This year’s Chintimini Chamber Music Festival features 11 of them

CORVALLIS – The focus is firmly on the string quartet as this year’s Chintimini Chamber Music Festival gets set to debut tonight.

The festival’s five Corvallis concerts, stretched out over 12 days, include 11 string quartets, selected by Erik Peterson, the festival’s artistic director, to show off the versatility and diversity of the form.

Picking the 11 quartets – the number is no coincidence, since this is the festival’s 11th season – was the hard part. “I really could have gone with 20,” Peterson said.

Previous editions of the chamber-music gala had, of course, included some string quartets, but recent seasons arguably had put more emphasis on other ensemble formats, leading Peterson to joke that he had committed an “injustice” against the sturdy string quartet.

As recompense, he said, “This year, I thought to focus on the string quartet literature.”

And so festival listeners get a chance to experience a wide range of string quartets, ranging from pieces by Joseph Haydn, considered the father of the string quartet, all the way to a new piece composed on commission for the festival, in which classical musicians who got their start in the mid-valley return for a series of chamber music events.

That range includes the melodic work of Carl Nielsen all the way to the aggressive edges of George Crumb’s “Black Angels,” written for electric string quartet.

This year’s commissioned piece (the festival tries to feature a new piece every year) is “Post Scriptum,” the first movement of a new string quartet by Portland composer Tomas Svoboda.

Speaking of firsts, the festival’s concert on Tuesday, June 28, features a couple of them: It’s the first time the festival has performed a Corvallis concert at the Corvallis High School Main Stage – and it marks the first time a festival concert has used a conductor.

The occasion is a Stravinsky piece, “L’histoire du soldat,” which uses seven musicians and three actors. The piece tells the story of a soldier who makes a deal with the Devil. The cast includes David Ogden Stiers (of “M*A*S*H” fame) as the narrator and Robert Delk Hirsh, of the Willamette Stage Company, as the Devil. Adam Flatt, the music director of the Newport Symphony Orchestra, takes up the baton.

“It’s really a small kind of theater piece,” Peterson said – and so it makes sense to stage it in a theater setting; hence the decision to move the concert to the Corvallis High School Mainstage Theatre. (The other concerts in the festival will take place, as always, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ.)

The Stravinsky piece also will be performed July 1 in Newport, fulfilling the ongoing Chintimini goal of performing some concerts outside of Corvallis.

Financially, the festival remains on a solid footing, Peterson said, thanks to the efforts of a hard-working board. Chintimini runs on an annual budget of about $50,000, he said, and makes a point of paying its musicians – although it is, first and foremost, a labor of love for the musicians who perform. Ticket sales make up about half of the festival’s revenue, he said.

“No one is paid to put this together,” he said. “We’re able to touch the hearts of many people.”

Artistically, he said, the goal remains the same: To broaden the reach of classical music throughout the mid-valley.

“I’d love to see everybody in Corvallis hearing great classical music.”


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