Flights of music from a barrel room

Composer Gabriela Lena Frank and the musicians of Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival create an album in the J. Christopher cellars

On a bone-chilling March day in 2018, Gabriela Lena Frank flew in from her Northern California farm to rehearse with Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival members. Bundled up in fleece and flannel, the group descended into the barrel room at J. Christopher Wines in Newberg, Oregon, a place they’d inhabited in summer 2017 with Frank as composer-in-residence and the string players bringing her music to life. The weather  was warmer then.

This time they planned to record two of Frank’s major chamber compositions, “Milagros” (“Miracles”) and “Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout.” The cellar’s temperature hovered around the mid-50s, “tough for the fingers to move fast enough,” said cellist and WVCMF co-founder Leo Eguchi

Composer Gabriela Lena Frank. Photo: Mariah Tauger

 Named by the Washington Post  in 2017 as one of the Top 35 Women Composers in Classical Music and called “an exciting and necessary voice” by the Los Angeles Times, Frank was not worried about this chamber group taking her work into the recording world.


An artistic smorgasbord at Chehalem Cultural Center

The fall Art Harvest tour is canceled, but the work of more than 40 Yamhill County artists who usually participate is displayed in Newberg

This year’s Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County has, predictably, been shut down by COVID-19. Ordinarily, the October event runs two weekends and allows the public access to dozens of artists’ studios, but for obvious reasons (in many cases the studio is located in the artist’s home) that aspect of the tour will need to wait until 2021, at least.

The Parrish Gallery of the Chehalem Cultural Center is showing the work of more than 40 Yamhill County artists through Sept. 19. Photo by: David Bates
The Parrish Gallery of the Chehalem Cultural Center is showing the work of more than 40 Yamhill County artists through Sept. 19. Photo by: David Bates

However, in recent years, the Chehalem Cultural Center has piggybacked on the event, offering a pre-tour preview of participating artists’ work in the flagship Parrish Gallery, and mercifully that hasn’t changed. The exhibition, curated by the center’s director of arts programs, Carissa Burkett, opened earlier this month with work by more than 40 artists from McMinnville, Dayton, Newberg, Amity, Dundee, Carlton, and Yamhill.


Coast calendar: Getting back in the swim

The Oregon Coast Aquarium partially reopens this week and other news from the art and animal worlds

After five long, lonely months with no visitors allowed, the Oregon Coast Aquarium got the green light to open its doors to the public beginning this week.

You can visit the puffins again at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, as outdoor exhibits received the go-ahead to open to the public this week.
You can visit the puffins again at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, as outdoor exhibits received the go-ahead to open to the public this week.

“We are thrilled to welcome our guests back to the aquarium,” said Carrie Lewis, president and CEO of one of the biggest tourist draws on the coast. The experience will be different with only outside exhibits open, as well as reduced admission ($15, purchased online only), enhanced safety protocols, and no crowds.

The one-hour guided outdoor tour at the Newport aquarium includes five exhibits:

  • The Turkey Vulture Exhibit featuring siblings Olive and Ichabod, who were taken as hatchlings into a private home, then turned over to wildlife rehabilitation specialists. Acclimated to humans, they could not be released into the wild and found a home at the aquarium in 2009;
  • The Sea Otter Exhibit of northern sea otters, playful little critters known to come up to the window to engage with visitors;
  • The Seabird Aviary Exhibit, the largest in North America with two pools home to tufted puffins, horned puffins, rhinoceros auklets, pigeon guillemots, and common murres;
  • The Rocky Habitat Exhibit featuring intertidal life normally found in the rocky shores exhibits, minus the touch pool;
  • The Seals and Sea Lion Exhibit with a recently expanded viewing area allowing visitors “to get up close and personal with the pinnipeds.”

KEEPING IN THE VEIN OF A LITTLE GOOD NEWS from the arts and animal worlds, The Secret Gallery in Astoria announced its virtual auctions have raised $1,625 for Clatsop Animal Assistance.

The Secret Gallery held six online auctions for custom pet portraits, from May 1 through July 31. Winners of each auction will receive a custom framed portrait of their pet.

“Clatsop Animal Assistance sends a huge thank you to The Secret Gallery, the participating artists and the bidders for this very creative virtual fundraiser,” Marcy Dunning, president of the group, said in a press release. “What a great way for our community to support Clatsop Animal Assistance AND local artists during the pandemic.”

