Three years ago, Boston-based violinist Sasha Callahan, a Portland native, and her cellist husband Leo Eguchi made good on a dream: playing chamber music at a few Willamette Valley wineries where the visiting couple had memberships. With wines paired with each piece, its no wonder the impromptu series was a hit.
Thanks to organizational support from Callahan’s sister Eve, the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival now enters its third year, kicking off August 11 with a piece by Grammy-winning composer Joan Tower (who'll be attending) at J. Christopher Wines in Newberg.
The festival will continue through August 26 at other wineries, with festivalgoers seated in barrel rooms and private event spaces and treated to pinot noirs, sparkling bruts, and beautiful views of the sprawling vineyards just outside. This year Callahan and Eguchi are now joined by several chamber musicians: violists, flutists, and additional violinists, for an event that strives to shed chamber music's decidedly unrelaxed reputation.
“I think oftentimes people feel like they need to know these rules—or, they don’t know what they don’t know—and it just feels uncomfortable," says Callahan of the motive for the festival. “We really strive to make each event fun and welcoming.”
Tower, this year’s composer-in-residence, will see her composition Rising, for flute and string quartet, performed August 11; White Water, for string quartet, will be performed August 12. The series continues the following week with Oregon violist and composer Kenji Bunch. The final weekend, hosted by Elk Cove Vineyards and Sokol Blosser Winery, features Rebecca Clarke’s Poem, Philip Glass’s Four Duets, and Franz Schubert’s Cello Quintet.
Why hold performances in tasting and barrel rooms? According to Callahan, the acoustics are phenomenal. So phenomenal, in fact, that 2017 festival composer-in-residence Gabriela Lena Frank requested the J. Christopher's barrel room be the site for a later recording of her Milagros quartet (now awaiting release).
And, let's admit, wine pairings: also a great idea. Eguchi has the enviable job of choosing the wines—pours that either complement or contrast with that weekend’s musical pieces.
For the first weekend at J. Christopher, that means glasses of 2017 Cristo Irresisto Rosé, 2016 Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir, and 2017 Cuvée Lunatique Chardonnay (the latter swapped out on August 12 for a 2016 Sauvignon Blanc). Elk Cove will pour a pinot blanc, its 2017 Dry Riesling, and one of its single vineyard pinot noirs. Sokol Blosser will serve its Evolution Sparkling Brut, 2016 Dundee Hills Pinot Gris, and a 2015 Old Vineyard Block Estate Pinot Noir.
Aug 11-12: Joan Tower @ J. Christopher Wines – Newberg, OR
Aug 18-19: J. Christopher Wines
Aug 25: Sokol Blosser Winery – Dayton, OR
Aug 26: Elk Cove Vineyards – Gaston, OR
Season subscription pass – $110
Adult – $45
Winery Member – $30
Student/Youth – $20
Find full details on the festival website.