Monday, September 1, 2008

Barn Music

This was the 25th year for the Olympic Music Festival in Quilcene, Washington, out in the Olympic Peninsula, west of Seattle. All summer, there are multiple programs of chamber music presented in a large barn on a rustic dairy farm. The audience sits on bales of hay or wooden benches, or sprawled on the grass outside the barn doors. There are about 250 people in the barn, including up in the hay loft. CD’s, souvenirs, coffee, and wine are sold in the adjacent milking shed, as are carrots for feeding the nearby herd of donkeys, which mostly stays quiet for the performance.

The festival has been the labor of love of violist Alan Iglitzin, who for years toured with the Philadelphia String Quartet, which eventually took up residence at the University of Washington. In 1984, Iglitzin acquired the 55-acre farm and created the performance space in the barn. Performances in the barn are recorded for later broadcast on the Seattle classical radio station, KING-FM.

I attended three concerts this season. The first, in June, was “Beethoven – the Last Sonatas.” Pianist Paul Hersh, from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, played the last three piano sonatas, Opus 109 through 111. I am nuts about Opus 111 in C-minor and have several recordings of it. Hersh’s rendition was as good as any of them. But hearing the three sonatas grouped like this added a whole new dimension to my appreciation, especially from realizing how Beethoven “stole” or “borrowed” ideas from the earlier ones to populate the last one. I also understood for the first time why Opus 111 was his last piano sonata. Beethoven clearly said everything he could possibly say on piano, and needed more complex instrumentation to continue his breakout from classical tradition.

In July, I enjoyed a program of music featuring the cello, one of my favorite instruments. Amy Sue Barston, a widely traveled cellist on the faculty at Julliard, played with sister Elisa Barston, Principal Second Violinist for the Seattle Symphony. The Barston sisters began with Halvorsen’s update of Handel’s Passacaglia Duo for Violin and Cello, which was sublime. That was followed by Kodaly’s Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7, which was a little wilder. It reminded me a lot of the Kronos Quartet sound, because they play a lot of Kodaly (at least on the recordings I have). Even though this was just a duo, not a quartet it was a big sound that filled that old barn.

Finally, with Alan Iglitzin joining them on Viola, the trio played the Mozart String Trio K. 563. It is heresy, but I am just not a huge Mozart fan. I like certain works a lot, like the Jupiter symphony and some piano sonatas and chamber pieces, but most of his work seems formulaic to me. That is probably just my ignorance talking. Nevertheless, I am not complaining about a beautiful summer day in the country listening to world-class Mozart.

Scheduling problems kept me away from the “All Dvorak Festival” and “Quartet Masterworks” and many other temptations, but I did manage to catch “The Amazing Clarinet” on the last weekend in August. The program began without the clarinet, with Iglitzin introducing the Hayden String Quartet, “Sunrise,” Op. 76, No. 4. He was joined by Michi Wiancko and Alisa Rose on Violins and Paul Wiancko on Cello, in what turned out to be, for my money, the best performance of the afternoon.

Then Teddy Abrams, a recent graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory, and currently a student of conducting, came out. He gave an informative, but inadvertently humorous introduction to the Weber Clarinet Quintet Op. 34. His enthusiastic but academic and self-important introduction made Iglitzin unable to suppress a world-weary smile and the audience chuckled, to the bewilderment of the young Abrams. But his clarinet performance was no laughing matter. The performance by the whole quartet was extremely enjoyable, with Michi Wiancko and Alisa Rose, violins and Paul Wiancko, cello, joining Iglitzen and Abrams. The Wiancko siblings have both performed with Yo-Yo Ma. Michi is a member of the east-coast based Los Angeles Piano Quartet, and is also a singer and songwriter. Brother Paul is principal cellist of the Colburn Orchestra in Los Angeles. Rose performs widely in classical, jazz, bluegrass, and new music festivals and runs a conservatory of music outreach for disadvantaged violinists.

The Weber piece highlighted the sound of the clarinet and sounded surprisingly modern. I kept wanting it to break out to Rhapsody in Blue but it would take another 125 years for that to happen. The piece was showy rather than sophisticated, but was a good introduction to what a clarinet could do in a chamber setting. The program was topped by the Mozart Clarinet Quintet A Major, K. 581. It was not one of my Mozart favorites, although I recognize that Mozart is unquestionably a crowd-pleaser.

Next weekend is the season finale, with a Beethoven, Ravel and Brahms program and I regret that I will not be able to attend. Tickets to most concerts are only $27 to sit in the barn on a bale of hay, or on a wooden chair around and behind the performers. It costs less to take your chances with the weather on the grass outside. The Olympic Music Festival is a real Northwest Gem.

No comments:

Post a Comment