Guests enjoy the sounds of the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival at Elk Cove Vineyards on Aug. 21. ##Photo courtesy of Ken Friedenreich

Prelude to Tradition

Chamber music festival begins

By Ken Friedenreich

A few years ago, during lunch at the Dundee Bistro, I mused with Dick Erath how winemaking had a little bit of composed music in it. He demurred. “It is more like conducting. All these different personalities need someone to keep them on the beat. That’s farming grapes.” I still think it is more like composition, but Erath is the one with his name on the bottle.

In another part of the forest of founders, Pat and Joe Campbell recently decided to test the musical analogy using different means. A part of the inaugural Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival, the Elk Cove Vineyards family welcomed the quartet — founders Leo Eguchi (cello) and Sasha Callahan (violin) with Kenji Bunch (viola) and Megumi Stohs Lewis (violin) — to play Aug 21; two days previously, J. Christopher hosted the event, as well.

Chamber music is no stranger to summertime. Outdoor music oft tooted popular excerpts from operas created by men whose names sounded like pasta sauces or dance music that might even encourage Queen Marie Antoinette to frolic at Versailles.

Before modern distribution, all music was popular and also serious. The same men who rolled over with Beethoven provided reams of music for home entertainment. The great Joseph Haydn alone made 432 arrangements of English, Scottish and Welsh songs. So did his rowdy pupil, Ludwig, whose first quartet figured in the Elk Cove program.

Unlike a full orchestra — the massed sounds can encompass whole worlds, as Mahler said, or can dissolve into transcendental silences — chamber music is restrained but just as provoking. It is the dive off the high board into a fermentation tank; its flaws cannot be subsumed in oak. Its concentration has to please from nose to sip, and the melody must linger like a great finish.

The performances pleased as did the wines Elk Cove offered: 2015 Pinot Noir rosé, 2014 Goodrich Chardonnay and 2014 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

John Bellncula, Elk Cove’s direct sales manager and unofficial winery chef, helped stage the event inside the tasting room. With a wall of windows overlooking the vineyard, this space has staged countless celebrations filled with music, dancing and, oftentimes, wedding joie de vivre.

“The ceiling soars from the window side to the center where we placed our listeners. So, we noted our room had the acoustic baffle like a concert hall,” Bellncula said. “The intimacy of the experience was enhanced by the setting. I saw a few moist eyes in the audience.”

If people were crying in their cups, it wasn’t from the wine.

Eguchi also was pleased with the performances and the audience’s reactions.

“By all measures, the inaugural Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival was a huge success,” Eguchi said.  “The performances by my world-class colleagues were amazing; the wines and the ambiance of the wineries were stunning; the houses for the shows were engaged and packed...

“But most powerful to us is the fact that everyone with whom we have spoken was very moved by the concerts,” he continued. “Again and again, we have heard that the opportunity to hear such special music performed from the heart in such a special place — with wine made right there with the same love and care — is very meaningful.” 

The program began with a charming two-violin setting of “Three American Folk Hymns” by Bunch, followed by a performance of “Tenebrae” by Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov; after intermission, the group played Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 1.  Not surprisingly, the grateful audience awarded the musicians with a standing ovation. An encore played by Bunch, featuring one of his own compositions for solo viola, concluded the evening.

The Festival’s mission, to celebrate, educate and enrich the lives of Oregon and Willamette Valley communities through the performance and presentation of music, was accomplished.

“We are hard at work planning next year, though we won’t yet be announcing specifics for a little while,” Eguchi said. “What I can say is that we are extremely thrilled to be working with the Campbells at Elk Cove Vineyards and Jay Somers at J. Christopher Wines again, and we have been approached by several other fantastic wineries in the area. We are excited to build more opportunities to bring folks together, to enjoy some great music and great wine.”

For more information on the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival, visit

Ken Friedenreich’s new book, “Decoding the Grape: Stories from Oregon Wine Country” will appear in the spring, published by History/Arcadia Press. Special thanks to Jonathan Potkin — when not listening to chamber music or practicing Bach preludes, he can be found encouraging patrons to drink Oregon wines at Deep End Café & Bivalve Bar at Nye Beach in Newport.

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