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.
2016 Summer Festival
This year’s festival, which runs from June 25–July 31, is firmly planted at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium and Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall, but it also visits the Alberta Rose Theatre in Northeast Portland and various college halls for community concerts. The schedule includes several open rehearsals and open master classes, where the festival’s intimate and casual ambiance is at its peak.
The popular collaborations with both the renowned Oregon Bach Festival and BodyVox, one of Portland’s leading dance companies, are back this year. BodyVox will perform new choreography inspired by Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet and Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream accompanied by piano duo Melvin Chen and Hilda Huang.
Still, the music itself is central, and this year’s festival is focusing on Beethoven. The great Emerson Quartet will take on Beethoven’s six early quartets; the Dover Quartet will encounter three of the symphonically scaled middle quartets; and the demanding late quartets, among the greatest and most difficult pieces in the entirety of the classical repertoire, will be divided among the Miró, Orion, Dover and Zorá quartets.
Beethoven isn’t the only composer represented in the festival’s 50 concerts, though. The first concert of the season features tango music and the programs of other concerts are wide-ranging. Along with Mozart, Brahms and Bach, the festival dips into 20th century music for Schnittke, Shostakovich and Stravinsky, and also includes world premieres by such contemporary composers as Andy Akiho, Bryan Johanson and Andrew Hsu, all on hand for open rehearsals and discussions with the audience.
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.