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. Returning June 24–July 28, 2019, the festival is 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.)
CMNW Summer Festival history
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.
CMNW Summer Festival 2019
Clarinetist extraordinaire David Shifrin ends his nearly four-decade run as CMNW Artistic Director with an opening week full of clarinets. No fewer than 27 all-star clarinetists perform two centuries of clarinet music ranging from Mozart — the first great composer to write for the instrument — to new works by Libby Larsen and Michele Mangani.
The festival opens with an all-Mozart concert at Reed College on Monday (repeated Tuesday at Portland State University), featuring the enchanting Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet and the Notturni for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Baritone, and Three Basset Horns. For the season’s first Casual Wednesday, jazz clarinetist Ken Peplowski performs at Alberta Rose Theater with his quartet. Thursday, back at Reed, the clarinet all-stars play Mendelssohn and Gershwin alongside newer works by Alexander Kukelka and Jeff Scott.
CMNW’s Friday series, New@Noon, spotlights newer classics by contemporary composers. This summer’s first Friday features clarinetist-composer Ashley William Smith, Portland favorite Kenji Bunch, and the Northwest premiere of Larsen’s quintet for clarinet and strings. Saturday’s concert, Clarinet Critical Mass, features the week’s greatest concatenation of clarinets, performing ensemble pieces by Reich, Villa-Lobos, and Piazzolla, plus the world premiere of Mangani’s CMNW-commissioned Concertante Variations on Themes of Mozart.
Finally, the week ends where it began: with Mozart. A small orchestra of CMNW regulars backs the winner of CMNW’s International Clarinet Celebration Young Artists Competition on Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major.