Washougal Art & Music Festival

Deep resonance: Introducing the Vancouver Arts and Music Festival

Time for Three, Anne Akiko Meyers, and Orli Shaham headline the newly-minted festival in downtown Vancouver.

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Esther Short Park in Vancouver, WA.
Esther Short Park in Vancouver, WA.

Just in time to celebrate the good things in life, this upcoming weekend in Vancouver you can experience a three-day cultural extravaganza that is free and open to the public. The newly minted Vancouver Arts and Music Festival (August 4 – 6) will offer lots of visual art, live music and dance performances, educational and kids’ activities, and artisanal food vendors. It’s a major undertaking that will take place primarily in downtown Vancouver around Esther Short Park with some events at nearby Kiggins Theatre and an outdoor movie option at the Fort Vancouver Historic Site. Complete schedule is available at the VAMF site.

The VAMF will kick off its classical concert series on Friday evening with Grammy-award-winning Time for Three and the Vancouver Symphony under its Music Director Salvador Brotons. The trio (violinists Nicolas Kendall and Charles Yang, and double bassist Ranaan Meyer) is noted for its eclectic blend of classical, bluegrass, rock, hip-hop, and jazz. They will perform some of the best-known tunes like Sweet Child of Mine, Vertigo, Deanna, and Banjo Love. Beatles fans will love their rendition of Eleanor Rigby

On Saturday evening, violin virtuoso Anne Akiko Meyers will perform Sameul Barber’s Violin Concerto with the Vancouver Symphony under Gerard Schwarz in an all-American program. She has appeared twice with the orchestra, delivering spectacular performances in 2015 and 2017. Her playing has been featured in more than thirty-five recordings, with the Barber holding a special place.

“The Barber was my first choice to record when I was eighteen years old with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,” said Meyers during a Zoom call. “The concerto is an extraordinary, romantic, lush, melodic piece. I love that it starts immediately with the orchestra. It’s just like you’re there and begin with the story. There’s a beautiful oboe solo that opens the second movement before I come in. The third movement is three and a half minutes of rapid-fire magic. It’s as if you are in a rocket ship, shooting for the moon. But you are also a gymnast, jumping, swirling, doing cartwheels in the air. And it all goes by real fast, and it all has to line up with the orchestra.”

On Sunday afternoon, the brilliant pianist Orli Shaham will collaborate with the Vancouver Symphony and Schwarz in Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Many concertgoers have head Shaham play with orchestra in 2017, 2021, and earlier this year when she delivered a superb Schumann Piano Concerto. Shaham is also the orchestra’s first Artist-In-Residence and has performed in the VSO chamber music series and at local schools. 

“One of the things that I love about this piece is that it is very showy for the piano,” said Shaham via Zoom, “but it is also a beautiful chamber piece. Because of the variation form – it has 24 variations on the initial theme – Rachmaninoff gives individual orchestral instruments a moment to shine. He creates groupings between the pianist and different players in the orchestra. I have enjoyed playing chamber music with members of the Vancouver Symphony; so now we get to take that out on the big stage.”

I had to ask Shaham if she had a favorite variation.

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“I love the eighteenth variation, which is the upside down, romantic, slow one,” responded Shaham. “That’s the one that everyone recognizes. I remember when I first got a recording of it, I always wanted to fast forward to that variation. But Rachmaninoff was so talented in building from one variation to the next, and each one allows you to show different personalities. It’s just a gorgeous piece.”

Brainchild

The VAMF is the brainchild of Igor Shakhman, CEO and Principal Clarinetist of the Vancouver Symphony. Shakhman’s hard work behind the scenes resulted in funding for a total of $600,000 over a three-year period. Wow!

To explain the backstory on how Shakhman accomplished this amazing feat, he sent me the following email:

The original idea for the festival came as the result of our work with Michael Kaiser (former CEO of the Kennedy Center). We were fortunate (along with several other local arts organizations) to be a part of a two-year long Capacity Building program made possible by a generous grant from Murdock Trust and other local funders. In addition to the two-year mentorship program, Murdock Trust also commissioned Mr. Kaiser and his team to conduct an “Arts Ecology Study” in this area several years ago. At the end of that study Mr. Kaiser presented a substantial document followed by his recommendations on possible directions for moving forward for arts organizations. One of the recommendations was to create an arts festival that would feature local arts and culture across many genres. That idea resonated deeply with the entire VSO organization. Taking into the consideration that the city of Vancouver is experiencing a tremendous growth (as evidenced by the spectacular developments on the Vancouver Waterfront). Coming out of the pandemic, the VSO was in a strong position to undertake such a monumental project.

With this idea of the festival, we approached the City of Vancouver, which enthusiastically embraced the idea. In fact, Stacey Donovan, the City of Vancouver Cultural Services Manager, informed me that the City of Vancouver’s Culture, Arts & Heritage Committee in their recent retreat had, as one of their main future projects, to create an arts festival in Vancouver. So, we decided to combine the ideas and created a three-day multi-genre arts and music festival.

In August of last year, we received a very generous grant from the Murdock Charitable Trust for the purpose of creating and establishing the annual Vancouver Arts and Music Festival. The grant is in the amount of $600K over the three years, so, $200K per each festival. The grant will fund VSO musicians and guest artists, festival marketing, travel, rehearsal space, storage, grand piano rental, Esther Short Park stage expansion as well as the sound crew. Additional funds for the VAMF will come from many partners and supporters. The City of Vancouver is co-presenting this Festival with the VSO and is providing major support in many ways. The entire Vancouver artistic and business community embraced this innovative undertaking. We have wonderful partnerships with the Columbia Arts Network (CAN), Vancouver Downtown Association, Visit Vancouver, Vancouver AC Hotel on the Waterfront, Vancouver Hilton, Kuni Foundation, Gravitate and many others.

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So there you have it. Shakhman, a man with a vision, a plan, and a persuasive and determined nature, has made the VAMF a reality, and it will be a smash hit if the weather cooperates. 

Igor Shakhman.
Igor Shakhman.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

James Bash enjoys writing for The Oregonian, The Columbian, Classical Voice North America, Opera, and many other publications. He has also written articles for the Oregon Arts Commission and the Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd edition. He received a fellowship to the 2008 NEA Journalism Institute for Classical Music and Opera, and is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America.
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