Once you've taken in Seattle Opera's summer production and, this year, the three concerts of the Hildegard von Bingen festival, there's not much classical music in August. Folks who need their fix should make it a point to visit Port Townsend's Marrowstone Music Festival, which concludes this weekend. Due to rising costs, this may be the festival's last year at its current location, Fort Worden State Park; the festival itself may very well go on hiatus next summer.
Marrowstone Music Festival
Fort Worden State Park
Port Townsend, 800-733-3608
Marrowstone is the place to go if you are feeling musically adventurous; where you can hear not only Mozart, but Martinu. Sponsored by the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras since 1942, Marrowstone is a music camp offering three weeks of total immersion in music: lessons, practicing, chamber-music coaching, orchestra, hobnobbing with peers and teachers. With this array, Marrowstone attracts excellent faculty and some of the best student musicians from across the country.
Part of the camp experience includes performing. Each week, both festival and concert orchestras give a concert on Sunday afternoon; faculty members give recitals on Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons. Don't think because they are performed by students and teachers, and because it's summer, that the concerts won't be up to par. Eventually, you'll hear many of these young musicians on stage with professional orchestras as they graduate to performing careers. Others you will be paying beaucoup bucks to hear as top-of-the-line soloists. You can already hear their teachers in such performances—so it is a treat to listen to players such as Dale Clevenger (Chicago Symphony principal horn) and William Wanser (Phoenix Symphony principal percussion) in these relaxed circumstances.
Last Saturday afternoon, at Fort Worden's Joseph F. Wheeler Theater, the program included Poulenc's Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano; Salvador Brotons' Sinfonietta da Camera for 13 Winds, Brass, and Percussion; and Schubert's great String Quintet in C Major. The Poulenc is a gorgeous piece. Performers Roger Cole, principal oboe of the Vancouver Symphony and CBC Vancouver Orchestra; Francine Peterson, bassoonist with the Northwest Sinfonietta and Northwest Chamber Orchestra; and Anita Cummings, Seattle-area freelance pianist, brought out its strong, decisive nature, and combined it with the work's inherent sense of humor. The performers played with verve and an irresistible propulsion. Balance was a problem when everyone was playing with the emphatic energy often required by the music. At such times, the bassoon lost out, and Peterson's playing could barely be heard. Also, the quality of Cole's oboe sound, while silk-smooth and technically effortless, was penetratingly, painfully bright in that small space.
The sinfonietta of contemporary Spanish flutist, conductor, and composer Brotons gives plenty of performance opportunity for wind players: It's fun to play, fast, intricate, and full of quirks. The performers under conductor (and festival director) Jonathan Shames made the best of it, but the piece says little that is either original or interesting.
The performance that blew my mind was the Schubert, played by the Audubon Quartet with guest cellist Paula Kiffner of the Victoria Conservatory of Music. Schubert uses many gloriously melodic duets in this quintet; especially breathtaking was the second movement duo between second cello and first violin (David Ehrlich). With exquisite phrasing and sweet tone quality, Kiffner and Ehrlich built an enchanting dialogue of plucked notes and delicate melody, set against a murmuring background created by the intermediate instruments. It was well worth the long ride (118 miles round trip) from Seattle.
This weekend, the faculty concerts include Thursday evening's lineup of Schumann and contemporary American composer Patrick McCarty. Saturday afternoon has Shostakovich, 20th-century English composer Madeleine Dring, and Stravinsky. On Sunday afternoon the Concert Orchestra plays Verdi and Tchaikovsky, and the Festival Orchestra, under Jonathan Shames, wraps up the festival with Dvo(breve)rand three concertos featuring the student winners of the Marrowstone Music Festival's Concerto Competition. Tenly Polhemus performs Richard Strauss' Oboe Concerto, Jesse Lewis performs Arutiunian's Trumpet Concerto in E-flat, and Brittany Platt performs Saint-Sa뮳' Cello Concerto no. 1.