Summer Festivals: Scenic Northwest Also a Wonderland Of Classical Music

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Olympic Music Festival concerts take place in the historic Olympic Peninsula farm of former Philadelphia String Quartet violist Alan Iglitzin
Olympic Music Festival, on the historic peninsula farm of former Philadelphia String Quartet violist Alan Iglitzin.
By James Bash

The Pacific Northwest is well known as a scenic wonderland that attracts summer tourists, and it  harbors a wealth of music festivals that complement the dramatic landscape. Here are several of the best:

Britt Music Festival, June 8 – September 14, Jacksonville, Oregon

Britt Music Festival
Britt Music Festival chooses a new music director this season.

When it was founded in 1963, the Britt Music Festival was the only outdoor summer music festival in the Pacific Northwest. It began as a classical event, but has since grown to include jazz, blues, folk, bluegrass, world, pop and country music. This year’s classical schedule features an orchestra of 90 musicians from throughout the U.S. Concerto soloist will include the pianist Jon Kimura Parker, Ian Parker, Yuja Wang, and Lisa Smirnova. Also in the spotlight will be violinists Augustin Hadelich and Jennifer Koh. Longtime artistic director Peter Bay retired last year. This year three conductors vying for the position will preside: Mei-Ann Chen, Teddy Abrams, and David Danzmayr. Twentieth Century concertos are a theme this season. Jon Kimura Parker will lead off with Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, and his brother, Ian Parker, will follow with Lutoslawski’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini. Wang will be the soloist for Gershwin’s Concerto in F, Smirnova will play Shostakovitch’s Second Piano Concerto and Hadelich will offer the Stravinsky Violin Concerto. The only throwback to the 19th Century will be Koh in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.

Astoria Music Festival, June 14-30, Astoria, Oregon

Historic Liberty Theater
Historic Liberty Theater is a restored 1920s vaudeville house.

The Astoria Music Festival will celebrate its 11th season with opera, symphonic works and chamber music. More than 90 musicians will bring 22 performances to five venues with repertoire ranging from the Baroque era to contemporary works. In honor of the bicentennial birth years of Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi, festival artistic director Keith Clark will conduct highlights from Act I of Wagner’s Die Walküre (June 15) and Verdi’s Otello in the beautifully renovated Liberty Theater, a restored vaudeville house. Die Walküre will feature Met veteran Allan Glassman with Stacey Rishoi (Chicago Lyric Opera among other companies) and her husband Gustav Andreassen (San Francisco Opera and other companies). Otello will star Glassman and Met colleagues Ruth Ann Swenson, Richard Zeller, and Juliana Gondek. The Festival’s Vocal and Instrumental Apprenticeship Program will present full productions of Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. The Rite of Spring will receive a fully staged ballet production with the Agnieszka Lask Dancers, a modern dance company based in Portland, in the original version that Stravinsky wrote for piano four-hands.

Oregon Bach Festival, June 24 – July 14 in Eugene, Portland, Ashland, Bend, Corvallis and Florence

Oregon Bach Festival (Jon Meyers)
Banners proclaim Oregon Bach Festival. (Jon Meyers)

This year brings to a close the reign of founder and artistic director Helmut Rilling, who founded the Oregon Bach Festival in 1969. The concerts are primarily in Eugene, with some events in Portland and elsewhere throughout the state. Rilling will conduct Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Bach’s St. John Passion, and Bach’s B Minor Mass before handing over the baton to artistic director designate Matthew Halls at season’s end. Among the guest artists are pianist Jeffrey Kahane and piano duo Ya-Fei Chuang and Robert Levin in Verdi and Wagner transcriptions.  Previously announced headliner Midori has withdrawn for medical reasons; she will be replaced by Avery Fisher Career Grant winner Chee-Yun. Other featured artists are  L.A.-based Baroque group Bach’s Circle, the Hohenstaufen Quartet (which includes Rilling’s daughters Rahel and Sara), the Czech folk music duo Radim Zenkl and Leo Chern, and soprano Tamara Wilson, who recently joined Helmuth Rilling and the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart in a tour of Verdi’s Requiem. Though offerings of concerts and lectures on Bach are still the backbone of the festival, more and more non-Bach events have signaled that the festival is moving into other territories, and that has helped to break attendance and box office records.

Chamber Music Northwest, June 24-28, Portland, Oregon

Jazz pianist and composer Darrell Grant (Hiroshi Iwaya)
Darrell Grant’s “The Territory” to premiere. (Hiroshi Iwaya)

Chamber Music Northwest has freshened up its lineup this year, which is David Shifrin’s 33rd as founder and artistic director. Shifrin will open five weeks of concerts on June 24 with pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel. The festival will also feature the Imani Winds in their arrangement of The Rite of Spring, a Fourth of July salute to American music featuring William Bolcom and Joan Morris, Lalo Schifrin’s tango-inspired Letters from Argentina  and the world premiere of a 40-minute, jazz-inspired work by Portland-based jazz pianist and composer Darrell Grant called The Territory, drawing on sounds, images and stories of the Pacific Northwest.

