it’s the people, stupid

This past week I’ve been rehearsing and performing at the Portland Piano International Festival as part of the Festival String Quartet.

The quartet is quite a collection of people to play with! Violinists Alex Kerr, concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony and professor of violin at Indiana University, Sarah Kwak, concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony, and Nancy Ives, principal cellist of the Oregon Symphony. What I love about working with people of that caliber is that they are usually always wonderful people to work with. So professional, true, but also easy going, confident, and pleasant. I often suffer from a major case of imposter syndrome, so having such amazing musicians being such supportive chamber music partners made me feel right at home.

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Sarah Kwak rehearsing Sarasate with Arnaldo Cohen.

The first concert, on Friday, June 17, was with pianist Justin Bartlett, featured JS Bach’s Concerto No. 1, BWV 1052, and Franz Liszt’s Malediction, S. 121. Both were done with the accompaniment of the Festival String Quartet and double bassist Jason Schooler (Liszt).

The second concert, on Saturday, June 18, was a chamber music soirée with festival artistic director and pianist Arnaldo Cohen. Each of the members of the quartet played a piece from the Golden Age of Piano (1870-1930), which is the theme of this year’s festival. I opened the program with Liszt’s only work for viola, Romance oubliée (Forgotten romance), followed by Sarah playing Sarasate’s Introduction and Tarantelle, Nancy playing Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise Brilliante, and Alex with Brahm’s FAE Scherzo. Arnaldo played a Brazilian solo piece that I wasn’t able to get the name of, and then we all joined together for the first movement of Brahms’ great Piano Quintet, Op. 34.

Nancy Ives plays Chopin with Arnaldo Cohen.
Nancy Ives plays Chopin with Arnaldo Cohen.

Tonight, Sunday, June 19, we join pianists Charlie Albright and Alexander Kobrin for an all-Chopin concert. With Charlie, we’ll be doing the Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise, and with Alexander, the Piano Concerto No. 1. It’s quite tricky work, managing all of the rubato and the thick filigree of ornamentation that Chopin throws at us, but it should be a wonderful show. Tickets are available here.

methow festival wrap up

Whew! I’m back in Portland again, after an action-packed five days at the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival. I played three big pieces, two of which were brand new to me, and one which I hadn’t played in at least ten years. After three years of playing here, I can now declare my total love of this festival. It’s all about the people. My artist colleagues are all amazing musicians and people. We’re from all over the continent (and in some cases, the world) and our ages range widely, but we all came together and made music together, often with sublime results. The board and volunteers of the festival are some of the most dedicated and music-loving people that I’ve come across, and the setting of the Methow Valley is wildly beautiful.

Rehearsing the Dvorak E-flat Piano Quartet on the barn's main stage with Ryan, Elena, and Eric.
Rehearsing the Dvorak E-flat Piano Quartet on the barn’s main stage with Ryan, Elena, and Eric.

I had such a great time making music with my chamber music companions this past week – they were violinists Elena Urioste, Brittany Boulding, Emile-Anne Gendron, and Grace Park; cellists Eric Gaenslen and Meeka DiLorenzo; and pianist Ryan MacEvoy McCullough. Such great musicians and people! It was also great to see returning cellist/composer Paul Wiancko, and to meet the super funny and glamorous and formidable violist Ayane Kozasa. Finally, my host family, Boo and George Schneider were so welcoming and hospitable, I felt right at home in their lovely home. I wish I had some group photos of us, but we were too busy having fun to take many pictures. So these photos from my various activities at the festival will have to suffice:

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summer activities

This Monday marks the end of the Oregon Symphony’s 2011-2012 season. It’ll be my 16th season with the orchestra. Hard to believe! Time really does start accelerating at some point along the way, that is for certain! While there is time for R&R during the summer months, we don’t earn a salary during that time, so we subsist upon what we’ve managed to save during the season and we also do summer festivals, which make for a kind of busman’s holiday, since most summer festivals are in places that you actually want to be during the summer, and the change of scenery, both musical and geographical, helps to recharge the artistic batteries from a long season of concentrated performing. Here’s a rundown of what I’ll be doing over the summer months, maybe we’ll cross paths, who knows?

In June, I’ll be performing at a benefit concert for the Old Church’s continuing renovations with a newly-formed string quartet – the Bainbridge Quartet – which consists of myself and my wife, cellist Heather Blackburn, and two old friends on violin – both of whom were in previous string quartets that Heather and I were in – Tim Schwarz and Denise Dillenbeck. We’re playing selections from Dvorak’s Cypresses, Shostakovich’s monumental Piano Quintet with pianist Susan DeWitt Smith, and Beethoven’s great Op. 127 string quartet.

At the end of June and into July, I’ll be playing with the Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra in two concerts: one featuring Joshua Bell playing the Mendelssohn concerto, and the other featuring Tippet’s oratorio “A Child of Our Time”. On August 7th, I’ll be a part fo the Harvey Rosencranz Orchestra augmenting Pink Martini’s appearance at the Bach Festival as well.

July is quiet for a couple of weeks, the I journey up to the far northern reaches of Washington State to play three concerts with the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival: the rarely performed Grand Sinfonia Concertante for string sextet by Mozart (and an unknown arranger), Beethoven’s String Quintet in C major, and Debussy’s sublime String Quartet in G minor.

A week off, and then it’s off to the Sunriver Music Festival, where there will be 10 days of chamber orchestra concerts (including an augmented ensemble for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony) with new music director George Hansen.

Then, finally, it’s a couple of weeks free before we do our annual Oregon Symphony Waterfront Concert, and my 17th season is underway. Phew!