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.

Though the live event, which also airs on Xray FM, is set up as a drive-in experience, standing room tickets (spaced apart, masks required) are also available for environmentally responsible Portlanders who are trying to protect the planet by avoiding driving and instead using Earth-friendly transportation like feet, bikes, scooters, skateboards and public transportation. 

Kenji Bunch and Monica Ohuchi

From Field and Forest to Screen

Actually, there is an Oregon festival that’s always been free, even when it happened offline. But this year, instead of its scenic location under the St. Johns Bridge, the Jazz Society of Oregon’s 40th Annual Cathedral Park Free Jazz Festival is going virtual, streaming live online Friday through Sunday, July 17-19. Starting at 5 pm, Friday’s blues-tinged show features Louisiana transplants Steve Kerin and the Bayou Boyz, preceded by Tevis Hodge, Jr., then a pair of International Blues Challenge finalists: the Rae Gordon Band, and Johnny Wheels and the Swamp Donkeys.

Cathedral Park Jazz Festival usually happens under Portland’s St. Johns Bridge. Not this year.

Saturday’s sounds commence with another Louisiana immigrant, sterling saxophonist Devin Phillips with his trio, followed by leading jazz violinist Eddie Parente’s quartet summoning the spirits of Joe Venuti, Stuff Smith and Stephane Grappelli. After sets by Outer Orbit and Latin-favorite Picante, the sublime singer Saeeda Wright fronts a nine-piece orchestra for a strong closer.

Sunday’s show starts at 130 pm with with the Minidoka Swing Band, followed by John JB Butler Quartet, the Christopher Brown Quartet, his dad and Oregon jazz legend Mel Brown’s Trio with great guest vocalist Shirley Nanette, and festival closers, the deliciously danceable Ethio-soul Tezeta Band.

Still another longtime Oregon festive institution, the Oregon Country Fair, also goes virtual July 10-12, including an interactive Fair in the Clouds 3D Experience: “a 3D-virtual representation of the OCF, complete with stage acts, booths, and the ability to wander the Fair in the Clouds.” It won’t be the same without the colorful community in person, but there’s nothing stopping you from wearing body paint at home, or nothing at all. And of course there’s always the fair’s own streaming station. Check the festival website for details on musical and other entertainment. Virtual drum circle anyone?

Another pandemic casualty: Oregon Country Fair’s live music up close and personal.

Dry August

While June and July provided a surprising albeit distanced abundance of musical festivities, August so far looks a little sparser, but conditions and plans are changing rapidly, and we’ll try to keep you posted as we learn more. 

• Happily, the relatively new Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival is diving into the streaming scene. But it’s also combining that forward looking move with a decidedly retro strategy: releasing an album. The August 8-22 performances will be streamed live from Oregon wine country as usual — but the difference is, only the musicians (players from FearNoMusic, Oregon Symphony, and more) will be there, not the audience. 

Another thing that won’t change: the festival’s commendable, long-standing inclusion of composers of color. “Virtual Composers-in-Residence” Gabriela Lena Frank (first week, from Newberg’s J. Christopher Wines) and Jessie Montgomery (second week, from Dayton’s Archery Summit Winery) return to the Festival after previous residencies there, and dynamic violinist/composer Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) makes his first festival appearance on the final weekend, from Dayton’s Sokol Blosser Winery. All three have won national acclaim for their inventive, accessible 21st century music, as has another composer whose music appears on this year’s second weekend tasting menu: Portland’s own Kenji Bunch. The program also contains still more contemporary music by Frank protegé Akshaya Tucker, plus old music by rarely heard Baroque composer Isabella Leonarda and immortal classics by an old dead white dude named Ludwig, in celebration of his birth a quarter millennium ago. All the concerts make a nice combo of old and new music, and we’ll tell you more about that as the performances draw nigher. 