Clatsop Animal Assistance, a nonprofit animal welfare organization, supports the Clatsop County Animal Shelter by paying for veterinary care and other necessities and by promoting the shelter’s adoption program.


Home is where the art is

When the pandemic forced the owners of Brumfield Gallery to pick between two locations, they chose their hometown of Astoria

Three years ago, when Jane and Mike Brumfield decided to open an art gallery, they found their loyalties divided. Cannon Beach, where Jane Brumfield worked for the Cannon Beach Arts Association, is known for its art scene and seemed the obvious choice. But the pair had called Astoria home since 2015 and were drawn by its authentic feel. Cannon Beach won the coin toss, but the Brumfields couldn’t help noticing the growing energy in Oregon’s oldest city.  

Jane and Mike Brumfield closed thier gallery in Cannon Beach to concentrate on their gallery in their home town of Astoria
Jane and Mike Brumfield closed their gallery in Cannon Beach to concentrate on their gallery in their hometown of Astoria. Photo courtesy: Brumfield Gallery

“It was really tricky for us,” Jane Brumfield recalled. “Astoria has a slightly grittier edge, a more youthful vibe. Cannon Beach had such established galleries. We chose Cannon Beach over Astoria on that occasion. But there was always a bit of thought that we should have invested here in Astoria, where we live. The art scene is up and coming here.”

She added that Cannon Beach feels like a town based around tourism – although she does admire that. Astoria, on the other hand, has other industry. “It feels more like real life.”

So, they decided to open a second gallery in Astoria, where ships motor along the Columbia River and old Victorians color the hillside. It seemed the best of both worlds. Then came the pandemic and the shutdown of most businesses. And two galleries no longer seemed like such a smart idea.

The Brumfields closed the Cannon Beach shop, Image Gallery, but went ahead with plans for Astoria. Now the pair must navigate the world of social distancing and masking up. It’s no easy feat.

Brumfield Gallery opened in Astoria’s historic Occident Building just shy of a month ago, but every day seems to bring new questions, decisions, concerns.


Chamber music and a virtual toast

Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival, known for blending sounds and wine, pops the cork on its fifth vintage – this time, via streaming

Minus the barrel room and live applause, members of Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival will play music for three August weekends at three stellar wineries (J. Christopher Wines, Archery Summit Winery and Sokol Blosser Winery) beginning Saturday, Aug. 8. Though you’ll have to savor the vintages at home in front of your computer, it’s a small sacrifice for these dedicated musicians’ performances. Longtime friends, the WVCMF string players have quarantined, masked up, and practiced outdoors before the festival begins.

In its fifth year—this is the first virtual one—the festival will showcase the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (this year marks his 250th anniversary) and the work of living American composers. Five contemporary composers’ works will be performed, including Portland composer/violist/Fear No Music artistic director Kenji Bunch’s “Four Flashbacks” for violin and cello. Several composers will appear virtually for question-and-answer periods after the concerts.

Music amid the (virtual) vineyards: Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival founders and directors Leo Eguchi and Sasha Callahan. Photo: Rachel Hadiashar

In the past, the festival has collaborated with one composer a year. Joan Tower, Jessie Montgomery and Gabriela Lena Frank have been in residence. This season, Montgomery and Frank will show up again, along with Daniel Roumain (DBR), all of whom will be communicating virtually from their homes (Montgomery from New York City, Frank from northern California, DBR from Massachusetts). Festival directors Sasha Callahan and Leo Eguchi make it their mission to collaborate with BIPOC, women, unsung, and minority composers. “We deeply believe that the life and vibrancy of this art form hinges on reflecting the world we live in, with all its diverse voices and experiences,” artistic co-director Callahan says.


Caught in the coronavirus doldrums

Carrie Lewis, CEO of the Oregon Coast Aquarium, says the popular Newport attraction awaits the governor's OK to reopen: "Our over-sanitized hands are tied."

Visitors to the Oregon Coast Aquarium have made it one of the most popular attractions on the entire Oregon Coast. Opened in 1992, it was named one of the top 10 aquariums in the country by Parade magazine only one year later. When it was chosen to rehabilitate Keiko, the orca star from the film Free Willy, its popularity boomed.

But in 2000, two years after Keiko was transferred to Iceland for release in the wild, the nonprofit seemed doomed. The aquarium was $4 million short on the tab for its new $11 million, 1.3-million-gallon Passages of the Deep exhibit, and it was unclear if the aquarium would survive. But the community – local and beyond – rallied, and in recent years the aquarium again has thrived.


