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, which is highlighted in this year’s Sounds from 20th-Century America performance. This CMNW-commissioned premiere explores musical Americana including classic jazz standards from artists like Dizzy Gillespie, to composer Jeff Scott’s take on the 1960s rock-n-roll fantasy.
The 2018 Summer Festival packs 60 concerts into five weeks, but features several not-to-be-missed shows like American playwright Harry Clark’s Adolfe Sax and the Creation of the Saxophone—a theatrical experience accompanied by live music from the Kenari Quartet and Harold Dixon. Then there’s composer Jeff Scott’s A Passion for Bach and Coltrane, which explores spirituality’s influence on the works of two great musicians, and ponders what would have happened if they’d ever collaborated. And in the Silver River, Chinese and Western cultures weave together to tell an operatic tale of ill-fated love over 5,000 years in the making. There’s also a number of education and outreach events for music lovers and learners alike. To see the full schedule, you can download the complete guide to the 2018 Summer Festival from Chamber Music Northwest.