival in New Jersey, and in addition to performing the standard concerto repertoire with orchestras in the Northeast and the Midwest, she premiered her own composition Dialogue III for cello and orchestra with the Danbury Community Orchestra. Her rich history of new music performance includes membership in the North-South Consonance and Musicians’ Accord, through which she gave over one hundred premieres by such illustrious composers as Milton Babbitt, Chen Yi and Bruce Adolphe. Her talent and versatility led to recordings on the Opus One and Koch labels and to soundtrack recordings for PBS and the Smithsonian. Known for her venturesome approach to music-making, she appeared with Laurie Anderson and Brazilian pop star Gal Costa at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival, with Nana Vasconcelos at The Knitting Factory and Merkin Hall, and recorded with rock star Lenny Kravitz. Embracing an expansive approach to her artistry, Ives combined acting with cello playing in an Off-Broadway production of Orpheus in Love by Craig Lucas, and while on tour with Phantom of the Opera, performed a comedy routine about the cello in AIDS benefits across the country.


An enthusiastic teacher and mentor, Ives is an Instructor of Chamber Music at Lewis & Clark College. As a co-founder of Classical Up Close, she provides greater community access to music, bringing intimate performance to the places where people live, work, and play. Ives serves on the Board of Directors for All Classical Portland and is a past board member of the Oregon Cello Society and the Oregon Symphony. 

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