Photo courtesy of Aizuri Quartet
The international award–winning Aizuri Quartet has been described as “genuinely exciting” and “flawless.” The quartet makes its festival debut this summer.

Acclaimed performers highlight concerts

When people go to a chamber music concert, they expect violins, cellos and piano, but this year, the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival is supplementing the traditional string quartet with clarinet, a trio of percussionists, and even bulb-horns – the kind you see on vintage bicycles.

The diverse line-up and the mix of chamber music masterworks with unfamiliar – but always exciting – music is typical of the festival’s eclectic approach.

The festival launches its 23rd annual season on Saturday (July 26) and runs through Aug. 4. This year it features an acclaimed string quartet from New York City and two prize-winning soloists – Kenny Broberg, the silver medalist from the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, and Narek Arutyunian, a dynamic, up-and-coming clarinetist who won the Young Concert Artists International auditions.

The Aizuri Quartet, which makes its festival debut this summer, continues to amass honors. In May, the Aizuri won the grand prize at the M Prize Competition at the University of Michigan, a prestigious international competition.

The Aizuri Quartet has been described as “genuinely exciting” and “flawless.” One reviewer said they possess “that most elusive of string quartet qualities: the balance between charisma of the individual and cohesion of the collective.”

The quartet will perform a demanding quartet by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, a first for the Methow festival.

The first concert showcases a trio of percussionists on marimba, bass drum and trap set – plus gently amplified cello – in a composition by steel-drum virtuoso Andy Akiho. “It’s a very cool piece – modern but very, very hip. It blends two of my favorite, most beautiful sounds,” said festival artistic director Kevin Krentz. “The music just washes around and is gorgeous.”

The horns take the stage in “Prelude to the Grand Macabre, for 12 Bulb Horns” by 20th-cnetury composer György Ligeti. “It’s hilarious – they’re literally like those old horns like on a bicycle. It’s crazy – each plays four horns. It’s a fun, little splash,” said Krentz.

The percussionists are also highlighted in a unique arrangement of a symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich. There will also be music from the baroque era – a concerto for four violins by Vivaldi – and well-loved chamber works by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert.

Soloists

Pianist Broberg is a young virtuoso who won the silver medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition last year, one of the top piano competitions in the world. Van Cliburn’s career took off when he won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow 60 years ago.

Broberg will be featured in piano trios by Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms, and in a quartet by Antonín Dvorák. Arutyunian will be the soloist in a Brahms clarinet trio and in the Mozart clarinet quartet.

The festival also features mezzo-soprano Deanne Meek in music by Brahms and Ottorino Respighi. Returning artists include violinists Mikhail Shmidt, Grace Park and Emilie-Anne Gendron; violist Ayane Kozasa, who plays with the Aizuri Quartet, and Krentz and Nathan Chan on cello.

Photo by Marcy Stamper
The festival features a variety of chamber music, from revered masterworks to dynamic – and even witty – contemporary compositions.

The festival is celebrating its 10th season in the converted Signal Hill barn, where acoustics have been optimized for chamber music.

The barn provides a relaxed setting for enjoying music, but there are even more-casual opportunities for people to hear chamber music throughout the valley. The festival’s Fellowship Quartet, selected each summer from among the top music students in the area, will perform at Sun Mountain Lodge, the Mazama Store, and several locations in Winthrop – the Methow Valley Ciderhouse, the Barnyard Cinema, and Sixknot Taphouse. They’ll also give a pre-concert recital at Signal Hill Ranch as a prelude to the final concert on Aug. 4.

As always, the festival includes informative, entertaining lectures before each Centerstage concert, and free open rehearsals each concert day at 9:30 a.m.

Other informal activities include stargazing and a chance to enjoy local food and beverages and meet the musicians on the festival grounds after each Centerstage concert.

The festival will stage five Centerstage concerts at Signal Hill Ranch, between Winthrop and Twisp, on Thursday, Tuesday and Saturday.

Tickets are $30 for each Centerstage concert. Grounds open at 5:30 p.m. Pre-concert events are at 6:30 p.m.; the concerts start at 7:30 p.m.

For more information, a complete program, and to purchase tickets, visit www.methowmusicfestival.org.

Fellowship Quartet appearances

• Friday, July 27: Sun Mountain Lodge, 5 p.m.

• Saturday, July 28: Shafer Museum, 1 p.m.

• Sunday, July 29: Mazama Store, 2 p.m.

   MV Ciderhouse, 5 p.m.

• Wednesday, Aug. 1: Barnyard Cinema, 5:15 pm

   movie “Itzhak” to follow

• Friday, Aug. 3: Sixknot Taphouse, 6 p.m.

All are free.