chamber music concert preview string quartet summer festivals

preview – willamette valley chamber music festival – final weekend

This weekend the festival moves from the warm embrace of the J. Christopher Wines barrel room to two new locales. On Saturday, it’s Sokol Blosser, and on Sunday, Elk Cove Vineyards. The program is a nice mix – some newer music, music by a female composer, and a big, old favorite by a dead white guy.

Sasha Callahan and Leo Eguchi.

Small-scale music by Philip Glass (who, like festival resident composer Joan Tower, is celebrating his 80th birthday year) opens the concert. His Four Duets for Violin and Cello (extracted from his Double Concerto for Violin and Cello), written in 2010, will be performed by festival co-directors Sasha Callahan and Leo Eguchi.

Rebecca Clarke

Poem for string quartet by the British-American composer and violist Rebecca Clarke (active in the first quarter of the 20th century) follows. Most famous for her wonderful Viola Sonata, her compositional career was limited by her gender, and she eventually stopped composition entirely after marrying. What might have been, one wonders, if she had lived in a time where being female and being a composer weren’t mutually exclusive? Callahan and Eguchi are joined by Megumi Stohs Lewis and myself.

Marilyn De Oliveira – Photo: Jacobe Wade.

Finally, the great String Quintet in C-major by Schubert closes the program.  Oregon Symphony Assistant principal cellist (and member of the Mousai REMIX and Pyxis Quartet) Marilyn De Oliveira joins the quartet for this sublime ending to the festival’s third season. Is Schubert’s Quintet perhaps the greatest and most perfect piece ever written for chamber ensemble? Many think so. Come decide for yourself!

Tickets and information.

chamber music concert preview summer festivals

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.

chamber music concert preview string quartet summer festivals

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!