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Guest column: For live music in June, Astoria offered it all

Live music haunts you for days


Published on June 29, 2018 11:02AM

Sunniva Brynnel, left, and Sara Pajunen.

Scott Docherty /

Sunniva Brynnel, left, and Sara Pajunen.

Sunniva Brynnel’s accordion.

Scott Docherty /

Sunniva Brynnel’s accordion.

Denise Reed

Denise Reed

When I finish teaching a music history class, I always ask my students: What did you think of the class, and what would you change if you were the instructor?

This spring one of my students responded: I wouldn’t make the live concert review a requirement — it should only be for extra credit.

Well, that’s one change I have no intention of making. Live music is something humans respond to on a deep level. It contains aesthetic elements that connect performer and listener.

Music expert John Shepherd, paraphrasing composer L. B. Meyer, said “A competent listener perceives and responds to music with his total being … Through such empathetic identification, music is quite literally felt …”

Live music takes us back to experiencing music as it was originally intended.

Astoria Music Festival

The Astoria Music Festival, which runs through July 1, has been the place to be for classical enthusiasts.

The festival offered everything from solo and chamber ensembles to large symphony pieces and opera, beginning with Renaissance work and extending to pieces from the 20th and 21st centuries.

Opening night at the 16th anniversary gala recital brought us some of the finest classical instrumentalists around — world-class performers such as cellist Sergey Antonov, violinist Maureen Nelson and pianist Cary Lewis, director of AMF Chamber Music. You see the music in their faces and body movements, and hear and feel it in the way they caressed their instruments.

In my book, you can’t beat live opera for its emotional content, and the AMF’s production of Puccini’s “Tosca” was just magnificent. I cried with Tosca and sighed with the lovers’ plight. I’m still not able to suppress extraneous sounds as I feel the emotion in the music. (I apologize to those around me whose concentration might have been disturbed by my clasped hands and anxious breathing.)

Even with several leadership changes and financial crises, the festival has consistently entertained and inspired classical music buffs throughout the Northwest.

Scandinavian Festival

If you were looking for music that opens up your world to different cultures, then it’s the Astoria Scandinavian Midsummer Festival that you want to experience with excellent Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish, composers and performers.

Astoria visitors can’t help but recognize the influence of Scandinavian culture on the city. This 51-year-old festival is a reminder of this influence with its arts, crafts, food — and, of course, the music that connects us.

While listening to the Pajunen/Brynnel duo, an act of Swedish-Finnish American ancestry, I began to imagine myself in the environment that influenced these composers and musicians. Both received classical training at the New England Conservatory, but they have roots in large Scandinavian communities in the Midwest.

The festival’s folk musicians inspire centuries-old dance movements — dancing that looks natural and uncomplicated, with the musical vibrations flowing through listeners and performers, resonating through their entire bodies.

Long after the festival’s conclusion, I found myself humming the tunes, moving with the rhythm of what I’d heard, even hearing it in the wind. This is what live music does: It haunts you for days.

Denise Reed is conductor of the North Coast Chorale and a member of the Oregon Humanities Board of Directors. She teaches at Clatsop and Tillamook Bay community colleges.


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