Variety of concerts includes free performances
By Marcy Stamper
In the casual atmosphere of a old barn (upgraded with first-rate acoustics), chamber music aficionados, people new to classical music, and musicians from as far away as London and Hong Kong come together each year in a vibrant interplay.
Now entering its third decade, the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival is known for blending revered pieces of the classical repertoire with unexpected works that are exciting for both veteran concertgoers and those experiencing chamber music for the first time.
This year’s festival, which launches on July 28, features five main concerts on the Centerstage in the Signal Hill festival barn, plus five free concerts around the valley at venues such as Sun Mountain Lodge, Confluence Gallery, the Methow Valley Ciderhouse and the Freestone Inn.
In his nine years as artistic director, Kevin Krentz has built a well-earned reputation for dazzling performances and programming that showcases the talents and energy of the musicians he assembles.
“I take the playwright’s approach — the experience should touch on all the primary human emotions and it should have an arc,” said Krentz.
This year’s festival has an extra emphasis on piano and violin, with four pianists and seven violinists playing over the course of the nine days. In addition, there will be violas and cellos, plus virtuosos on French horn and clarinet.
Besides the free concerts around the valley, the festival musicians invite people to sit in on their rehearsal every morning before a main concert. Listening to a rehearsal is like attending a concert, but with a privileged, behind-the-scenes glimpse of how the music takes shape.
In addition to veteran festival musicians, including violinist Yuri Namkung, violist Mara Gearman, cellist and composer Paul Wiancko, and pianist Ryan MacEvoy McCullough, the festival welcomes pianist Zhang Zuo, the winner of China’s first International Piano Concerto Competition, for her first performance here.
Zhang Zuo is taking a break from a two-year residency with a BBC program in England to perform here. She has been hailed for playing that is “bright, expressive and moving to the extreme” and as “a powerful, passionate and compelling representation of pure artistry.”
Festival violinist Jing Wang, now the concertmaster of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, loves playing in the Methow and made it a point to fit the festival into his schedule.
Wang’s impressive trajectory started long before he began playing on the Signal Hill stage. He started playing violin at age 3, performed his first concert three years later, and was a featured soloist in a concerto at age 9. As Hong Kong concertmaster, Wang had the honor of playing a Stradivarius to demonstrate its value for an upcoming auction.
Canadian violinist Jasper Wood performed in the Methow twice last year, both in the festival’s Valentine concert and during the summer. Reviewers consistently praise Wood for his “gorgeous sound” and “sweet tunefulness.”
A perfect ambassador for the festival’s mission — “to promote the appreciation of chamber music in the Methow Valley” — Wood is committed to bringing first-rate chamber music to people in small towns and schools who otherwise may not have a chance to hear it. He has logged thousands of miles on the road in the United States and Canada as part of this outreach.
The festival program runs the gamut from well-known classical luminaries including Beethoven, Mozart and Handel through less-familiar names like Polish composer Henryk Wieniawski and Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu.
This year the festival will also feature American popular songs by Samuel Barber, Henry Mancini and George Gershwin arranged by British pianist and festival performer Tom Poster, who specializes in the American songbook. Poster’s adaptations will be paired with a rare arrangement by esteemed violinist Jascha Heifetz of music from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, featuring well-known songs like “Summertime” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”
While Krentz decided to highlight violin and piano in this year’s festival, look for winds to shine in a Mozart quintet for French horn and in a trio version of Igor Stravinsky’s “Soldier’s Tale Suite” for clarinet, violin and piano.
Each main concert will be preceded by a lecture on musical and visual arts and the links between them. There’s even a chance for post-concert stargazing with the Methow Valley’s astronomical guru Dave Ward and, as always, afterglow parties with the musicians following each performance.
The festival is at Signal Hill Ranch, about halfway between Twisp and Winthrop, from July 28 through Aug. 6, with Centerstage concerts on July 28 and 30, and Aug. 2, 4, and 6. Other events are scheduled throughout the week at venues from Mazama to Twisp.
Tickets are $25 (available for individual concerts or the entire season) and are available online at www.methowmusicfestival.org, along with information on the musicians and program.