YAMHILL

Walnut City Music Festival closes out summer on a high note

Six years ago, a newspaper editor decided his hometown of McMinnville needed an indie, folk, rock festival to call its own. Now bands are calling him.

It’s probably not accurate to say that Yamhill County is in the midst of a “renaissance” of live entertainment, because definitions of the word (beyond the obvious historical reference to Europe in the 1300-1600s) typically rely on synonyms like “renewal,” “rebirth,” “revival” — implying a thriving cultural scene that vanished.

But it’s surely a healthy measure of the area’s cultural growth that in the past eight years, three successful summer music festivals have been launched and appear fixed to stay. Opera-centric Aquilon roared to life this summer (and has already held some encore performances) and Wildwood MusicFest in Willamina has been going since 2011.

That leaves the Walnut City Music Festival, a two-day late-summer blast of indie, folk and pop rock, to close out Oregon’s smoky August in the heart of wine country. The sixth annual family-friendly party begins Friday in McMinnville’s Lower City Park, at the west end of the restaurant-packed downtown district just beyond the library.

Ossie Bladine, founder and organizer of the Walnut City
Music Festival, says the event fits into a plan to develop a larger music venue in McMinnville. Photo courtesy: Walnut City Music Festival.

The festival was founded in 2013 by Ossie Bladine, and here we must pause for a moment of disclosure: My orbit intersected with Ossie’s when he was in high school in the late 1990s. I’d come to work at the local newspaper owned by his family, and he was in the office regularly along with his sister, Chelsey. In 2014, 29-year-old Ossie became editor of the News-Register, taking over from his father, Jeb, and representing the fourth generation of the Bladine family to run McMinnville’s locally owned newspaper.

Given that I freelance for the News-Register, this article puts me in the unusual position of writing about someone who signs my paycheck. Rest assured, it’s not an effort to curry favor with my editor by featuring his festival at the top of the column this week; on the final weekend of summer vacation, it’s unquestionably the hottest ticket in town.

The festival started with a literal bang six years ago. Many bangs, in fact. The Hill Dogs were playing in the Granary District when it happened: A thunderstorm worthy of an over-produced King Lear landed right on top of the stage. Bladine explained:

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Gallery Theater: 50 years, 340 plays, thousands of stories

McMinnville's community theater celebrates a half-century partnership between actors and audiences

Gallery Players of Oregon has been cranking out plays in downtown McMinnville since 1968, which means we’ve arrived at the 50th anniversary. That kind of endurance for any artistic project is worth celebrating.

I cannot hide my enthusiasm about it, and you ought to know why: For many of the past 20 years, I’ve acted on Gallery’s stage. Candidly, this is a bit weird for me. I’ve been a journalist since moving to McMinnville in the mid-1990s, and I’ve been involved at Gallery (both as an actor and a director) for most of that time. But those two lives haven’t intersected — until now.

Like many who will attend Saturday’s 50th anniversary gala, which will include a catered dinner and an evening program, I was introduced to theater in high school. Instead of letting it become just another memory from my youth, I remained active in theater and, more than three decades later, have accumulated a wealth of memories, characters, thrills, laughs, life lessons, friendships and stories.

Seth Renne, who has managed Gallery Theater since 2014, considers the
perils of growing carnivorous plants in 2013’s production of “Little Shop
of Horrors.” Photo: Gallery Theater

I’ve worn suits, ties, armor, stars and stripes, pajamas, a bathrobe, a dress, fake breasts, tighty-whities, and a burlap sack while smeared with mud. Actual, homemade mud, because I learned that mud washes off faster for a quick scene change than oil-based makeup. I also learned, over the course of that production, that dirt is alive and, if allowed to sit in a jar with just enough water, will grow things that smell awful.

I’ve learned the hardest thing to do onstage is not to cry, laugh or even passionately kiss a friend while your spouse (and hers) watches from the audience, but to eat. Appearing in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I had in my field of vision one evening Dr. Dean Brooks, who headed the Oregon State Hospital for 27 years and played a character similar to himself in the 1975 film starring Jack Nicholson; he was seated in the first row. Having played Col. Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men, I’ve found myself in the absurd position of being compared to Jack Nicholson.

I’ve been killed by and slain good friends, then gone out drinking with them afterward. I’ve come to understand how and why the show must and ultimately does go on, even when the director walks out, or when an actor vanishes on the eve of opening night or — for any number of reasons I’ll not get into here — in the middle of a show’s run. As an audience member, I broke down at Atticus Finch’s “Thank you for my children, Arthur.” And I’ll never forget the stunned silence at the end of a fantastic Cabaret, where the biggest Nazi flag I’ve ever seen unfurled over the stage for the final scene.

