preview: willamette valley chamber music festival – week two

After a well-deserved day off, the musicians of the festival are back this morning for the first rehearsal of week two. What’s on tap for this weekend? Some really tasty music, that’s what!

Works for two instruments are some of the hardest pieces to write effectively. There’s no much time for either instrument to rest, first of all, since the piece is called a duo, and not a solo. Additionally, finding contrast of textures with two like instruments can also be a challenge. There are a handful of pieces for two instruments that I think are masterpieces, including Ravel’s Duo for Violin and Cello, Martinu’s Two Madrigals for Violin and Viola, and the piece on this week’s program, Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins.

Violist-composer Kenji Bunch returns to the festival to perform in his string quintet String Circles. It’s a reimagining of the traditional string quintet, but instead of using classical Western music as a basis, it plumbs the music of Americana instead. There’s funk and bluegrass in the mix, and it’s delightful!

Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel wrote a string quartet. Did you know that? Did you also know that it’s a really good piece of music? Yep. It is. It’s a major four movement piece that uses the string quartet instrumentation to great effect, and it’s a piece that should be in the standard repertoire. Thanks to a recording by the fantastic Quatour Ebéne, it has gotten greater exposure, which is well-deserved. You may have heard local quartet Mousai REMIX play it a few seasons ago – it’s worth another listen, so come on out and hear us play it, and the other works on this program, at J. Christopher Wines on Saturday and Sunday, August 18-19. Tickets are available here.

preview: willamette valley chamber music festival – week one

A bit of backstory: for the past twenty-odd years or so, my summers have followed a pretty stable pattern of festival-hopping. Some years I’ve done five festivals in a summer. I spent much more time on the road and in a homestay or dorm room than at home. I’d come back home and feel pretty burned out – just in time for the Oregon Symphony season to start. This year, feeling as tired as I ever have at the end of the ‘regular season’, I made a last-minute decision to take a leave from one of my favorite festivals, the Sunriver Music Festival. Not long after that happened, I was contacted by Leo Eguchi, the co-founder and cellist of the festival. I had heard from Oregon Symphony and 45th Parallel Universe colleague Greg Ewer that Leo and his wife, violinist Sasha Callahan, were wonderful people and great musicians. So the four factors that made it impossible to turn down: great chamber music, fantastic musicians, great wine, and sleeping in my own bed, . This was surely the burnout remedy that I needed!

Festival co-founders Sasha Callahan and Leo Eguchi.

This is the third summer for the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival, and in its first two years the festival has had a strong commitment to the music of living composers, with a featured composer-in-residence each summer. The first composer was Portland resident (and FearNoMusic artistic director) Kenji Bunch, followed in the second season by the fantastic Californian Gabriela Lena Frank (by the way, the festival recorded several of her wonderful quartets last year and is crowd funding to raise the money to release them commercially – please help if you can!) In its third year, the festival has attracted Joan Tower – one of the leading composers in America – who is celebrating her 80th birthday year.

Composer Joan Tower.

Joan Tower will be on hand for the first weekend’s concerts (August 11-12). Two of her works will be featured on the program, one each on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday afternoon’s program, it will be Tower’s Rising for Flute and String Quartet, with Portland flutist Amelia Lukas. On Sunday afternoon, it will be her String Quartet No. 5, White Water.  Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 33 no. 2 “The Joke” and Beethoven’s mighty Op. 59 no. 2 “Rasumovsky” will round out the program on both dates.

The first week’s concerts both take place at J. Christopher Wines in Newberg. I’m looking forward to these concerts very much, because not only does this winery have exceptional wines, but also incredible chamber music acoustics in their subterranean barrel room!

The barrel room performance space at J. Christopher Wines.

Saturday’s concert is selling well, but there is still good availability for Sunday’s concert. Tickets are available at the festival’s website here.

As rehearsals progress this week, I’ll chime in with new posts that just might have some surprise content, so keep checking in, or enter your email address and click the “Subscribe” button on the upper right column to be notified of fresh updates!


my fall preview


It’s right at the end of August, Portland has had temps at or above 100°F several times, the homegrown tomatoes are ripening, and the usual early bird maple trees are already starting to get some color on their leaves. That means that the fall arts season must be right around the corner.

Third Angle

Over at Third Angle New Music, we’re already hard at work on Steve Reich’s Triple Quartet (1999), which we’ll be playing at the Oregon Symphony’s day of local music performances at the site of the annual Waterfront Concert on Sept 1st. That will be a preview for our concert on Sept. 30/Oct. 1 at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. Also on the program, two other quartets by Reich, his masterpiece Different Trains (1988), and his reaction to the events of September 11, WTC 9/11 (2010). It will be an amazing concert for all of us.

Oregon Symphony

The evening of Sept 1, the Oregon Symphony takes to the outdoor stage at Tom McCall Waterfront Park to play our traditional Waterfront Concert. We’ll be playing a variety of light and serious classical works, partnered with Oregon Ballet Theatre, Portland Opera, Metropolitan Youth Symphony, Portland Youth Philharmonic, and Alpha Battery 218th Field Artillery of the Oregon National Guard. It will also be simulcast live on AllClassical Portland (89.9FM), hosted by Suzanne Nance and Robert McBride.

The season pretty much starts with a bang (literally, fireworks and canons), and keeps going like crazy for the first few months. Here are some of the highlights that I’m particularly looking forward to:

  • Renée Fleming sings Strauss’ Four Last Songs on our season opener, Sept. 10.
  • Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle with sets by glass artist Dale Chihuly, Sept. 24-26.
  • Music of David Bowie, Sept. 29.
  • Sibelius Symphony No. 3 and Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto, Oct. 8-10.
  • Ein Heldenleben and percussionist Colin Currie plays Andrew Norman, Oct. 22-24.
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark, Nov. 10.

Find out about these and all of the Oregon Symphony’s other concerts at

Arnica Quartet

My quartet, the Arnica Quartet, is playing a midday concert at the University of Portland on Wednesday, November 2 at 12:30pm. We’ll be performing Webern’s early and Romantic Langsamer satz, and Beethoven’s Op. 131 quartet in C-sharp minor.

Definitely a lot going on this fall, I hope you can join me for at least some of what I’m doing!