Chamber Music Northwest (CMNW) manages an unusual combination: classical music played by musicians of the highest caliber in an informal, intimate setting. Since 1971, chamber musicians have flocked to Southeast Portland’s Reed College to play the great classic repertoire with their friends. Music fans share picnics and wine on the campus lawn before heading indoors to hear the sublime music. It’s one of Portland’s rites of summer. (CMNW also produces a shorter winter festival in January, but picnics on the lawns of Reed College are not involved.)
The festival was created by violinist Sergiu Luca, who served as artistic director until 1981, when he was replaced by clarinetist David Shifrin. Prior to becoming a professor of music at Yale University and artistic director of the Chamber Music Society at Yale series, Shifrin was artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center from 1992 to 2004. Those connections have kept the pipeline of excellent musicians flowing to Portland, summer after summer. These include young musicians and ensembles chosen for the Protégé Project, who receive coaching from great musicians before rehearsing and performing with them at the festival.
Over the years, the summer festival has evolved, spreading out from its Reed College base to clubs and concert halls across the city. The music has changed, too, extending to include music from the 20th and 21st centuries, exploring musical Americana like classic jazz standards from artists like Dizzy Gillespie and a composer’s take on 1960s rock-n-roll fantasy.