I got back from the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival this past Tuesday afternoon. My concerts were done on Saturday night, but we took a side trip to Moses Lake, Wa. to visit some of Steph’s relatives. Tomorrow, I leave for the Sunriver Music Festival, and then get back on the 19th, with the first service of the OSO season arriving on the 31st of August.
It’s been a busy summer, as it has always been since I started seriously studying music in college. My sophomore, junior, and senior summers I went to the National Orchestral Institute in suburban D.C. for three weeks. When I was getting my masters, I spent the summers of 1993 and 1994 at the Tanglewood Music Center for eight weeks. Since then, I’ve played an average of four festivals each summer. This year, it is four. I’m in the process of thinking that I’d like to change the rhythm of my summers a bit, after 20-plus years of shuttling from one festival to another. I really enjoy most of the festivals I do, but some I like more than others, and one I actually love. Taking a leave from one of them and seeing how it feels seems like a very good experiment to perform next summer.
The Signal Hill Ranch, where the Methow Festival is held. Photo: Charles Noble
The Methow week was hugely fun and challenging, as usual. The Schubert Andante and Rondo Concertante, D. 487, was lightweight Schubert – not even particularly good Schubert – but it was like popping a champagne cork and brought a bit of light classicism to the evening. It was challenging in that the piano part is like a mini concerto (which Craig Sheppard played with his usual virtuosity), and early Schubert is much like early Mozart, where the writing is utterly transparent, and any missteps are very apparent! It was great fun to play this charming music with my fellow string players, violinist Brittany Boulding Breeden, and cellist Matt Zalkind.
Brittany Boulding Breeden, Craig Sheppard, Matthew Zalkind, and Charles Noble play Schubert.
The second concert had a bit more for me to do. My first piece was the Mozart Horn Quintet, which uses the unusual combination of violin, two violas, cello, and French horn. Brittany again played violin, and we were joined by festival artistic director and cellist, Kevin Krentz, Seattle Symphony violist Mara Gearman, and Jeffrey Fair, principal French hornist of the Seattle Symphony. This piece is always a blast to play, and Mozart’s part writing is ingenious as he has to make the textures and voicing more interesting due to the harmonic constraints initially presented by the natural horn that was available in his day. Jeff played beautifully, and it was beyond a joy to get to perform with my former OSO colleague Mara Gearman after so many years!
Jing and Matthew rehearse Martinu for opening night. Photo: Charles Noble.
My other piece on the program was the extraordinary string sextet Verklärte Nacht by Arnold Schoenberg. Written in 1899, it’s a piece that is renowned for both its difficulty and its beauty. If it was Schoenberg’s intention to demonstrate the lengths to which conventional tonality could be stretched, he did so with this piece. Within just a few short years, he would abandon tonality and invent his serial process of musical organization, also known as 12-tone music. My compatriots for the performance were violinists Jing Wang (concertmaster of the Hong Kong Philharmonic) and Mikhail Shmidt (of the Seattle Symphony and Seattle Chamber Players), violist Mara Gearman, and cellists Matt Zalkind and Kevin Krentz. Typically, the schedule of this particular festival is quite hectic – we get one full rehearsal of about three hours, and then a dress rehearsal of about an hour, depending upon the length of the piece. After our first rehearsal (which was at 8:30 in the morning after the first concert!), we decided to add an evening rehearsal beginning at 9:30 p.m. We were able to iron out some stubborn transitions in about 90 minutes, and went home exhausted. The dress rehearsal went well (but not too well, which can be the kiss of death for a concert!), and we ended up having a truly memorable performance that night. It was such an honor to be a part of that illustrious gang of musicians!
It’s been good to have a couple of days away from the instrument, and now it’s time to pick it back up again for the final push of the summer. I’ll give at least a Sunriver Festival update/recap next week. Have a great August!