Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009

Arwen Myers
Arwen Myers

Astoria Music Festival in 15th Year features baroque concerts with the Columbia River on view

By HOLLY JOHNSON // Great music in a lovely setting...a  gleaming expanse of the Columbia River at dusk adds much to an evening of lovely music. It takes your breath away.

Coming out of a concert down the steps of a vintage church,and seeing a gleaming expanse of the Columbia River at dusk adds much to an evening of lovely music. It takes your breath away. At Astoria’s Grace Episcopal Church on a Tuesday night a near-full house of audience members gathered together to hear live baroque music, and the event was clearly a success.

In this 15th year of the Astoria Music Festival under the baton of artistic director Keith Clark, things are going strong, and there’s an emphasis all around on quality and variety. “We didn’t expect to last 15 years, but somehow we have,” he told the enthusiastic audience during an introduction. The festival runs through June 25, and everything from tango, klezmer and Roma music by the eclectic 3 Leg Torso to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” from an Oregon premiere of Philip Glass in a sci-fi multi-media presentation to operatic scenes from “The Barber of Seville,” is on offer. Be prepared to stay longer than you’d planned!

Our lucky evening in this lovely hilly city was a profusion of baroque selections titled “Sound The Trumpet!”. Soprano Arwen Myers, nationally acclaimed baroque trumpeter Kris Kwapis, baroque violinist Noah Strick, baroque cellist Adaiha MacAdam-Somer and harpsichordist Julia Brown offered us a full plate of Handel, Corelli, Purcell and others.

The strings and brass players here used baroque instruments, and the result was slightly different, more sweet and mellow than modern-day ones. Baroque flowered from approximately 1600-1750 as a European art music form, and the good thing about the church is it offered an intimate setting for a music surely similar to the parlors of patrons who originally provided venues for this musical form. The only problem with the church was poor visibility. It wasn’t designed for concerts, and where I sat the brass players were hidden away.

Myers added much to the evening, demonstrating a splendid vibrato, complex ornamentation, well-placed trills and utter control of the upper range throughout, particularly in the upbeat opening number by Handel, “Let the bright seraphim” from Sampson. On a more pensive note, “O Let Me Weep” from Purcell’s Fairy Queen demonstrated Myers’ marvelous ability to infuse emotion in slower passages while keeping her voice bright .

Kwapis is a first-rate hornist, who has played early music all over North America, working with such luminaries as Monica Huggett and serving as faculty at Seattle’s Cornish School of the Arts, among others. She was outstanding throughout the evening, but particularly so in Alessandro Melani’s colorful piece for soprano and trumpet, which she performed with Myers. A combination of aria and recitativo movements, the piece was a rich ending to the evening.

A sonata by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, featuring violin solo work by Noah Strick, alluded to various birds and animals in each movement. The best was the cat piece, rife with glissando passages beautifully executed by Strick, a Bay area musician.
A different baroque concert featuring the same artists will take place Tuesday June 20 at the same venue.

Complete schedule of Astoria Music Festival events here.  For single tickets call 503-325-9896.

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