By Melinda Bargreen
It’s finally summer – and for classical music fans, that means it’s time for a whole succulent assortment of Northwest music festivals. Whether you’re looking for concerts in major venues with big stars, or a more casual ambience in out-of-the way sites with exciting young talent, there is something for every taste in a season that always seems designed for the pleasures of chamber music.
Here are some of our favorites, and the reasons we all love them:
Olympic Music Festival: Can this really be the 29th season for this bucolic festival on the Olympic Peninsula (near Quilcene)? Yes, it can, and the Olympic folks are starting off with a June 30-July 1 weekend with the Mosaic Brass Quintet – playing popular and romantic brass works in the early-20th-century dairy barn on the festival site. Following that is an all-Schubert concert pair with soprano Mary Mackenzie warbling the lovely “Shepherd on the Rock.” Artists such as Walter Gray, festival founder Alan Iglitzin, Paul Hersh and Jennifer Culp keep things lively through September 1-2 (www.olympicmusicfestivalorg).
Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival: Come and see what new artistic director James Ehnes (also a sublime violinist) has in store this year at Nordstrom Recital Hall – starting off with a July 2 recital of variations played by pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin, and moving on to what promises to be high-energy Bartok with Ehnes and pianist Jon Kimura Parker. Also on the artist roster: violinists Augustin Hadelich, Stefan Jackiw, and the gifted young Marié Rossano – winner of Classical KING FM’s first Young Artists Competition this year. Imaginative repertoire, too, extending from the classics to Peter Schickele’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and John Adams’ “Hallelujah Junction” (www.seattlechamber.org).
Bellingham Festival of Music: This year’s headliner is stellar violinist Joshua Bell, who plays the Barber Concerto and Ravel’s “Tzigane” in the festival’s second concert on July 9 – definitely worth a trip up I-5. So is the opener on July 6, with pianist Jeremy Denk doing the so-called “Elvira Madigan” concerto (named after a now-obscure film that used the slow movement as its soundtrack, but it’s more accurately known as the Piano Concerto No. 21). Another bona fide star, cellist Lynn Harrell, will be heard later on in the soulful Elgar Concerto; other offerings include everything from a guitar recital to Mozart’s Mass in C Minor (“The Great”) winding things up on July 21. Michael Palmer is the conductor/music director (www.bellinghamfestival.org).
Icicle Creek International Chamber Music Festival: The 19th festival starts off with a July 8 Opening Night Gala, with all the artists participating – including Anthony Elliott, Jennifer Caine, Christina Dahl, Oksana Ezhokina, Laurie DeLuca, and several others. Mingle afterwards in the reception tent on the festival site, not far from Leavenworth, and return for subsequent weekends that take you through Schoenberg’s beautiful Verklärte Nacht ("Transfigured Night"), some Golijov and Janacek, a couple of late Beethoven string quartets, a Bach Cello Suite, and lots more through July 22 (www.icicle.org).
Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival: Challenging to get to (those ferries!) but easy to adore (that intimate ambience!), this cozy and much-loved festival starts its 15th season Aug. 9 with “Hamlet Concerts” at little sites around the island and on neighboring Lopez Island – bringing out the big guns later for two world premieres by Jake Heggie (whose opera “Moby-Dick” won international raves) and programs featuring the Miró String Quartet. Also on tap: mezzo-soprano star Frederica von Stade, pianist Jon Kimura Parker, violinist Chee-Yun, and violinist/violist and festival director Aloysia Friedmann, among several other fine players – through August 25 (www.oicmf.org).