The 19th season for the Chintimini Chamber Music Festival in Corvallis kicks off Friday night, and attendees at the festival's concerts and other events will enjoy its usual array of familiar and not-so-familiar selections.
But look a little closer at the works that the festival's artistic director, Erik Peterson, has scheduled this year, and you can sense a bit of rebellion running through the program: For the second straight year, Peterson has worked to include works by female composers. In fact, each of the festival's four major concerts this year contains one such piece.
Peterson started emphasizing female composers with last year's Chintimini festival, and the initial impulse behind that was somewhat political, he said in an interview this week: "With the political upheaval here and around the world, I was wondering what I could do to speak out a little bit," he said. "What could I do to highlight people other than white European men?"
Of course, the music has to speak for itself, but a little bit of research on Peterson's part unearthed a number of works by women that simply hadn't gotten the exposure they deserved. "They've had a hard time breaking through," he said.
But, he noted, "the tides are turning, just as they've turned in other fields."
And Peterson has helped a bit to turn those tides: One of the featured works at next Tuesday's Chintimini chamber orchestra concert at the Whiteside Theatre in Corvallis is "And the Air Was Dancing," a triple concerto by Tanzanian composer Maria Grenfell. The work was commissioned by the Ivy Street Ensemble, the trio in which Peterson performs with his wife, flutist Cathy Peterson, and violist Phillip Stevens.
Chintinimi audiences will be among the first to hear Grenfell's composition. The piece was premiered about a month ago in Denver, and Peterson said it's taken a unique place in the chamber music repertoire: "There is no other concerto written for this combination of instruments."
Other works by female composers scheduled for the festival include:
• Joan Tower's "Island Prelude," scheduled for the Friday, June 21 concert. (See the box for details about Chintimini concerts.)
• Jennifer Higden's Piano Trio, scheduled for the Friday, June 28 concert. It's "a piece that will stretch people's definition of chamber music," Peterson said.
• Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel's String Quartet in E flat, scheduled for the final concert on Sunday, June 30. Hensel, the sister of Felix Mendelssohn, wrote more than 460 pieces of music, including this work, which Peterson called "familiar but different."
The festival also includes "Miniatures," a work by William Grant Still, the composer considered the dean of African American composers.
Of course, the festival still is dotted with works by familiar names to chamber music patrons: Works by Schubert, Mozart, Vivaldi, Schumann and Brahms all are on the program for various concerts.
Peterson said he works hard to find the right mix of selections for each of the festival's four main concerts, blending old works with newer ones, pieces that will be very familiar to classical music fans with newer pieces that might seem a little more adventurous.
Fans of a certain dead white male European composer might take affront at his exclusion from this year's Chintimini festival, but Peterson said not to worry: Next year will mark the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven's birth, and so expect next year's festival, the 20th, to take a deep dive into Beethoven's repertoire.
The Chintimini festival started as a way to reunite musicians who grew up in the mid-valley but left the region as their careers took wing. For Peterson, the chance to renew those connections remains one of the great pleasures of the festival.
"It's just a great way to connect," he said. "Some people connect over book clubs. I like to connect over music clubs, I guess."