Then the virus hit, and Newport’s most popular attraction and a crucial component of the coast culture, struggles. We talked with aquarium president and CEO Carrie Lewis about the future.

When did the aquarium close?

Lewis:  On March 16. It was the right thing to do at the time because things were ramping up. That’s right around the time Gov. Kate Brown put out her mandate for businesses to close. We were in lockstep with all the other zoos and aquariums around the country. Unfortunately, it was right before spring break. It was a huge hit.

Any idea when you’ll be able to reopen?

The anticipated opening date remains unknown. We’re really concerned. Because Lincoln County is on the “Watch List,” we can’t open until Lincoln County gets into Phase 2. I am appealing to the governor to get a redesignation of our status, which is indoor/outdoor entertainment facility. The Oregon Zoo, the High Desert Museum in Bend, and the Sea Lion Caves are open. We have a lot of exhibits outside. We have a lot of things we can do to keep our guests safe. I don’t know what hoops we’ll have to jump through to reopen. We’re taking it very seriously, but our over-sanitized hands are tied.

Carrie Lewis, Oregon Coast Aquarium CEO, has been charting a course for reopening. “We’re small but we’re mighty,” she says, “and we will get through this.”

What are your plans for reopening?

We have a couple of opening plans. There would be a reduction in fees and everything would be purchased online: No coming up to the window to buy a ticket, and you would have to reserve a time. We’re seeing that this is a really productive way of getting visitors in.

We would set up stations at all outdoor exhibits, and visitors would go from exhibit to exhibit in groups of 10 with volunteers interpreting. We would be able to do 40 people an hour for seven hours. It would be a much shorter stay time. Usually, 2 to 2½  hours is the normal stay time. This would be about one hour.


A visual-arts bright spot in COVID summer

Chehalem Cultural Center galleries showcase work by the late Michael Gibbons, Kerri Evonuk, and Sara Siestreem

In Yamhill County, for a few more days, visual art enthusiasts have an opportunity to see a sprawling collection of paintings by Michael Gibbons, the self-described “poet with a paintbrush” who died July 2 at his Toledo home, the result of complications from a stroke suffered in 2006. The exhibit fills two galleries in the Chehalem Cultural Center that are large enough to easily accommodate our new normal of six feet from others. The exhibition runs through Friday.

The Yaquina Exhibit: A Painted Voice for a Sacred Landscape, curated by the center’s director of arts programs, Carissa Burkett, showcases paintings inspired by vistas from the Oregon Coast around Newport. When considering Newport, most Oregonians probably think of Yaquina Bay and civilization’s stamp immediately around it: the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the restaurants, shops, and docks along the waterfront, the bridge. We forget an ecological fact: Yaquina Bay is merely the lowest elevation of a 250-square-mile basin that stretches up and away into the hills and out of view. As the show’s notes point out, the watershed encompasses breathtaking geographic and biological diversity and is home to bears, Coho salmon, cougars, beaver, eagles, and other wildlife.

"Doyle Thorne's Ditch" by Michael Gibbons (oil, 1987)
“Doyle Thorne’s Ditch” by Michael Gibbons (oil, 1987)

Gibbons packed his paints, brushes, and easel into this area beyond the bay, producing over three decades the more than 45 plein air oil paintings that compose the show.

“When en plein air,” the notes say, Gibbons “comes to a place that feels right to him, then he’ll pause, find a bush he can hang onto and grab a branch. ‘How would you like to be seen?’ he’ll ask. You can almost hear the chorus of the different trees. It’s a sense. You don’t hear words, per se. The language is right there. It’s a living being.”

The exhibit features a series of drawings Gibbons created in preparation for The Mighty Oak, depicting a Heritage Tree at the Oregon Gardens. It allows the viewer to see and truly appreciate the extraordinary amount of work — rehearsal, one might say — that can go into a piece before the artist ever picks up a brush.

THE CHEHALEM CULTURAL CENTER IN NEWBERG remains one of Yamhill County’s bright spots in our COVID-19 summer. The center is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday just north of the Newberg Public Library (which is also open) and is following the state’s Phase 2 guidelines. Last week I exchanged notes with Burkett, and it’s encouraging to learn that the rest of the year’s exhibitions are still on the calendar — so long as the center is able to remain open.