But the most important thing I’ve come away with is an appreciation of the audience – both as an actor and director and as a theatergoer.

Here’s the thing: The audience wants you to succeed.

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Violin virtuoso Charles Castleman pays Linfield a kingly visit

The 77-year-old performer and teacher leads free chamber concerts this week at the McMinnville college

If you haven’t heard of the Castleman Quartet, don’t feel bad. This summer violin-development program has been going nearly half a century, but until recently, it was confined to the East Coast, where violinist Charles Castleman first presided over it as a graduate student in Philadelphia. Given that Castleman has been making connections in the classical music world for seven decades, it’s not surprising that he knew a piano teacher at Linfield College. A couple of years ago, they brought the program to McMinnville, and it returns for its third season this week, featuring several days of recitals on campus with violin students from around the country.

Charles Castleman works with a student during the Castleman Quartet Program at Linfield College. Photo courtesy: Linfield College

The 77-year-old Castleman is something of a rock star in the violin world. His parents were not musicians, but played classical recordings at home, and Castleman’s introduction to the violin came when he was little more than 2. His mother took him backstage at the Boston Pops, where he met conductor Arthur Fiedler, who would lead the orchestra for half a century. Fiedler was impressed with the young Castleman’s musical knowledge, but observed that he didn’t yet have the size or coordination to play an instrument.

“He suggested that when I was 3 or 4, I should start,” Castleman recalled when I sat down with him last week. “He said, ‘You should play the violin, and you should play the piano at the same time so you don’t just hear horizontally.’ So he was a mentor for quite some time. I played a solo for him, when I was 5 or 6, with the Pops.”

His first teacher was Emanuel Ondricek, and he later studied with Ivan Galamian, David Oistrakh (who had “an enormous impact on my bow arm,” he told an interviewer in 2005) and Henryk Szeryng (who had significant “impact on my choice of fingerings and choice of bowings in performance,” Castleman said in that same interview). Castleman is, according to his website, “perhaps the world’s most active performer and pedagogue on the violin.”

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Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival: in vino violins

August concert series mixes listening and tasting in wine country

by ANGELA ALLEN

Pinot noir and salmon surely make a felicitous match, yet imagine an even happier marriage: Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 59 No. 2 paired with J. Christopher Wines’ 2016 “Lumiere” Pinot Noir.

“Both can certainly be enjoyed for their beauty alone, but together the two really shine,” said cellist Leo Eguchi, co-founder with violinist Sasha Callahan of the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival.

Eguchi, who studied physics along with cello, explains the magical pairing, which draws out the best in the wine and the music: “I experience each as a complex balance between dark and light. The wine’s darkly fruited notes match the brambly minor arpeggios of the first movement, while its minerality and high-toned acidity balances nicely with the heavenly calmness of the second moment. Both the wine and the music continue building to an energetic finish, marked by a rich darkness that lingers in the ears and on the palate.”

Whew! Such a comparison might convince you that pinot and a piece of chamber music can even transcend the blissful compatibility of that same Oregon red wine and Columbia River spring Chinook.

Based in Boston, Eguchi and Callahan decided several years ago that wine and music should be savored in the moment, in the vineyard (or barrel room)—and together. The couple, who have been married for 11 years and played together since 2000 as freelance musicians in various chamber groups and orchestras, saw an opportunity and an opening to bring chamber music to Oregon wine country, where such events are scarce. Sasha Callahan’s sister, Eve Callahan, a Portland marketing whiz with a lifelong interest in music, joined the couple to get the festival off the ground in 2016, and remains a large part of its leadership.

The festival’s third season opens Aug. 11 for three consecutive weekends at three Oregon wineries. Concerts dates are Aug. 11-12, Aug. 18-19, and Aug. 25- 26. The event has grown each year and sold out in 2017. This season, organizers added a third weekend with Sokol Blosser Winery and Elk Cove Vineyards, following two weekends at J. Christopher Wines’ barrel room outside of Newberg.

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All the Bard’s plays, three actors, one wild night

Willamette Shakespeare and Portland Actors Ensemble ride the whirlwind of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" in Dayton this weekend

If we’re keeping score, I have six titles to go before I’ve seen all of Shakespeare’s plays on stage at least once — Merry Wives of Windsor, Titus Andronicus, Two Noble Kinsmen, and the three parts of Henry VI. But that claim requires an asterisk: In 2009, I saw The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at Gallery Theater in McMinnville. This enormously popular play, written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield and first performed by them in 1987 in Scotland, hilariously and cleverly crams all 37 of the Bard’s plays into about two hours. And it touches down in Yamhill County on Friday, courtesy of a joint effort by Willamette Shakespeare and Portland Actors Ensemble (PAE).

