Arts and Entertainment

The virtues of Beethoven and riverside meditation

Lying reclined on a picnic blanket with my hands beneath my head, staring up past the treetops where the ambience of a grand piano meshed with the sunshine and singing birds in the afternoon sky, I knew I’d found a getaway.

Peaceful. Relaxing. Contemplative.

Those three feelings made up, in large part, the entire vibe of the Olympic Music Festival’s opening weekend June 28-29.

Every summer, all summer long, chamber music players from around the country come to the Olympic Peninsula to give weekend concerts at an old dairy farm near Quilcene. Now in its 25th year, the Olympic Music Festival — affectionately called Concerts in the Barn — is the largest chamber music festival in the Northwest.

Thus, it was one of the first places that came to mind when What’s Up decided to expand its borders for a monthly dispatch of What’s Up Beyond Kitsap. (Look for a Beyond Kitsap column on the second Wednesday of every month in What’s Up).

It is an attempt to help feed the need for summertime adventure in times when it’s not always possible to just get in the car and go. What’s Up will be taking you Beyond Kitsap on no more than a tank of gas (on the 18 miles per gallon of a 2005 Astro Van), traveling public transportation as much as is feasible.

For this first trip across the Hood Canal Bridge, public transport was out of the question as soon as it was decided to turn the OMF adventure into a family excursion by adding in a night of camping along the Quilcene River. I strongly encourage anyone venturing out to the OMF to couple the festival with a bit of riverside meditation. It really ties the weekend together.

The meditative air of the festival itself is thick. So much so, however, it looked like some concert-goers had drifted into an afternoon nap as we arrived.

Paul Hersh, the featured artist for the opening weekend and a longtime OMF returner, was already at the piano blazing through Beethoven’s “Sonata in E,” the first of three in the concert’s nod to Beethoven’s Last Sonatas. The silence of the audience was intimidating, given I had a 3-year-old in tow, but that seemed the only way those gathered on the lawn could hear the piano wafting out of the barn and into the afternoon air.

There’s a tiny bit of electronic amplification on the outside of the barn but for the most part it’s pure, unadulterated chamber music.

The OMF audience setup is divided between those seated on pews and haystacks in the barn and those in camp chairs and on picnic blankets on the lawn — different prices for each.

It’s an interesting atmosphere. Definitely not your typical music festival, it seems more like your grandmother’s music festival. We were most likely the only ones there under the age of 40 (other than the toddlers running around), and I was definitely the only one wearing a Social D T-shirt.

Sun bonnets and straw hats, however, did abound.

It’s the type of music festival that sophisticated ears can really dig into. Visually, the scene is pretty unexciting — people sitting quietly, staring, not looking all that enthused, one lady reading the local paper. But the Beethoven was beautiful.

Once inside the barn, the excitement picked up. The score for the Sonata in C minor began taking off as Hersh got more extravagant and animated in his movement, fingers flying across the keys hurriedly, excitedly, stirring the still room. As he played the final notes of the final Sonata, finally the crowd showed signs of life, rising to its feet, offering a standing ovation.

Of course there’d be a standing ovation, I thought, we just listened to more than three hours of classic Beethoven from one man and a grand piano.

What’s Up goes Beyond Kitsap with a peaceful getaway to a barn

near Quilcene for the Olympic Music Festival.

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