Seattle Chamber Music Festival, June 29 – July 26, Seattle, Washington

Benaroya Hall, Seattle
Four-hand “Rite of Spring” comes to Benaroya Hall.

Seattle Chamber Music Artistic director and violinist James Ehnes has invited 40 top-tier musicians to the Emerald City where they will perform in the 540-seat recital hall in Benaroya Hall. Featured works include Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in the composer’s original arrangement for piano, four-hands; Lawrence Dillon’s septet Sanctuary, commissioned by the Seattle Chamber Music Society; programs that feature many American composers; performances of Britten’s Lachrymae for viola and piano and his Sonata for Cello and Piano; and a free outdoor concert at Volunteer Park that features Dvořák‘s American String Quartet.

Olympic Music Festival, June 29 – September 1, Quilcene, Washington

Founded in 1984 by violist and former Philadelphia String Quartet member Alan Iglitzin, the Olympic Music Festival takes place in a turn-of-the-century barn situated in a 55-acre farm (pictured above) on the Olympic peninsula. The varied weekend chamber music programs include three dedicated to single composers Mozart, Beethoven and Shubert. Violinist Ray Chen, winner of the 2009 Queen Elisabeth Competition and the 2008 Yehudi Menuhin Competition, will join pianist Julio Elizalde  on July 6-7 in a holiday themed program called Fireworks, with music of  Mozart, Prokofiev, Bach, and Sarasate.

Bellingham Summer Music Festival, July 5-21, Bellingham, Washington

Frederica von Stade (Robert Millard)
Mezzo Frederica von Stade joins soprano gang. (Robert Millard)

Bellingham Summer Music Festival Artistic Director Michael Palmer will open the festival’s 20th season with the west coast premiere of a new work for cello and orchestra by Aaron Jay Kernis, featuring cellist Joshua Roman. The orchestra itself is culled from the ranks of major North American orchestras, many of them principal players.  Other guest artists include guitarist Pepe Romero, pianist Garrick Ohlsson, oboist Joseph Robinson and violinist Ray Chen. The finale, entitled “The Three Sopranos,” features Heidi Grant-Murphy, Frederica von Stade, and Katie Van Kooten in signature arias and “Rosenkavalier” highlights.

Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival, July 25 – August 3, Winthrop, Washington

Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival's rustic stage
Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival’s rustic stage.

The Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival, founded in 1996, takes place at Signal Hill Ranch in the Cascade Mountains,  where it almost never rains during the summer. The rustic, indoor main stage features a ceiling that is 35-feet high and accommodates more than 200 people. The festival fare features standard repertoire as well as two gems by Russian composer Sergey Taneyev, a student of Tchaikovsky, as well as the String Quartet #5 by Philip Glass and a pairing at season’s end of the Ravel Piano Trio and the Enescu Octet for strings.

Sun Valley Summer Symphony, July 28 – 20, Sun Valley, Idaho

Sun Valley Summer Symphony
Sun Valley Summer Symphony concerts remain free.

The Sun Valley Summer Symphony enters its 29th season as the largest, privately funded free-admission symphony in the nation. Led since 1995 by Alasdair Neale, the orchestra has grown to include musicians from the San Francisco Symphony, the St. Louis Symphony, the Houston Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony, and other ensembles. This season kicks off with Midori playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Other guest artists include cellist Amos Yang and pianists Joyce Yang and Orli Shaham. All concerts begin at 6:30 pm because of the outdoor seating and the low temperatures after the sun goes down.

Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival, August 9-24, Eastsound, Washington

Jon Kimura Parker and Aloysia Friedmann
Jon Kimura Parker and Aloysia Friedmann at Orcas.

The Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival, now in its 16th year, offers world-class musicians in an intimate setting. Artistic director Aloysia Friedmann (who also is a violinist and violist) and her pianist husband Jon Kimura Parker, the festival’s artistic adviser, are bringing pianist Jeffrey Kahane, violinist Joseph Swensen, and cellist Carter Brey together to play pieces by Mozart, Ravel, and Brahms at the front end of the festival. On August 20, the line-up of artists performing the Mendelssohn Octet will include concertmasters from three major orchestras – William Preucil (Cleveland Orchestra), Martin Chalifour (Los Angeles Philharmonic) and Margaret Batjer (Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra).