A harmonious match for the senses

Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival’s hybrid season of wine, food, and music

In its sixth season, the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival will go hybrid this year, with live and virtual concerts from Aug. 7 through Sept 4. 

For safety’s sake, live concert audiences in Oregon wine country are limited — cut in half from their usual number of barrel- and tasting-room concertgoers. Partly for that reason, and partly because the intimate series combining wine with music played by spectacular mostly local musicians has proved so successful, live concerts are sold out, though there is a waitlist.

Host wineries include Sokol Blosser Winery and Archery Summit in Dayton and Newberg’s J. Christopher Wines. This season, food is an extra part of the package, and tickets are more expensive ($95) than in previous years — and the concert ticket does not include food. With smaller crowds, festival organizers are encouraging the audience to mingle with musicians at post-concert patio picnics and wood-fired pizza sharing.

If you missed snagging a live-concert ticket, you can listen to the concerts virtually by buying an online pass, priced from $30 for one concert per individual and $45 for a family or multiple viewers. A season pass for the three concerts is $80 and $120 for multiple viewers. Enhanced content beyond the concerts, such as interviews, will be added to the streams, creating an online experience that’s different from the live events.

The virtual concerts will be Aug. 13 for Sokol Blosser; Aug. 20 for J. Christopher Wines, and Aug. 27 for Archery Summit. Each concert will be available a week after it begins streaming, so the last concert will be up until Sept. 4. For clarification, see the WVCMF website for the details, event times, and bios of returning chamber musicians Charles Noble, Greg Ewer, Megumi Lewis and festival co-artistic directors Sasha Callahan and Leo Eguchi.

Megumi Stohs Lewis, Kenji Bunch, Sasha Callahan, and Leo Eguchi at J.Christopher Wines Barrell Room in 2016. Photo by Dan Lewis.
Megumi Lewis, Kenji Bunch, Sasha Callahan, and Leo Eguchi at J.Christopher Wines Barrell Room in 2016. Photo by Dan Lewis.

With themes based on post-pandemic waking up and new growth, the programs will feature string quartets of contemporary musical giantesses Caroline Shaw (“Valencia,” about an everyday orange) and Gabriella Smith (you’ll hear her high-strung “Carrot Revolution”). Joel Thompson’s “In Response to the Madness” adds to the contemporary mix. Filling out the concerts are the works of well-known composers Ludwig van Beethoven (“Opus 18, #4, String Quartet in C Minor”), Franz Joseph Haydn (“Sunrise Quartet”), Franz Schubert (“String Quartet in G Major, D. 887”) and George Gershwin (“Lullabye”).

Works from unfamiliar artists, such as Germaine Tailleferre (“String Quartet”) and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (“Movement for String Quartet”), pop up, too. The festival considers its mission in part to feature music by BIPOC musicians, women, and little known and neglected composers, but it’s rare that a season leaves out Beethoven, Haydn or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, though there is no Mozart this year.

A highlight will be the weeklong residency of MacArthur “Genius” and Grammy Award-winner Osvaldo Golijov, the Argentine-born musician who resides near Boston, Mass., also the home of Callahan and Eguchi. He will serve as composer-in-residence. Festival musicians collaborate with at least one visiting composer every season (last year it had three — Jessie Montgomery, Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) and Gabriela Lena Frank).  A 30-year professor of music at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., Golijov composes music that blends strains of cultures he has been immersed in (Argentinian, Eastern European, Jewish, American). His pieces will be played at each of the concerts, not only at one or two events, as has been the practice in the past with visiting artists’ work. (In the next few weeks, look for an Oregon Arts Watch story on Golijov, whose most recent piece is the 80-minute song cycle, “Falling out of Time,” written for the SilkRoad Ensemble.)

Osvaldo Golijov. Photo by Yonni Golijov.
Osvaldo Golijov. Photo by Yonni Golijov.

Perhaps as important for wine-lovers is the special bottling of a J. Christopher wine named “Dreams and Prayers” in honor of Golijov’s “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.” The wine is a 2018 pinot noir, a single barrel selection from Lia’s Vineyard in Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains. Golijov’s epic piece for klezmer clarinet (and several others) and string quartet will feature Oregon Symphony principal James Shields, one of the few instrumentalists who can play all five clarinets. “This piece has been on my wish list for years,” Callahan said, “and several very, very fine clarinetists have said they didn’t think they’d be able to do it.” But Shields will take on the multi-clarinet task Aug.14 at J. Christopher Wines’ barrel room, and virtually on Aug. 20. Golijov will stick around post-concert Aug. 14 to talk about his music, which includes the world premiere, “mentre la  pioggia,” drawn from Antonio Vivaldi’s sonnet accompanying his “Winter” concerto for the often performed “Four Seasons.” That piece will open the Aug. 14 concert.

Cellist, oenophile and co-artistic director Eguchi with Oregon-born violinist Callahan is the festival’s wine-music-matching maestro. You can only guess at the alchemy he performed to find the wine partners for the J. Christopher Wines’ music program, which includes two Golijov pieces — the short “mentre la pioggia” and the long “The Dreams and Prayers of Issac the Blind”; Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s “Movement for String Trio”; and Franz Joseph Haydn’s “String Quartet Op. 76 #4,” also known as the “Sunrise Quartet.”

WVCMF 2020. Photo by Rachel Hadiashar
Callahan, Lewis, and Eguchi at WVCMF 2020. Photo by Rachel Hadiashar

For this concert, Eguchi chose J. Christopher Wines’ 2017 Riesling Apassionata, Vineyard ‘GG’, and his reasoning follows his nose:

The opening half of our program is about warmth, inside and out. Golijov’s ‘Mentre la Pioggia’ draws upon an image of loved ones sheltering from the rain around the fireplace; Perkinson’s `Movement for String Trio’ is a quiet last reflection on a fiercely creative life; while Haydn’s `Sunrise’ string quartet sings and dances through crystal clear rays of summer sun.

We love how the Appassionata Riesling has the brightness and complexity to complement all these differing angles and pieces, while also giving a cool contrast to tie them together and give perspective: a citrusy and savory character that evokes a simmering pot on Golijov’s poetic hearth; a round full texture that underscores the weight of Perkinson’s memory; and playful floral and mineral high notes that bring just a little extra twinkle to Haydn’s already winking eye.

Such is a harmonious match made for all the senses.

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About the author

Angela Allen writes about the arts, especially opera, jazz, chamber music, and photography. Since 1984, she has contributed regularly to online and print publications, including Oregon ArtsWatch, The Columbian, The San Diego Union-Tribune, Willamette Week, The Oregonian, among others. She teaches photography and creative writing to Oregon students, and in 2009, served as Fishtrap’s Eastern Oregon Writer-in-Residence. A published poet and photographer, she’s a member of the Music Critics Association of North America and a recipient of an NEA-Columbia Journalism grant. She earned an M.A. in journalism from University of Oregon in 1984, and 30 years later received her MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry from Pacific Lutheran University. She lives in Portland with her scientist husband and often unwieldy garden. Contact Angela Allen through her website.

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