Composer Gabriela Lena Frank. Photo: Mariah Tauger

One piece you will hear, Frank’s popular string quartet Leyendas (Legends): An Andean Walkabout, also appears on the festival’s debut album Her Own Wings along with the world premiere  recording of her Milagros. Recorded in the Barrel Room at J. Christopher Wines, the album drops August 7.

You can buy viewing passes to the live stream links beginning July 7, and, though there’s nothing quite like actually hearing chamber music in an intimate wine country setting, the festival is maintaining its oenophilic focus by offering wine pairings for purchase and delivery.

Bend’s Sunriver Music Festival has suspended its August concert series, and moved its annual Festival Faire fundraiser to an online auction August 6-12, including a virtual Beethoven birthday party August 8 that includes a video premiere, online chats and performances by scholarship recipients. It’s still planning to stage its annual Young Artists Scholarship Concert in late August, and to award $35,000 to classical music students for next school  year. The organization has reopened its offices and plans further announcements about upcoming performances soon.

Another August musical highlight, Portland’s 23rd annual William Byrd Festival, has postponed all lectures, concerts, liturgies and music to next year’s festival. The festival hopes to provide some online material from regular festival participants later this summer.

Finally, Jacksonville’s Britt Festival has postponed its 2020 classical season to 2021. Instead, the festival will stream “BrittVids, an online series that showcases musicians, artists, and storytellers sharing their craft,” the festival’s press release explains. “BrittVids include members of the Britt Festival Orchestra, friends of Britt’s Education programs, and popular local musicians,” with new videos posted every Tuesday and Thursday on the festival’s YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram pages.

Caught in Midstream

Oregon’s two major summer festivals, which we previewed last month, continue in July. The Oregon Bach Festival’s Radio Festival, broadcast live on KWAX, offers Mendelssohn’s spirited music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a Schubert Mass on Thursday, July 2. Friday’s stream features a 1995 performance of JS Bach’s St. John Passion, conducted by Helmuth Rilling and featuring the great baritone Thomas Quasthoff, who also stars in a 1998 Romantic song recital on July 8. That segment hat also includes festival fave pianist Jeffrey Kahane leading the OBF orchestra in Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto. 

Helmuth Rilling conducted J.S. Bach’s ‘St. John Passion’ at the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall in 2013. Photo: Turrell Group.

Monday’s concert revives Rilling & Co.’s modern instrument performance of Bach’s ever-popular Brandenburg Concertos. Tuesday’s features the great Scottish composer James Macmillan’s European Requiem and Alleluia, plus Bach’s Magnificat and Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy. 

Next Thursday’s contemporary-oriented broadcast features selections from American composer Richard Danielpour’s The Passion of Yeshua (which debuted at the 2018 fest) and from Sven-David Sandström’s modern, moody Messiah update on Handel, along with the expansive Grammy-winning Credo by great 20th century Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. The radio festival closes July 10 with Bach’s mighty b minor Mass.

Chamber Music Northwest’s free Virtual Summer Festival also mostly streams music from past festivals, but couple of new shows recorded at the homes of some of its veteran performers – literally, hausmusik — have conveyed a charming intimacy that’s always been a festival hallmark. Prime recommendation: this Thursday’s new American music concert featuring performances from recent festivals of new music by Joan Tower, David Lang, Kevin Puts, Hannah Lash, and other American composers. Don’t miss the July 6-12 presentation of contemporary Chinese American composer Bright Sheng’s gorgeous chamber opera The Silver River, one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in my decades of attending the festival. You can hear the Miro Quartet play Beethoven’s immortal string quartets Saturday and Sunday, live-streamed from their Austin home base. 

The Mirò Quartet plays Beethoven at Chamber Music Northwest

Stay tuned to ArtsWatch and Chamber Music Northwest’s YouTube channel for previews of the remaining concerts, which run through July 26. And please let us know if you hear — or want to hear — other news about Oregon music festivals in this live music bummer of a summer.

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