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High-toned pleasures: Wine and music at Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival

This year’s festival features a commemorative wine, named and bottled in honor of composer-in-residence Kareem Roustom, paired with music by Roustom, Hawa Diabaté, Caroline Shaw, Kenji Bunch, and Beethoven.

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Kareem Roustom with oud at the 25th Anniversary of the Reves Center for International Studies in 2014. Photo by Skip Rowland.
Kareem Roustom with oud at the 25th Anniversary of the Reves Center for International Studies in 2014. Photo by Skip Rowland.

The gods knew that savoring music and wine at the same moment was a worthy endeavor. Now in its eighth summer, the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival trades on that concept with its well thought-out mix of exciting new and venerable “old” classical music enhanced by spectacular Oregon wines.

At three wineries during the first three weekends in August, the festival brings together the two high-toned pleasures with professional chamber musicians, most from previous years, along with noted bottle selections from host wineries that include Appassionata/J. Christopher Wines, Sokol Blosser Winery and Archery Summit. Concertgoers are poured more than a taste of wine to “match” each piece’s vibe.

As a sample of a wine-and-music match during the first weekend’s concert at Appassionata/J. Christopher Wines, WVCMF co-artistic director/oenophile/cellist Leo Eguchi describes a pinot pick and wine–Bayyati, named for an Arabic musical scale and bottled in honor of composer-in-residence Kareem Roustom (read my Oregon Arts Watch July 25 story on Roustom here).

In Eguchi’s words, the commemorative wine:

is a compelling tale where place and time become major characters unto themselves. As the story (of the music and wine) unfolds, notice aromas of fresh red raspberry, tart pie cherry and strawberry jam singing in harmony with Hawa Diabaté’s joyful journey passing on the traditions of village clapping songs from her native Mali.

As the scene changes, savory notes of tarragon, enoki mushrooms and a memory of the Oregon summer’s smokiness, mix with the Roustom’s Four Dances from Clorinda Agonistes yearning for homeland and refuge, and hints at the climate-driven struggles that connect every organism in our world. The surprisingly rich body of this Dundee Hills pinot marries seamlessly into a finish that lingers with a completeness to match Roustom’s Syrian Folk Songs’ age-old experiences of heartbreak, love at first sight, weddings, and barriers between lovers.

Roustom, a Syrian-American Boston-based highly regarded international composer and Tufts University professor, will be on hand the first week of August to coach musicians in making the most of his music. He will meet with concert-goers Aug. 5 and Aug. 6 at Appassionata/J. Christopher Wines after the 5:30 pm concerts for a glass of celebratory wine and a bit of food. See Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival for concert tickets and food-and-drink events to the post-concert events. (By the way, Sokol Blosser will be serving pizza from its brand-new oven).

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Theme of home

Four of Roustom’s pieces will be played throughout the three weekends, and several speak to the theme of “home,” around which WVCHF co-artistic directors/musicians Sasha Callahan and Eguchi chose to base the programming. Callahan, a violinist, said:

We knew that we wanted for several years to invite Kareem to be composer-in-residence, and when it turned out to be a good fit for this summer, it got us thinking of the many meanings of home. Kareem’s music is so heavily informed by his Syrian homeland, perhaps as much by being “transplanted” as by the homeland itself. A longing for home is present in many of his works, and in thought-provoking ways.

We are all born into a home of one kind or another, and it almost always changes along the way, often many times. So this notion of home transforms as we transform, yet each home also makes an indelible mark on who we each are.

Roustom’s pieces include a world premiere he wrote for this year’s festival titled Syrian Folk Songs for String Quartet, featuring pieces from four Syrian regions. Another is Four Dances from Clorinda Agonistes, a re-imagination of Claudio Monteverdi’s “Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda” that Roustom resets as a story of a contemporary Muslim arriving in Europe. Musicians will tackle them the first weekend Aug. 5 and Aug 6 at 5:30 p.m. concerts at Appassionata/J Christopher Wines. Roustom’s Letters from Home, which was played at the 2022 festival, is featured on the Sokol Blosser program Aug. 12 and Aug. 13, and String Quartet No. 1: Shades of Night will take center stage Aug. 19 and Aug. 20 at Archery Summit.

Callahan, an Oregon native who lives in Boston with husband/cellist Eguchi, goes on to say that the idea of home “was such an interesting launching point to explore, and there is such rich music that explores these ideas of home, from Hawa Diabaté’s exuberant Tegere Tulon, steeped in the centuries-old clapping songs that are traditions of her native West Africa, to Dvořák’s melange of music from his native Czech homeland, merged with inspiration taken from the New World while he was here in America.” 

Callahan is referring to Dvořák’s String Quartet No. 5 in E-flat Major, “American,” Op.97 that he wrote in America in the 1890s.

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Sasha Callahan, Leo Eguchi, and Catherine van der Salm at J. Christopher Barrel Room for WVCMF 2022. Photo by Rachel Hadiashar.
Sasha Callahan, Leo Eguchi, and Catherine van der Salm at J. Christopher Barrel Room for WVCMF 2022. Photo by Rachel Hadiashar.

Along with Roustom’s Letters from Home, Caroline Shaw’s Plan and Elevation and Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 12 in E-flat Major, Op. 127 are on the Sokol Blosser program Aug. 11 and Aug. 12. Shaw’s piece, Callahan said, “is in some ways a more literal nod to the physical space of a home (the piece was written for the 75th anniversary of Dumbarton Oaks, and inspired by the estate which was originally a private home, and later an important home for the arts, culture, and research), while Beethoven invites us into our innermost home with its profound and intimate soul-searching.”

A concluding string quartet written by Portland violist/composer Kenji Bunch called Songs for a Shared Space stars as Archery Summit’s finale on Aug. 19 and Aug. 20. Written for Callahan and Eguchi’s Boston-based group, Sheffield Chamber Players, of which WVCMF violinist Megumi Stohs Lewis is also a member, the piece is about sharing chamber music “in very intimate spaces (sort of 21st century salon concerts, but you don’t have to be a member of the aristocracy),” Callahan said. “Kenji took this idea and ran with it, so this piece explores the richness and complexities of sharing multi-generational, multi-cultural spaces.”

Sheffield Chamber Players performed it a number of times around and in Boston, Callahan said, and “audiences raved.” Bunch will be playing. Expect the unexpected from a terrific hometown musician and accomplished chamber instrumentalists.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

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 was elected to the Music Critics Association of North America’s executive board and is 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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