In the Reeds: Oboist Frank Rosenwein and David Shifrin Play Marc Neikrug and Leonard Bernstein for Chamber Music Northwest

In the Reeds: Oboist Frank Rosenwein and David Shifrin Play Marc Neikrug and Leonard Bernstein for Chamber Music Northwest

David Shifrin performed Leonard Bernstein's "Clarinet Concerto" at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo by Tom Emerson.
David Shifrin played Leonard Bernstein’s “Clarinet Concerto” with Chamber Music Northwest. Photo by Tom Emerson.

Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festival is reaching middle age, but you wouldn’t think so. Now in its 54e season, CMNW has undergone a significant rejuvenation with a fresh-faced lineup, supported by a new crop of top musicians and the Protégé Project for young professionals. But it doesn’t stop there. In 2022, CMNW’s Artistic Co-Directors, pianist Goria Chien and violinist Soovin Kim, added the Young Artist Initiative, which brings together teens from around the world for three weeks of intensive study with top faculty. There are also community concerts, pop-up concerts, open rehearsals and other events that make the five-week festival (June 27 to July 28) a true spectacle.

In addition to the new faces, CMNW increasingly programs contemporary works. Almost every concert features at least one new composition, with several events such as the New@Night series devoted exclusively to new pieces. That doesn’t mean that standard, beloved repertoire is ignored. Works by Mendelssohn, Schumann, Mozart, Brahms, Stravinsky and others from the firmament of classical music are there. And of course there’s Beethoven.

The overarching theme for the 2024 CMNW Summer Festival is “The Beethoven Effect.” So the festival will explore some of Beethoven’s chamber music and how his music has influenced and continues to influence other composers. You might hear a Beethovenian twist in new works CMNW has commissioned or co-commissioned from John Luther Adams, Joan Tower, Stewart Goodyear, Jörg Widmann, and others. Hearing an American premiere or a world premiere is one of the many treats CMNW has to offer.

Sometimes a thematic idea doesn’t quite work with a selection on the program. That was the case with Marc Neikrug’s Oboe quartet in 10 parts. As Kim said in his introduction (July 1) at Kaul, Neikrug’s piece didn’t really fit Beethoven’s sound. That was understandable, since CMNW had co-commissioned the piece a year or more in advance and the performance represented the West Coast premiere.

Marc Neikrugs "Oboe quartet in 10 parts" at Chamber Music Northwest (left to right: Bella Hristova, Paul Neubauer, Alexander Hersh, Frank Rosenwein). Photo by Tom Emerson.
Marc Neikrug’s “Oboe Quartet in 10 Parts” at Chamber Music Northwest (L to R: Bella Hristova, Paul Neubauer, Alexander Hersh, Frank Rosenwein). Photo by Tom Emerson.

Performed by oboist Frank Rosenwein, violinist Bella Hristova, violist Paul Neubauer and cellist Alexander Hersh, the Oboe quartet in 10 parts began with a pensive mist of string notes as Rosenwein walked across a tightrope with his oboe. Later, Rosenwein created a flood of sounds that suggested a bird was chirping above the hum of the strings, as if the oboe were an outsider in the conversation. After a mournful attack from the strings, the oboe joined in, lifting the mood to a point where everyone seemed to be talking to each other, but that moment of exuberance disappeared and the piece returned to its opening musing and mystery.

As Neikrug entered the stage to warm applause, I was still scratching my head trying to find the emotional core of what I had just heard. Perhaps the composer wanted to express the fragility of relationships or life itself. If so, he succeeded.

Marc Neikrugs "Oboe quartet in 10 parts" at Chamber Music Northwest (left to right: Bella Hristova, Paul Neubauer, Alexander Hersh, Frank Rosenwein, and the composer). Photo by Tom Emerson.
Marc Neikrug’s “Oboe Quartet in 10 Parts” at Chamber Music Northwest (left to right: Bella Hristova, Paul Neubauer, Alexander Hersh, Frank Rosenwein, and the composer). Photo by Tom Emerson.

Such musings were ended with Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C Minorwhich Hristova, cellist Peter Stumpf and pianist Alessio Bax expressed with verve. There was a passage in the first movement – ​​when the ensemble was going full steam ahead – in which the piano drowned out the cello – but that was only a quibble in a sublime performance. Hristova and Stumpf excelled in particular with a singing sonority in their duet passages. After the rousing finale there was a standing ovation.

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Leonard Bernsteins Clarinet Concertothat opened the concert, was given a sharp performance with Shifrin leading an ensemble that included percussionist Ian Rosenbaum, pianist Monica Ohuchi, violinists Hristova and Sunmi Chang, cellist Hersh and bassist Bernat. The piece, which consisted of only two movements, began as if in mid-stride with an angular style that contained some dissonance. The second movement had a lyrical quality that resembled Copland’s ballet music, but with melodic phrases that hinted at West Side Story crept in.

Shifrin’s uncanny ability to move quickly and smoothly from low to really high notes without hitting anything was astonishing. His sound was always heard above the ensemble, making the performance memorable.

Leonard Bernsteins "Clarinet Concerto" at Chamber Music Northwest (left to right: Bella Hristova, Sunmi Chang, Paul Neubauer, Monica Ohuchi, David Shifrin, Alexander Hersh, Ian Rosenbaum). Photo by Tom Emerson.
Leonard Bernstein’s “Clarinet Concerto” at Chamber Music Northwest (left to right: Bella Hristova, Sunmi Chang, Paul Neubauer, Monica Ohuchi, David Shifrin, Alexander Hersh, Ian Rosenbaum). Photo by Tom Emerson.