(Photo courtesy of High Desert Chamber Music)
Fifteen years into a career spanning from the San Diego Symphony and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra to recording for the television and film industry, professional violinist Isabelle LaForêt Senger visited Bend. Looking for a change of scenery, she saw an opportunity in Central Oregon to bring what she loves most to a receptive audience.
In 2008, Senger founded High Desert Chamber Music (HDCM) and tapped her colleagues in the industry for her first season’s roster. The inaugural concert featured her own quartet, Pasadena-based Crown City String Quartet. Members of this group found time between symphony concerts and recording sessions for the Star Wars and Family Guy soundtracks and came to Bend for the concert, held at the Tower Theatre. They are the organization’s resident group and have performed in HDCM’s Concert Series more than a dozen times over the past ten years.
Central Oregon has a history of being supportive of creative and performing arts, and High Desert Chamber Music quickly established itself as a reliable source for the highest caliber chamber music. Throughout the last ten years, some notable musicians have performed in their concert series, including International Prokofiev Competition winner pianist Robert Thies, renowned violist and conductor Heiichiro Ohyama, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Frank Almond, Los Angeles Philharmonic Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour, violin virtuoso Elizabeth Pitcairn and her 1720 Red Mendelssohn Stradivarius and Grammy-nominated, Avery Fisher prize-winning cellist Peter Wiley.
With six concerts and other events offered from September through May, and everything from piano duos to string sextets, there is something to please connoisseurs of just about any style of chamber music. High Desert Chamber Music strives to make exceptional musicians accessible to their audiences with pre-concert talks that allow concertgoers to learn about the artists and the programs they will perform.
Since the beginning, a critical component of High Desert Chamber Music’s mission has been to inspire young local music students and create avenues for them to achieve their highest potential and even go on to music careers of their own.
Through their Educational Outreach programs, High Desert Chamber Music provides opportunities for students in our area to witness and learn from some of our country’s finest musicians. Educational programming consists of their chamber music training program, master classes and visits to local schools.
You may have seen students from High Desert Chamber Music’s training program, the Spotlight Chamber Players, performing around town at events such as First Friday last month. Musicians in this group are experienced local middle school and high school students who show promise in their technique and development. They audition and are selected by HDCM’s executive director, who provides their chamber group instruction at no cost. Starting with their feature performance at the Annual Gala in November, you can see them perform prior to all of HDCM’s concerts, as well as in the community.
Each season, High Desert Chamber Music presents a master class with one of their visiting musicians. Guest artists have included violinist/violist Heiichiro Ohyama, violinist Martin Chalifour, and cellist Peter Wiley. For the last two years, this has been offered in partnership with the Oregon branch of the American String Teachers Association (ASTA). Students from all over Oregon audition through ASTA and those selected perform here in Bend for an audience, then receive valuable critique. Master classes are free to attend and open for the public to view so everyone can experience exceptional talent and hear the changes a master’s insight can influence.
Perhaps the most lasting impact comes from visits to local schools by guest artists. These performances and Q&A sessions have ranged from classrooms of 25 up to an auditorium of 500 students and teachers. With coordination and the assistance of music teacher Brenda Simmons, these events are able to reach students from all area middle and high schools, giving them the opportunity to see and hear a professional performer as well as get to know details of a musician’s life. In 2016, Frank Almond performed with his storied 301-year-old Stradivarius and he stayed after to take photos with every student who wanted one. A similar event was held last fall with virtuoso Elizabeth Pitcairn and her legendary Red Mendelssohn violin.
All of High Desert Chamber Music’s educational outreach efforts are provided at no cost to students, schools or families. Additionally, HDCM works to reach those who can’t get to their concerts by offering performances at retirement communities by either a visiting professional or the Spotlight Chamber Players. Through the years, well over two dozen performances have been offered at several retirement communities at no charge to the residents.
Now and the Future
As a nonprofit organization, High Desert Chamber Music is fully sustained by individual donations, ticket sales, sponsors, foundation support through grants and an annual Gala and silent auction held late each fall. The 2017-18 season sponsor was Mission Building and Renovation. Other sponsors included German Master Tech, Neil Kelly, Coldwell Banker Morris Real Estate, and the Pine Tavern Restaurant, Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, KBND radio and 101.7 Radio. These relationships allow the organization to grow and solidify its standing as a premiere resource of chamber music on par with major metropolitan areas.
The music and instruments might range over hundreds of years from very old to very modern, but the performances are always fresh and exciting. This year was the landmark tenth anniversary season for High Desert Chamber Music and special programming brought renewed attention and record ticket sales. The season opened at the Tower Theatre with Elizabeth Pitcairn and the Red Mendelssohn Stradivarius, the same instrument whose mysterious past inspired French filmmaker François Girard to write the Academy Award-winning movie The Red Violin. Also featured were Aviara Trio, Crown City String Quartet, Peter Wiley with pianist Anna Polonsky, and French horn player Laura Brenes with pianist Timothy Durkovic and violinist Isabelle Senger. The season finale debuted the exciting piano duo 4handsLA. Steven Vanhauwaert and Danny Holt shared the bench and one piano in a high-energy performance, bringing a rollicking close to High Desert Chamber Music’s remarkable tenth anniversary season.
What can you look forward to as High Desert Chamber Music embarks on its second decade of bringing leading classical performers to Central Oregon? Their concerts are now broadcast on KWAX Classical radio’s new program, KWAX Presents!, featuring notable performances around Oregon. The 2018-19 season schedule will be announced in August, but here’s a sneak peek into next season: If you tune in to NPR, you’ve probably heard the host of From the Top, Christopher O’Riley. A Steinway Artist, O’Riley will present a solo piano recital as part of HDCM’s Concert Series. Also debuting in the series will be the critically acclaimed Oregon Guitar Quartet, performing for the annual Valentine’s Day concert next February.
Tickets for the 2018-19 season go on sale in August. Visit the website to keep up with announcements, support their programs, or learn how you can get involved.
Come hear the music!