Looking For Red, White and Blue Between Bach, Beethoven And Brahms: Can American Music Be Found at American Music Festivals?

Portland, Oregon
June 21-July 24, 1999

Portland’s slow inch into a national arts scene means the Chamber Music Northwest Festival might one day grow into a more prominent event with its own performance space and unique agenda.

Right now, though, Chamber Music NW is a well-played but averagely-programmed local happening. In its 29th season, this five-week festival in Oregon is where you can find a good portion of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center fleeing steamy New York summers. Clarinetist David Shifrin serves as artistic director of both Chamber Music NW and the Chamber Music Society.

Repertoire on concerts mixes new works — some commissioned by the Festival — with the traditional. Juxtaposing new with old allows for “letting what happens naturally happen,” says 20-year Executive Director Linda Magee. “We’re lambasted by the critics for that, but it’s what our audience likes. Putting new works side by side with things that are totally established reminds you that not everything was that established in its day.”

In the spirit of millennial retrospection, this season’s Festival pays tribute to important chamber music masterworks of the early 20th century such as Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival is doing this goodie as well) and Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat.

Held in the auditorium of Reed College, concerts this season feature the world premiere of Ezra Laderman’s Duetti for Flute and Clarinet with flutist Janice Tipton and clarinetist Shifrin, and the West Coast premiere of a trio for piano, violin and cello by Nicholas Maw (who’s being played at Tanglewood’s Festival of Contemporary Music as well) with pianist David Golub, violinist Mark Kaplan and cellist Colin Carr.

A concert entitled “20th Century American and English Music” features the world premiere of Alvin Singleton’s Fifty Times Around the Sun for clarinet and piano, George Antheil’s Sonata No. 4 for Violin and Piano, Copland’s Vitebsk: Study on a Jewish Theme for Violin, Cello and Piano, and Frank Bridge’s Quintet in D Minor for Piano and Strings.

Two-concert series “Landmarks of the Early 20th Century” include works by Eisler, Ravel, Poulenc and Martinu.

The remainder of concerts, however, offer standard-issue Brahms and Mozart trios.

Players include Chamber Music Society violinists Ani Kavafian and Ida Kavafian, pianist Anne-Marie McDermott and cellist Fred Sherry. A total of 13 artist members of the Chamber Music Society will perform at Chamber Music NW this season, often playing programs they’ve test-driven in New York.

Writer, composer and professor of music David Schiff (his second edition of The Music Of Elliott Carter released last year was made necessary by the wealth of pieces written by Carter after his first-edition age of 75) will give a lecture series on 20th century music, and popular pre-concert lectures by composers are held before each concert, this year featuring composers-in-residence Singleton, Laderman and Maw.

This year fortuitously and unusually tilts toward the contemporary — usual fare here is a plate of Beethoven string quartets with a side of Bach. We can hope, though, that Chamber Music NW will retain some angle of tilt in coming years.

From Looking For Red, White and Blue Between Bach, Beethoven And Brahms
by Mic Holwin
© 1999 NewMusicBox