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.
2017 Summer Festival
This year’s festival, which ran from June 26–July 30, was firmly planted at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium and Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall, but it also visited the Alberta Rose Theatre in Northeast Portland and various college halls for community concerts. The schedule included several open rehearsals and open master classes, where the festival’s intimate and casual ambiance was at its peak.
The 2017 festival featured a wide range of international music, from Chopin’s romantic work to lively lunchtime tango to works by Russian great, Tchaikovsky. Also highlighted this year were female composers. Portland’s own In Mulieribus presented a piece from medieval composer and nun Hildegard von Bingen. (Over 850 years old, it’s the oldest known work composed by a woman.) For a more modern glimpse of women composers, there were works by Kati Agócs, Hannah, Nokuthula Ngwenyama and Portland composer Bonnie Miksch at New@Noon. Just in time for the revival of twisted cult favorite TV show Twin Peaks, composers Chris Rogerson and Daniel Schlosberg brought attendees Bach to Twin Peaks: The Chamber Music Spectrum.
This all means hard-core chamber music lovers of the classical era can find satisfaction, and so can music fans who prefer more wide-ranging experiences. That’s part of the evolution of Chamber Music Northwest’s summer festival, too.