Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival

Bending genres to the world’s shape

"Classical music remains racist," composer DBR declares. His vital music breathes the air of Prince, hip-hop, Rosa Parks and Nina Simone.

In the heatwave of the Black Lives Matter movement and the thirst to hear new multicultural classical music, composer Daniel Bernard Roumain is a force to be reckoned with. 

His striking, genre-bending music will be spotlighted at this season’s third virtual Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival concert on Saturday, Aug. 22, from Sokol Blosser Winery in Dayton, Oregon. His pieces include “String Quartet No. 5 (Parks),” which speaks to Civil Rights matriarch Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her bus seat in 1955 in Montgomery, Ala.; and “Hip-Hop Studies & Etudes,” 24 works in each musical key. His compositions are programmed with Ludwig Van Beethoven’s final “String Quartet, Opus 135” and the little-known Baroque composer/nun Isabella Leonarda’s “Sonata #12” for violin and cello. Roumain served as one of three virtual composers-in-residence for this year’s Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival. (See my previous festival stories, Flights of music from a barrel room and Chamber music and a virtual toast, at Oregon Arts Watch.)

Composer DBR: “My work has always been a very small part of that big fight for justice.”

DBR, Roumain’s professional name, is “an important voice, now and in the future, and his music is stunning,” festival co-director and violinist Sasha Callahan said earlier this month. “The `Parks’ quartet we’ll be playing is fierce, bold, beautiful and full of life. It’s really evocative and distinctive” — and it includes clapping, a practice that reaches back to ancient cultures. 

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Riding the musical merry-go-round

ArtsWatch Weekly: Thanks and farewell to David Shifrin, music virtual & live, news briefs, a gallery sampler, saving public art, left turns

IN A WORLD SO VOLATILE AND ABSURD that the president of the United States declares war on the post office (!), it might seem difficult to find a solid rock of stability, something to cling to with assurance and trust through snow or rain or heat or gloom of night. Yet for forty years David Shifrin has been just such a rock in Oregon: a musical anchor, guiding and safekeeping the estimable Chamber Music Northwest to a creative blend of traditional and contemporary music-making through a combination of grace, good humor, generosity, vision, variety, and a positively swinging clarinet.

David Shifrin, after forty years still caught up in the music. Photo courtesy Chamber Music Northwest

With the wrapping-up of the chamber festival’s virtual summer season, which drew 50,000 listeners worldwide for its 18 streamed concerts, Shifrin is finally passing the torch. Though he’ll continue to perform with Chamber Music Northwest on occasion, he’s passing the festival’s artistic leadership to the married team of pianist Gloria Chien and violinist Soovin Kim. In A hearty encore for David Shifrin, Angela Allen takes a look at Shifrin’s four decades of leadership and talks with several of the musicians who know him best, and to a person admire him. The reviews are in, and from his colleagues as well as the festival’s many fans, they are glowing.

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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.

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Virtual Festivals

Oregon festivals keep the music spreading online and in other virus-resistant ways

Summer is festival season in Oregon music, and last month, we noted how several major Oregon summer festivals were making the transition from onstage to online. The parade continues in July and August, beginning with what’s always the major musical event of Independence Day weekend. As ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks explained in Blues Minus the Waterfront, Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival is shifting its annual July 4 show from one large stream — the bank of the Willamette River — to a mostly virtual one. The fest will stream highlights of past festivals on KOIN 6 over the air and online July 4, and on KBOO 90.7 FM and online July 4&5. But happily, the festival has also managed to safely add a live component. Instead of grooving to the blues in big, virus-friendly crowds, Blues Fest Bandwagon brings performances to select driveways, cul-de-sacs, and front porches in the Portland metro area Friday and Saturday.

Amenta Abioto performs at Pavement on July 18.