Sara Fay Goldman (from left), Landy Hite and Joel Patrick Durham play all the roles in “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).” Photo by: Gary Norman

The show opened last weekend on the Concordia University Green in Portland, and this weekend you can find it in the hills between McMinnville and Newberg. The free performance will be held at Stoller Family Estate in Dayton at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 3 and 4, and 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5. Like so much of summer Shakespeare, it’s a lawn-chair-and-blankets outing, family-friendly, and there’s wine,  because that’s what we do out here. If you can’t make one of these performances, fear not: Four more weekends are scheduled around the Willamette Valley through Labor Day. Details to follow at the end of this week’s column.

Willamette Shakespeare was founded in 2009 by Daniel and Sydney Somerfield. They kicked off with a three-weekend run of As You Like It, rehearsing in a barn on a Newberg-area llama farm. Since then, the company has done mostly lighter fare, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, All’s Well That Ends Well, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Love’s Labor’s Lost, and The Taming of the Shrew, while also throwing in Shakespeare’s most audience-friendly tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, and The Winter’s Tale and Pericles.

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Newberg professional theater goes beyond “The Hamlet Show”

Penguin Productions offers Shakespeare and Wilde. Also on tap: Wildwood MusicFest in Willamina, da Vinci Days celebrates the intersection of art and science

There are surely stretches over the year when not much is going on in Yamhill County, artistically speaking. Those lazy weeks will afford opportunities for deep dives into our scene, with in-depth interviews and profiles of individual artists. But July is not one of those times. So grab a pen, or fire up the calendar app on your phone — whatever you’re using these days to organize your life — and get ready, because we have a lot to cover.

Nathaniel Andalis and Patricia Alston of Penguin Productions rehearse a scene from Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband,” which opens July 19 in Newberg. Photo by: Kris Klancy

This is especially true in Newberg, where a remarkable thing has happened. A small group of talented and endlessly energetic young people have joined forces to launch a theater company — a professional theater company. Penguin Productions was formed in 2017 by Chris Forrer and fellow Pacific Conservatory Theatre (PCPA) alums Daphne Dossett and Garrett Gibbs, on whose family property the outdoor productions are staged. Their mission to create “classical theater for a contemporary world” began last summer with gender-fluid productions of As You Like It and Macbeth.

This week, they kick off the 2018 season with what Forrer promises will be a brisk Hamlet (around 2 hours and 40 minutes) and Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, in which politics with a capital “P” plays out in contemporary Washington, D.C. (thanks to a 1895 script that falls well within the public domain). Shows start Thursday, July 19, and run through Aug. 4, with four performances of each. Tickets are $8 to $15 and may be purchased at the website.

Hamlet, directed by co-founder Gibbs, sounds particularly interesting. The company’s take, basically, is that Claudius, Gertrude and Polonius have, in their own way, been painted into the corner of caricature over the years in ways that are not necessarily supported by Shakespeare’s text. The play, Forrer told me, is much more interesting with a charismatic and even likable Claudius. Gertrude isn’t necessarily cold and distant, and Polonius (played here by a woman) is not an idiot. Forrer thinks the text supports Gibbs’ direction and makes for a much more exciting story than what all too often becomes “The Hamlet Show.” Sure, it is that, but you know what he’s saying.

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Summer concerts: from opera to outlaw country

Performances in Yamhill County offer something for all musical tastes

Now that the sound and fury of the Fourth of July is behind us, let’s talk live music. There’s an abundance of it in Yamhill County this summer, literally anything you yearn for: pop, blues, 70s dance rock, Latin jazz, gypsy jazz, Celtic, soul, Scottish, blues, bluegrass, folk, retro, Louisiana zydeco from the Pacific Northwest … see what I’m saying? If you live here, you don’t need to head to Portland for outdoor summer concerts, and if you live in Portland, you might check out this list to ensure that your trip to wine country aligns with great music.

Before we get to lawn-chair summer fare, let’s zero in on opera. McMinnville’s music scene this month has an 800-pound gorilla, the Aquilon Music Festival, an ambitious project organized by Anton Belov. Linfield College, where Belov has taught 11 years, serves as the center ring in an event that features two fully staged operas and a multitude of lectures, recitals, and concerts, including some at area wineries.

Portland Opera’s Opera a la Cart will serve up operatic specials du jour at Ponzi Vineyards and Argyle Winery this summer. Photo: Jonathan Ley.

Belov has assembled an impressive team of opera pros from around the United States., and many names will be familiar to aficionados: Daniel Helfgot, Byron Schenkman, Barbara Day Turner and Richard Zeller.

But many may not be — the more than 30 young artists Belov invited who are poised at the dawn of their musical careers. Some are local, while others are from beyond Oregon and have already appeared on the boards in the U.S., Europe and South America.

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