chamber music string quartet summer festivals

love in the time of COVID-19

You know when you’re going on a first date with someone, and somehow you have this feeling that they might be “the one”? Chamber music is the place where musical matchmaking happens, and when you find an ideal situation, it is pretty much the best thing ever.

Two years ago I was asked to play some concerts with the Willamette Valley Chamber Music festival, and it was a total musical match. Co-founders and artistic directors (and wife and husband) Sasha Callahan and Leo Eguchi were warm and welcoming, and easy to play (and talk) with. It just felt ‘right’. Add in the presence of familiar (and first-rate) players like Greg Ewer, Megumi Stohs Lewis, Marilyn DeOliveira, and Kenji Bunch, and it just got better and better.

I missed last year’s festival (due to a fractured clavicle) which was bad enough, but this year’s festival almost didn’t happen. Concerns over quarantine protocols and how to safely bring the festival to audiences almost scuttled the festival. But a decision was reached to have the musicians play together (masked, and somewhat distanced) and to live stream the performances with a professional video production team. All I can say is that making in-person music after months of being isolated was a dream come true. I’m so happy that the festival took place this year, and I can’t wait for a ‘normal’ festival next summer!

I could go on and on about the musical experiences of these past three weeks, but what sticks with me, and that I’ll be pondering for a good long time, is the music that I learned which was unfamiliar to me. Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout by Gabriela Lena Frank, Break Away, by Jessie Montgomery. Hip Hop Studies and Etudes and String Quartet No. 5 “Parks”, by Bernard Daniel Roumain. Works that are powerful, innovative, well-constructed, and challenging and enjoyable to perform. Works that belong in the canon by voices that deserve to be heard – must be heard. Sasha and Leo have programmed inclusively from the very start of the festival five years ago, and I’m thankful to them for that.

By the way, the recording by WVCMF artists of string quartets of Gabriela Lena Frank “Her Own Wings” debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Traditional Classical Arts chart, and is available to purchase wherever you buy your music. If you like a physical CD (and who doesn’t?), you can order it here.

If you’d like to watch the archived stream of the last concert (Aug. 22) – you have August 25th to get a ticket and watch it – you can do that here.

By Charles Noble

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