The annual Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival is both classy and casual
Music that evokes the life of a Japanese samurai, a piece by the youngest musician to win a Pulitzer Prize, and a virtuosic tour-de-force for solo bass are among the highlights of the 24th-annual Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival opening June 20 at Signal Hill Ranch.
In addition to music by beloved composers such as a Mozart divertimento and Schubert’s famous “Trout” Quintet, festival artistic director Kevin Krentz has programmed less-well-known gems of the chamber music repertoire. Look for piano quintets by Hermann Goetz, who lived a brief 36 years in the mid-19th century, and Hungarian composer Ernő Dohnányi.
Everything about the festival, which continues through June 29, defies preconceptions about straitlaced classical music.
The concerts are held in a barn — a barn that’s been renovated to have perfect acoustics. Although they’re among the top players in the country, the musicians are approachable and informal. The audience can linger after the concerts and chat with them on the festival grounds
There are a few changes this year. The festival is being held in June, to take advantage of the flower-studded hills and avoid the smoke that often plagues the valley later in the summer. There are also just four concerts over two weeks, on Thursday and Saturday nights. Free community concerts will be held in July, not during the festival.
The first two festival concerts feature dynamic musicians appearing here for the first time, including Siwoo Kim and Nikki Chooi on violin and Zhenni Li on piano. Li has been hailed for her “torrents of voluptuous sound.” Also look for veteran festival musicians Ayane Kozasa on viola and Paul Wiancko on cello.
In the second week, bassist Travis Gore returns to the festival after a few-year hiatus. Known for playing in both the classical and indie rock/pop world, Gore will perform a piece for solo bass in a special recital before the June 29 concert. On tap in week two are violinist Mikhail Shmidt and pianist Tanya Gabrielian, whose playing has been described as “revelatory.”
Two contemporary pieces for string quartet highlight the compelling ideas of young composers. “Strum,” a piece for string quartet by Jessie Montgomery, draws on folk music and dance as it builds to a celebration.
In “Entr’acte,” Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Carolyn Shaw plays with the traditional structure of a minuet and trio. “I love the way some music … suddenly takes you to the other side of Alice’s looking glass, in a kind of absurd, subtle, technicolor transition,” said Shaw about her piece.
The festival is firmly rooted in the Methow Valley. Volunteers house musicians and show them around the valley, create art for a curated exhibit at the festival, and help set up the barn.
This year, locals are also creating music for the festival. For years, it’s been a tradition to start each concert with a poem by former festival host Weston Gaylord, set to music by Wiancko. This year, Krentz commissioned Winthrop-based composer Lynette Westendorf to write new prologue music for the poem, which Gaylord reworked to highlight the experience of hearing music among the Cascade mountains and local rivers.
Writing for five string instruments, Westendorf applied her distinctive approach to harmony, melody and rhythm. The audience will notice chords with multiple harmonic ideas and melodic lines that weave in and out throughout the piece. Westendorf will give a pre-concert talk about the composition at the opening concert on June 20.
Tickets, available on the festival website at methowmusicfestival.org, are $30 per concert. Tickets are selling quickly and the June 29 concert is sold out.
Even if you don’t get a ticket, there’s always the opportunity to attend a free rehearsal at 9:30 a.m. on the morning of each Centerstage concert — a great way to hear the music and to gain insights into the musicians’ interpretation.
Concerts are Thursday and Saturday, June 20, 22, 27 and 29, at 7:30 p.m., with a pre-concert talk or recital at 6:30. Signal Hill Ranch is halfway between Twisp and Winthrop; grounds open at 5:30 for picnicking and mingling. Food and beverages are available for purchase. Afterglow parties, open to all, follow each concert.
The website, https://methowmusicfestival.org, also includes a complete program and information about all the artists.