chamber music string quartet summer festivals

debrief – willamette valley chamber music festival, week two

This viola plays more correct notes if it is given wine. Photo: Charles Noble

Week two is in the bag! Week one was tons of fun, and also tons of WORK. Two different works of Joan Tower made for some epic rehearsal schedules. This week was a bit quieter – for me – because I didn’t play every work on the program this time. Rare for a violist! It was also a bittersweet time after our final concert of the weekend, because it marked the wrap for Greg Ewer’s stint at this year’s festival, and also the end of our time at J. Christopher Wines’ wonderful barrel room. I brought five bottles of wine home over the two weeks, so at the very least I’ll have those to savor as I remember the fun times spent there.

Megumi Stohs Lewis and Sasha Callahan rehearsing Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins. Photo: Stephanie Noble

Violinists Megumi Stohs Lewis and Sasha Callahan gave a virtuosic performance of Prokofiev’s truly epic Sonata for Two Violins. It’s one of those rare duo pieces that gives the impression of more than two instruments. It also has no ‘dead’ spots where you can sense that the composer is filling time before the next good idea. It’s first rate Prokofiev.

Sasha Callahan, Greg Ewer, Leo Eguchi, Kenji Bunch, and Charles Noble play String Circles by Kenji Bunch. Photo: Stephanie Noble

Sasha, Greg Ewer, myself, and Leo Eguchi were next joined by violist and composer Kenji Bunch for a rollicking performance of his string quintet String Circle. As Leo noted in his introductory remarks on the program, it’s a immensely approachable piece that also has real compositional meat and depth. The central slow movement, based upon the folk tune Wayfaring Stranger, was written partially in response to the death of Johnny Cash, whom Kenji admired as a person and as a musician. Loads of fun to play, and based upon the responses of our audiences, loads of fun to listen to as well.

Greg Ewer, Sasha Callahan, Leo Eguchi, and Charles Noble finishing the Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel Quartet with a grand flourish. Photo: Stephanie Noble

The last piece on the program was the lone known string quartet by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel. It’s been played more and more in the past few years, not least because of the wonderful recording by the French quartet Quatour Ebéne. It’s a quartet that is slowly entering the repertoire – and given that Ms. Hensel wrote over 400 pieces of music – there are surely more hidden gems awaiting our discovery! In any event, it was a thrilling piece to play, with the virtuosic leadership of Greg Ewer on first violin – he has a virtual concerto to play in the finale – and as always, making music with Sasha and Leo was meaningful and a total blast!

Charles Noble, Sasha Callahan, Greg Ewer, Kenji Bunch, Leo Eguchi, and Eve Callahan after the concert in J. Christopher’s fantastic barrel room.

By Charles Noble

I'm the Assistant principal violist of the Oregon Symphony.

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