By Marcy Stamper
Five inspiring concerts, free performances throughout the valley, and the inauguration of art made from discarded pianos are among the enticements of the 20th-annual Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival.
The festival also includes opportunities for behind-the-scenes glimpses of the musicians and how they work their magic, and presentations that will help audiences appreciate what makes this music memorable.
After a forced hiatus last summer because of the risks posed by the wildfire, the chamber music festival is back with masterworks by Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Dvorák, plus sultry Argentinean tangos, lively ragtime pieces, and a beguiling new composition by festival cellist Paul Wiancko. In addition to many returning performers, the festival is introducing some new musicians. Featured instruments are violin, viola, cello, piano and guitar.
“I have worked up a full roster of outstanding musicians and a program chock full of fresh, cutting-edge, hot-blooded, superb chamber music — never dull, always satisfying,” said festival artistic director and cellist Kevin Krentz.
The festival has been a unique combination of the intimacy of chamber music and the beauty of the natural world since it started two decades ago in a meadow in Mazama. Today, concerts are held in a barn which, while it retains a relaxed, rustic atmosphere, has been renovated with acoustics calibrated for small ensembles.
People new to the festival — or to classical music — will find the casual atmosphere of the barn at Signal Hill Ranch to be the perfect place to discover chamber music. The festival grounds also offer other opportunities to contemplate the link between art and music. Howard Johnson, an owner of the ranch and a member of the festival’s board, has spent the past two years turning 11 pianos he rescued from a Seattle warehouse into a garden of art.
What resulted is a meditative space that takes advantage of the sculptural beauty of the pianos — a few grand pianos, two player pianos, and a variety of uprights. One piano has even been painted by a local artist with a colorful floral design, reflecting the pianos’ new role as objects planted in the dirt.
Concertgoers can also enjoy visual art in an exhibit in the barn featuring paintings and photography by local artists. The art is on sale to support the festival.
Free festival events include five open rehearsals, one on every main concert day; performances around the valley by the Fellowship Quartet; and a presentation and concert at the Shafer Museum in Winthrop on the history of music in the Methow. The Fellowship Quartet, also known as the Daana Quartet, is a student ensemble from the University of Washington devoted to performances in community gathering places such as museums, restaurants and schools.
People attending the Centerstage concerts are invited to arrive early for dinner or to stay afterwards to meet the musicians or enjoy stargazing from the hilltop setting.
Tickets for the main concerts are $25 and are available at www.methowmusicfestival.org and at the door. Information about the musicians and a detailed program are also available on the website.