That’s not the only show to venture out to non traditional outdoor spaces for distanced live performance. On July 18, Risk/Reward Festival and Portland’s Boom Arts theater company present Pavement: pop-up performances in a public parking lot on Portland’s Central Eastside. Where? Excellent question, and to find the answer, and see and hear music by Kenji Bunch and Monica Ohuchi, Portland Opera, and Amenta Abioto, plus some of the city’s top dance and theater artists, you’ll need a ticket. All these free streams we’ve enjoyed are a treat, but artists still need to eat and pay rent.

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Going, going, gone: 2019 in review

A look back at the ups and downs and curious side trips of the year on Oregon's cultural front

What a year, right? End of the teens, start of the ’20s, and who knows if they’ll rattle or roar?

But today we’re looking back, not ahead. Let’s start by getting the big bad news out of the way. One thing’s sure in Oregon arts and cultural circles: 2019’s the year the state’s once-fabled craft scene took another staggering punch square on the chin. The death rattles of the Oregon College of Art and Craft – chronicled deeply by ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson in a barrage of news stories and analyses spiced with a couple of sharp commentaries, Democracy and the arts and How dead is OCAC? – were heard far and wide, and the college’s demise unleashed a flood of anger and lament.

The crashing and burning of the venerable craft college early in the year followed the equally drawn-out and lamented closure of Portland’s nationally noted Museum of Contemporary Craft in 2016, leaving the state’s lively crafts scene without its two major institutions. In both cases the sense that irreversible decisions were being made with scant public input, let alone input from crafters themselves, left much of the craft community fuming. When, after the closure, ArtsWatch published a piece by the craft college’s former president, Denise Mullen, the fury hit the fan with an outpouring of outraged online comments, most by anonymous posters with obvious connections to the school.

Vanessa German, no admittance apply at office, 2016, mixed media assemblage, 70 x 30 x 16 inches, in the opening exhibit of the new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University. Photo: Spencer Rutledge, courtesy PSU

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Refreshing and overwhelming

An interview with composer-violinist Jessie Montgomery, performed and performing this weekend at Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival

Rising-star—or risen constellation—composer Jessie Montgomery will light up Sokol Blosser Winery’s Dundee tasting room for two concerts Aug. 17 and 18, final weekend of this year’s Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival. (See my Oregon Arts Watch feature story.)

Expect excitement, as well as three 2-ounce pours of Sokol Blosser vintages throughout the concert, which includes two compositions by Montgomery, Baroque composer Elisabeth–Claude Jacquet’s “Sonata for D for Violin and Cello” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 132.

The program’s centerpiece, Montgomery’s 7-minute quartet Strum, is “turbulent, wildly colorful and exploding with life,” wrote a Washington Post critic. “It sounded like a handful of American folk melodies tossed into a strong wind, cascading and tumbling joyfully around one another.”

Composer-violinist Jessie Montgomery.

Like that much-praised and much-played composition, Montgomery at 37 has the energy, talent and flourishing reputation to fuel many more years of composing, advocating for people of color, and playing the violin. She is a member of the New York-based Catalyst Quartet, a collaborator with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble, and recipient of numerous commissions from top chamber and dance groups. Those efforts and honors comprise a small chunk of her accomplishments, accolades and advocacies. 

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MusicWatch Monthly: Second Summer

Out-of-town festivals, funk at the zoo, opera ‘bout Guthrie, we’re all Kulululu

Oregon, as everyone knows, has two summers every year. The first lasts from the first hot weekend in May until the end of Chamber Music Northwest. The second summer—the one you’re in right now—occupies all of August and lasts until Oregon Symphony gets rolling for real at the end of September (their annual Zoo show on the 7th doesn’t count).

If you want to hear live classical music during Second Oregon Summer, you’ll have to head down to Jacksonville for the Britt Music & Arts Festival, happening right now through the 11th, or else head out to wine country for the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival, happening right now through the 18th. You can read Alice Hardesty’s previw of Britt right here, and Angela Allen’s preview of the WVCMF right here.

Other than that, you’re out of luck. There’s no music happening in Portland during Second Summer, so you might as well stay home, stay hydrated, catch up on your reading, and dig into that 10-disc Lutosławski boxed set.

Polish composer Witold Lutosławski.

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