The Beat Goes On…

(Michelle Kim and Adam Golka perform at the Tower Theatre)

With another season complete, professional violinist Isabelle LaForêt Senger is continually touched by the support and enthusiasm for High Desert Chamber Music (HDCM) in the community. There are no signs of slowing for this group, boasting increased attendance for the Concert Series, record numbers at their Annual Gala, and expansive growth in school visits and students involved in Educational Outreach programs. She brings renewed enthusiasm and exciting programming to the organization she founded 11 years ago.


In 2008, Senger founded High Desert Chamber Music 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 eleven 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 eleven years, some notable musicians have performed in their concert series, including New York Philharmonic Assistant Concertmaster Michelle Kim, 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 events offered from September through June, and everything from piano duos to string sextets, there is always something to please new listeners, or connoisseurs of classical chamber music. High Desert Chamber Music strives to make exceptional musicians accessible to their audiences with pre-concert talks that allow concertgoers to interact and learn more about the artists and the programs they will perform.

Educational Outreach

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 Michelle Kim, violinist/violist Heiichiro Ohyama, violinist Martin Chalifour and cellist Peter Wiley. For the last four years, this has been offered in partnership with the Oregon branch of the American String Teachers Association. 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 600 students and teachers. These events are able to reach students from area elementary, middle and high schools, giving them the opportunity to see and hear professional performers, as well as get to know details of a musician’s life. This past season the Crown City String Quartet performed for the entire student body at William E. Miller Elementary, and the Oregon Guitar Quartet expanded the organization’s outreach into the Sisters School District. In past years, 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 recently 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 2018-19 presenting sponsor was Mission Building and Renovation. Title sponsors included German Master Tech, Neil Kelly, Miller Lumber, Hayden Homes, Pine Tavern Restaurant, Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, KBND radio and 101.7 Radio. Additional support provided by Atlas Home Security and Riverside Animal Clinic. 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 past season opened with Steinway Artist and NPR host Christopher O’Riley. Crowd favorites the Crown City String Quartet performed their concert at the new location of Wille Hall (COCC), followed by the debut of rising stars the Neave Trio. The next concerts were held at the Tower Theatre featuring the Oregon Guitar Quartet, and an exciting finale concert with Polish-American pianist Adam Golka and New York Philharmonic principal performer Michelle Kim.

What can you look forward to as High Desert Chamber Music continues in their second decade of bringing leading classical performers to Central Oregon? Their live concerts are regularly broadcast on KWAX Classical radio’s program, KWAX Presents!, featuring notable performances around Oregon. The 2019-20 season schedule will be announced in August, but here’s a sneak peek into next season: The Neave Trio had such a successful debut this year, and will be back by popular demand. Pianist Robert Thies will perform a solo recital “in the round”, where the piano is in the center of the hall and seats will surround the instrument on all sides. Finally, as an added bonus, HDCM and the Tower Theatre will be partnering up to present the Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass at the Tower Theatre in April 2020.

Tickets for the 2019-20 season go on sale in August. Come hear the music!

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