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Up Close with Mozart and Dvořák

Who needs a giant concert hall to make the music zing? Classical Up Close brings great music to a small and happy audience in the cozy confines of a Tigard church.

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Well played: From left, violinist Sarah Kwak, pianist (and Oregon Symphony music director) David Danzmayr, cellist Nancy Ives, violist Amanda Grimm. All photos by Joe Cantrell.

Yes, classical music can be small and intimate, and resoundingly moving outside the grand concert halls where symphonic orchestras routinely raise the musical roof with a wall of sound.

Ample proof was on view, and in the ear, on Friday evening, April 28, when about 200 people attended a Classical Up Close concert in the comfortable surrounds of Rise Presbyterian Church, in Tigard.

No, the church didn’t have the 2,776 seats of downtown Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, where the Oregon Symphony ordinarily performs. Yet it was an excellent performance venue, with lovely acoustics, an engaged and knowledgeable audience, and a challenging program of chamber music played by musicians of the Oregon Symphony and very select friends.

One very special guest instrumentalist was the Symphony’s new music director, David Danzmayr, who instead of conducting (this was, after all, chamber music) played the piano for a Mozart Piano Quartet in G Minor and the Dvořák Piano Quintet in A Major.

It was a fascinating, thrilling thing to experience. At chamber music performances, the audience is generally closer to the musicians and can see their subtle communication: body movement, meeting of eyes, the nod of a head, many communications too esoteric or subtle for us plebes to comprehend. But it surely was beautiful.

Classical Up Close has begun its 10th season of intimate concerts in places where classical music doesn’t always roam, from churches to libraries to bookstores to cafes and coffee shops, with full-length concerts in the evenings and “pop-up” performances in the daytime, when potential audiences who might not think about going to a concert hall are out and about on their daily rounds. Performances continue through May 10; you can see the full schedule here.

Violinist and Oregon Symphony concertmaster Sarah Kwak, the main organizer of Classical Up Close, and cellist Nancy Ives, the chamber series’ vice president, talked with ArtsWatch’s James Bash recently about how the whole sweet thing got rolling, for Bash’s story Free-range Musicians Go Wild.

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“The orchestra was supposed to play in Carnegie Hall in May of 2013, but that appearance was canceled because the finances didn’t come together,” Kwak told Bash. “During the two-week period that we would’ve been in New York City, we thought that the orchestra would schedule something in Portland, but it didn’t. We thought that we should do something!”

That “something” turned out to be a happy accident of determination and creativity, Ives added: “We overcame a disappointing situation with something really constructive and positive. This has been valuable for our group morale. This orchestra has a lot of camaraderie.”

Ten years later, the “accident” has become an eagerly anticipated series of events for a lot of music fans, and a no less rewarding activity for the musicians who take part. For Friday’s concert at Rise Presbyterian, Kwak, Ives, and Danzmayr were joined by violist Amanda Grimm, violinist Chien Tan, and symphony violist Viorel Russo, who for this concert took on the duties of score page-turner at the piano.

And now, a few scenes from the show:

The ensemble leans into the music, from left: Sarah Kwak, Chien Tan, Viorel Russo, David Danzmayr, Nancy Ives, and Amanda Grimm.
For posterity: A member of the audience captures the action on her cell phone.
From left: Sarah Kwak, Chien Tan, Viorel Russo, David Danzmayr.
Pianist Danzmayr and cellist Ives talk it up for the audience.
Sarah Kwak, Chien Tan, and David Danzmayr break into happy smiles.
Mission accomplished: Kwak and and Danzmayr share a moment of satisfaction.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

I spent my first 21 years in Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma, assuming that except for a few unfortunate spots, ‘everybody’ was part Cherokee, and son of the soil. Volunteered for Vietnam because that’s what we did. After two stints, hoping to gain insight, perhaps do something constructive, I spent the next 16 years as a photojournalist in Asia, living much like the lower income urban peasants and learning a lot. Moved back to the USA in 1986, tried photojournalism and found that the most important subjects were football and basketball, never mind humankind. In 1992, age 46, I became single dad of my 3-year-old daughter and spent the next two decades working regular jobs, at which I was not very good, to keep a roof over our heads, but we made it. She’s retail sales supervisor for Sony, Los Angeles. Wowee! The VA finally acknowledged that the war had affected me badly and gave me a disability pension. I regard that as a stipend for continuing to serve humanity as I can, to use my abilities to facilitate insight and awareness, so I shoot a lot of volunteer stuff for worthy institutions and do artistic/scientific work from our Cherokee perspective well into many nights. Come along!

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