File photo by Marcy Stamper
Matthew Zalkind is one of five cellists who will be featured in this year’s chamber music festival.

By Marcy Stamper

Mouths may already be watering in anticipation of the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival, which starts this week.

“We like to include flavors beyond strings and piano, and to have more sounds on the palate,” said Kevin Krentz, artistic director of the festival, now in its 22nd year.

This summer those flavors have a Chinese zest, with a unique opportunity for audiences to hear Jianbing Hu, China’s premier player of the sheng, a traditional Chinese wind instrument that produces multiple tones and harmonies at once.

Jianbing is fitting the Methow Valley into his busy international touring schedule. He performs both as a soloist and with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, a group of performers and composers from more than 20 countries who blend contemporary and ancient — and Eastern and Western — musical traditions. “Jianbing is the hottest sheng player in China,” said Krentz. “The sheng has a really unique flavor.” Jianbing performs on Saturday (July 29).

In his 10 years leading the festival, Krentz has developed a keen understanding of what animates audiences. “I have an unapologetically populist bent,” he said.

In an era when the full spectrum of recorded music is always at our fingertips, people still love hearing music live, said Krentz. “You need the personalities on stage, the wow factor of virtuosos, and variety. As musicians, it’s our job to take the stage and make something happen.”

For example, opening night features a cello quartet. “It feels like a bunch of friends performing together — it’s virtuosic and zany,” said Krentz.

Although Krentz celebrates his populist approach, chamber music repertoire remains uniquely rewarding for him — and for concert-goers. “I like classical music because it has a deep impact and thrill for me. I can get places where you can’t go with the popular music I grew up with,” he said.

This year’s festival will take people to those places with traditional repertoire by Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms, as well as works by lesser-known composers. The program includes the 20th-century Russian composer Alfred Schnittke; the contemporary composer Osvaldo Golijov, who’s inspired by his roots in Argentinean tangos and Jewish klezmer music; and violinist Michelle Ross, who’ll be on hand to perform her own composition for violin and electronics.

In addition, the festival features arrangements by the gifted British pianist Tom Poster of popular tunes like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and songs by George Gershwin. Also look for hints of bluegrass from violinist Tessa Lark, who showcases her talents in traditional classical repertoire and in music inspired by her Kentucky origins.

The festival features some of the most accomplished string and piano players working today. Returning artists include Poster, violinist Elena Urioste and violist Ayane Kozasa; there are debuts by violinists Ross and Lark and by tenor Ross Hauck.

The music festival has always encouraged cross-fertilization between chamber music and other art forms, and this year those connections have grown. In addition to an exhibit of visual art inspired by music, the festival incorporates poetry and spoken word. Tod Marshall, Washington’s poet laureate, will perform the prologue — a reflection on the music the audience is about to hear, set to music itself — on Thursday, Aug. 3.

In all, the festival brings five nights of Centerstage concerts to the barn perched high above the valley at Signal Hill Ranch, plus free, informal music by the Fellowship Quartet at venues throughout the valley. This season, the Fellowship Quartet comes from the Baylor School of Music in Texas.

Audiences can learn about music through lectures given before each concert, and can gain insights into the music and its interpretation at free open rehearsals at 9:30 a.m. on every Centerstage concert day.

Concertgoers can come early for a picnic (local food and beverages are for sale) or to explore the festival grounds, including the Piano Garden, an art installation of discarded pianos. And they can stay late for Afterglow parties with the musicians, and for stargazing with the Methow’s consummate observer of the night sky.

The festival runs from Thursday (July 27) through Aug. 5, with Centerstage concerts this Thursday, and on Saturday (July 29), Aug. 1, Aug. 3 and Aug. 5. Concerts start at 7:30 p.m., with pre-concert lectures at 6:30 p.m. The Fellowship Quartet gives five concerts during the course of the 10-day festival (see box).

Tickets are $30 and available at www.methowmusicfestival.org, where there is also a complete concert program. Tickets are available at the door if concerts don’t sell out, but last year, all concerts sold out in advance.

For complete information about the festival, visit www.methowmusicfestival.com.


Chamber Music Festival offers free concerts

The Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival is offering a number of free concerts around the valley, in conjunction with the festival’s season:

• Friday (July 28), Fellowship Quartet at Sun Mountain Lodge, 6 p.m.

• Sunday (July 30), Fellowship Quartet at Shafer Museum in Winthrop, noon.

• Sunday (July 30), Fellowship Quartet at Mazama Store. 2:30 p.m.

• Aug. 2, Fellowship Quartet at Room One in Twisp, 5 p.m.

• Aug. 4, Fellowship Quartet at Methow Valley Ciderhouse in Winthrop, 5:30 p.m.

For more information, call 997-5000, or visit www.methowmusicfestival.org.