Seattle Opera Pagliacci

Festival changes with tide and time

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Can a festival founded three decades ago and dedicated to chamber music remain relevant today with a younger crowd?  

As a matter of fact, says Siletz Bay Music Festival conductor Yaacov Bergman,  it can and does. The festival hasn’t been about only chamber or classical music for some time, opening its program to performances of jazz, cabaret, big band, musical theater, and beyond.

Yaacov Bergman, artistic director of the Siletz Bay Music Festival since 2009, says of artistic fusion at the 32-year-old festival, “let’s bring it on.”
Yaacov Bergman, artistic director of the Siletz Bay Music Festival since 2009, says of artistic fusion at the festival, “let’s bring it on.”

“It started out so much more conservative from where we are today,” said Bergman, who has been the festival’s artistic director since 2009. “This festival attracts remarkable composers and performers. They come with a repertoire they always wanted to do, one that stretches the imagination. This is so advanced and so stimulating, I imagine that will be one of the things that helps us bring in a younger audience in the future, too. We already see younger members in our audience. My philosophy is artist fusion, let’s bring it on. Anything in good taste, anything not mediocre, I’m totally open to.”

Even, I ask, hip hop?

Bergman laughs. “Are you kidding? I grew up with hip hop.”

The festival begins Wednesday, June 19, and runs 16 days. Performances in four Lincoln City-area venues include eight chamber music concerts; four evenings of jazz, cabaret, musical theater and American songbook concerts; and three symphonic concerts, including a free Young People’s Concert, Peter and the Wolf. Seating is full for two other free concerts, but concert rehearsals also are free.

Sarah Kwak
Sarah Kwak

Performers include Sarah Kwak, violinist and concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony; Mei-Ting Sun, gold medal winner in the 2005 National Chopin Competition; and Ken Peplowski, the clarinetist often referred to as the “living Benny Goodman.”

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The festival’s roots stretch back to an informal series of salons held in the 1980s in the home of music professor and part-time Coast resident Sergiu Luca. In 1987, the  Cascade Head Music Festival was born, with Luca as artistic director. The festival was renamed the Siletz Bay Music Festival in 2011.

But as the festival racked up the years, so did its most loyal fans, leaving its fate in the hands of a younger audience.

Mei-Ting Sun
Mei-Ting Sun

“Our patrons and donors are aging out,” said Executive Director Karin Moss. “Not everyone is into classical music. This is the reason symphonies created pops concerts. We need to increase our footprint.”

The festival is trying something new this year with its benefit concert. Basie, Benny and Beyond on June 30 is promised to be an evening of “scrumptious food, a spectacular jazz program,” and ballroom dancing accompanied by the Swing Shift Big Band, led by Peplowski.  

That strikes a particularly personal note for Moss, who noted in an email, “The night I was born, my father was producing Dizzy Gillespie in Chicago.  Can  you imagine how surreal this is for me (60 years later!) to now be emceeing this stellar jazz event with world-renowned Ken Peplowski!”

Ken Peplowski

The benefit concert will include an auction of one-of-a-kind music-related items, including the memorial book from Goodman’s funeral, a reed from Goodman’s clarinet, a signed original composition by jazz pianist and composer Dick Hyman, a private concert for four by Peplowski and his trio, and a conducting lesson by Bergman and the opportunity to conduct the Stars and Stripes Forever at the grand finale 4th of July concert.

The July 4th concert marks the end of the summer festival, but the music doesn’t end there. It will continue throughout the year with salon concerts, formerly part of the Oregon Coast Chamber Music Society and now under the auspices of the Siletz Bay Music Festival. The concerts are held in private homes and catered.

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Moss called the performances “the kind of things that used to be done in the drawing room with music and cigars.”

And might one of those concerts one day feature a hip-hop performance?

“I’d be wide open to that,” Moss said. “Whatever the market will bear.”

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For everything you need to know about the festival, check out the website.

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This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pup Gus.

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