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CMNW Festival Life

A Much Cherished Tradition Returns

For more than 50 years, Chamber Music Northwest (CMNW) has been bringing some of the very best musicians from around the world to Portland’s concert halls throughout the year and to Reed College every summer for an annual Summer Festival.

With so much time out of concert halls over the last 18 months, musicians and audiences alike have been ready for live music again. After months of planning and trying to predict the state of gathering for performance, Chamber Music Northwest boldly went forward with their 51st annual Summer Festival in July, presenting a varied repertoire of cherished classics mixed with new music compositions both in-person and at home. CMNW’s new Artistic Directors Gloria Chien and Soovin Kim created a unique four-week programming journey.  

A Cast of Nearly 70 

CMNW Festival Life Announcements
ECCO (Photo credit: Pete Checchia)

This year’s CMNW Summer Festival drew nearly 70 musicians from all over the world to interpret the works of many beloved composers along with five compositions newly commissioned by the festival. For 2021 the CMNW Summer Festival welcomed world-renown master musicians including Timothy McAllister, Jason Vieaux, Karla Donahew Perez, Devóne Tines, Marc-André Hamelin, Tara Helen O’Connor, and Artistic Director Emeritus David Shiffrin. This year’s CMNW Festival included familiar names from the Oregon Symphony and past festivals: Kenji Bunch, Jonathan Greeney, Sarah Kwak, Paul Laraia, Paul Neubauer, Monica Ohuchi, Charles and Doug Reneau, Fred Sherry, James Shields, and Paul Watkins.

ECCO Around Town

The festival opened with CMNW’s artistic directors Gloria (piano) and Soovin (violin) playing with the exuberant and conductorless East Coast Chamber Orchestra (ECCO) on the first Monday in July. The 15-member orchestra was “embedded” in Portland as “ECCO Around Town,” with free pop-up performances citywide. 

Star Quartets and More

Dover Quartet
Festival favorite Dover Quartet dazzled Portland audiences again (Photo credit: Roy Cox)

The much-adored Dover Quartet was on hand along with two other well-established and highly respected ensembles, the Jupiter Quartet from Champagne, Urbana, and CMNW’s newly appointed Artists-in-Residence, Brentano Quartet, who began their residency the final week of the festival.

New and Unusual

CMNW has a long history and institutional foundation of presenting new work. The 2021 festival presented four new commissioned works: David Ludwig’s Les Adieux for clarinet and chamber ensemble commissioned to honor CMNW Artistic Director Emeritus David Shifrin in 2020. Matan Porat premiered his own piano Quintet with the Dover Quartet. The festival also included the world premiere of Portland composer Kenji Bunch’s new Vesper Flight, written for internationally acclaimed flutist Tara Helen O’Connor. CMNW also presented the premiere of Sweet and Doleful Timbresfor, the unusual combination of Saxophone and Guitar, performed by Grammy Award-winning musicians, saxophonist Timothy McAllister and guitarist Jason Vieaux.

The 2021 festival also included the world premiere of Marc Neikrug’s theatrical chamber operaA Song by Mahler. This new union between theatre and music was written to express the emotional journey of a concert singer’s early-onset Alzheimer’s — the struggles and adjustment realities shared with her accompanist husband. A Song by Mahler was co-commissioned by CMNW with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the La Jolla, Lake Champlain, and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festivals.

Outdoor music and silent film enthusiasts were welcomed to two free events featuring comedic Buster Keaton movies with improvised soundtracks by the internationally-acclaimed, multi-talented pianist Matan Porat. 

The entire festival was recorded. Professionally produced presentations of the festival concerts are available as a streaming 2021 AT-HOME Summer Festival to be enjoyed online through August 31.

Special thanks to Nicole Lane of Chamber Music Northwest for providing the content for this piece.

Featured image: Gloria Chien, Soovin Kim, David Shifrin (Photo credit: Tom Emerson)

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