Category Archives: summer festivals

july into august


Crater Lake – Photo by Charles Noble

This past week I’ve been on a badly-needed vacation to southern Oregon. My fiancé and I went to the Ashland area, and had a wonderful time visiting Crater Lake, wine tasting, walking around the town, and enjoying our time away from everyday life. The fact that our lodging was in the middle of the forest without television also didn’t hurt. Here are a few places that we loved, that you might want to try on your next visit:

  • Green Springs Inn and Cabins – About a half hour east of Ashland (and up a winding, twisty, and sometimes exposed Hwy 66), but it’s in the forest and there are chickens, a good restaurant, and plenty of peace and quiet (until the roosters fire up). The lodge rooms are simple and spacious, the cabins are the size of small houses, several with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.
  • Wooldridge Creek Winery – If you like wine tasting that features delicious wines, great views, and wonderful patio, and house made cheeses and cured meats to go with, this is another place you cannot miss. It’s about 30 minutes past Jacksonville in the Applegate Valley, on the way to Grants Pass from the south.
  • Noble Coffee – Yes, I like the name, but even more I like the quality of the coffee that they put out here at their roastery and cafe. Nice ambiance inside, off the main drag and away from the OSF crowds, it’s an oasis.

This week is going to be spent getting reacquainted with the viola (despite my guilty conscience, I refused to bring the viola with me – that is the way one ruins a vacation!) and getting some final preparation done for my concerts at the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival. Last year was pretty intense – I had three works with piano – two piano quartets, and one piano quintet – all of which were major works. This year, it’s a bit less so (although I usually regret making such predictions, especially on the side favoring ease). I’m playing a relatively rare work for piano quartet by Franz Schubert, his Adagio and Rondo Concertante, D. 487; the wonderful Mozart Horn Quintet, K. 407; and Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4.

I’m hoping to have time to do a wrap-up after Methow, then it’s just a very quick turnaround to head out to Sunriver for the Sunriver Music Festival.

oregon bach festival 2016 wrap-up

Wow. What a festival this 2016 edition of the Oregon Bach Festival was! Playing OBF has always had its special moments over the years. Since playing my first OBF in the summer of 1996, I’ve seen so many fantastic singers and instrumentalists come through. Thomas Quasthoff, Yo-Yo Ma, Jeffrey Kahane, Nicholas Phan – the list goes on and on. The constant behind those big names? The truly world-class Berwick Chorus. Every year I go back thinking that last year’s chorus was the best there was and there would be no topping it, and every year I mentally eat crow. They keep getting better and better. It’s truly a testament to Kathy Saltzman Romey and her team (as well as the individual talents of the entire chorus) that the standard creeps higher and higher each year.

There were so many high points to this year’s festival that it’s hard to list them all, but I’ll do my best to recall the moments that struck me the most during my time there.

  • James MacMillan conducts MacMillan – It was a rare honor to play under one of my favorite composers, the Scottsman James MacMillan, with the OBF Chamber Orchestra. In particular, his Sinfonia was a remarkable piece, and playing Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony Op. 110a was a profound experience.
  • MacMillan Requiem – There are times when you have an experience where you know that you’ll be saying decades later “I was there”, and this was one of them. MacMillan’s A European Requiem is a bona fide masterpiece that should become a part of the repertoire immediately. The Berwick Chorus was so stunning in its intricate and difficult choral writing – breathtaking. Giving the world premiere in the presence of the composer was the highest of honors. [Review]
  • Kahane Conducts Kahane – Father and son Jeffrey and Gabriel Kahane took the stage for this concert. Jeffrey led the OBF Chamber Orchestra from the keyboard in a beautifully crystalline performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Then he played a heartbreaking encore improvisation on America the Beautiful that left few eyes dry. It was the perfect commentary on a very difficult and tragic week in America – proof that music can express the inexpressible. Gabriel took center stage for the second half with his 50 minute Gabriel’s Guide to the 48 States, which celebrated the former diversity of regional America, warts and all, as written in 1930’s WPA travel guides. [Review]
  • Brahms Requiem – A piece that I’ve done several times – it was nearly a perennial favorite of OBF founder Helmut Rilling – and it never fails to move me deeply. OBF music director Matthew Halls kept the piece moving, and the Berwick Chorus (along with the Stangland Family Youth Academy Choir and UofO Chamber Choir) sang it beautifully. Before intermission, the OBF Orchestra played Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in an account that skipped much of the lugubriousness that can haunt this most beautiful and melancholic symphony. [Review]

So, another year is in the can, and several more festivals await me before my summer is done. This one will be hard to top, however.

the learning continues

After this past week’s rehearsing and performing at the Portland Piano International Festival, I learned, or re-learned several things.

First, I learned what the Dutch expression “mierenneuken” means (nit-picking is the least offensive way I can explain it) from former Concertgebouw Orchestra concertmaster Alex Kerr. (It came up in the context of the American system of orchestral auditions, which is notorious for being incredibly myopic in its focus on an insane level of perfection.)

Photo: Portland Piano International

Justin Bartlett, Sarah Kwak, Nancy Ives, Jason Schooler, Alex Kerr and Charles Noble play Liszt. Photo: Portland Piano International

Second, I re-learned that simple score study with a recording can make my life much, much easier. I forget this from time to time, especially when the music I’m playing doesn’t present much in the way of technical challenges. I discovered this to my chagrin in the dress rehearsal for the Chopin First Piano Concerto. Lesson learned, score studied, performance humiliation averted.

Photo: Portland Piano International

Sarah Kwak, Alex Kerr, Charlie Albright, Nancy Ives, and Charles Noble play Chopin. Photo: Portland Piano International

Third, I learned (and likely re-learned) that a performance is not just the playing of the notes. It’s projecting an involvement in what is happening even when one is not playing. Even when I’m nervous about my counting, or remembering what figuration this pianist is playing in his left hand, or just feeling plain crappy, just the act of acting like I’m involved and enjoying what’s happening always leads to me actually being involved and enjoying what’s happening. That adage “Fake it ’til you make it” isn’t an old saw for no reason. It works.

Photo: Portland Piano International.

Arnaldo Cohen, Alex Kerr, Sarah Kwak, Nancy Ives, Charles Noble after Brahms Quintet. Photo: Portland Piano International.

I took the day off today to head out to Hood River for a day of R&R. Tomorrow, I buckle down again and get ready for my first concert of the 2016 Oregon Bach Festival, which is a chamber orchestra concert under the direction of Sir James MacMillan. It should be fantastic, I’ll send dispatches from the road as I have time. Onward!