Festival director brings ‘wow factor’ to local chamber music

Now in his 10tkevinh year as artistic director of the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival, Kevin Krentz is ever more comfortable with his iconoclastic approach to chamber music.

“I have an unapologetically populist bent,” said Krentz. That’s reflected in the music, the performers’ approachable styles, and the incorporation of other components such as spoken word, educational lectures, and visual art in the festival. (Krentz even hopes to add dance or other movement art some day.)

When he was hired to lead the festival, Krentz had already spent considerable time thinking about and studying successful organizations and music festivals. He has continued to build on and refine that understanding.

“Artists must be communicators on stage. It kind of drives me crazy to be in a tiny reverberation chamber, only being important to ourselves. I want the music to be important to more people,” said Krentz.

Krentz surmised that half of the festival audience – even the diehards who come year after year – don’t necessarily listen to classical music at home. In fact, Krentz doesn’t listen to it much either, although he is of course surrounded by it in his work. But people love hearing the music live, he said. “You need the personalities on stage, the wow factor of virtuosos, and variety. As musicians, it’s our job to take the stage and make something happen.” For example, this season they’ll feature a cello quartet. “It feels like a bunch of friends performing together – it’s virtuosic and zany,” said Krentz.

Krentz was involved with the festival as a performer before becoming artistic director. He plays regularly with two award-winning ensembles, the Finisterra Trio and In Flight 3, and has won awards as a concerto soloist.

Krentz’s own approach to music is highly eclectic, spanning the genres from jazz and improvisation to electric cello and rock. He records regularly for movie soundtracks, commercials, and even video games. To choose music for the festival, Krentz solicits suggestions from all the musicians. “I’m thrilled to present a blend of slightly offbeat music,” he said. It also helps that festival musicians also don’t take themselves too seriously, he said. “In order to commit to the amount of work it takes to play one of these instruments at a high level, it takes a true believer,” he said. “I talk the musicians into being relevant and into understanding what audiences enjoy.”

Over the years, Krentz has developed a sense for what audiences tend to like. “You can’t just play the same 15 warhorses,” he said. “To do all Mozart string quartets is a horrible idea. It’s like a movie full of car chases.”

“There are lots of wonderful pieces by lesser-known composers who occasionally put out a gem,” he said. In fact, Krentz has a personal insight into musical tastes, which has helped him recognize that you can’t reach everyone. He grew up in a home where he never heard classical music. Although he’s brought his mother to concerts with “gorgeous, crowd-pleasing, romantic tunes,” she still hasn’t warmed to the music, he said. Krentz’s father, on the other hand, has been deeply moved by the music Krentz introduced him to. “I like classical music because it has a deep impact and thrill for me. I can get places where you can’t go with the popular music I grew up with,” said Krentz.

In his “spare” time – in addition to performing, teaching, and directing the festival – Krentz is an increasingly successful inventor of instruments and accessories. One of his newest inventions is an endpin – the rod the cello rests on – that significantly enhances the tone of the instrument. Krentz’s endpin is fabricated from a material called silicon nitride, a super-ceramic that’s so stiff – 600 percent stiffer than steel – that it’s used in ball bearings for the space shuttle. Because the endpin doesn’t absorb any of the cello’s vibrations, it gives the instrument a fuller, richer sound. Krentz’s improved cello case design, which incorporates common-sense, practical features that protect the instrument better and eliminate the annoying shortcomings of carrying straps and closures of typical cases – will soon be sold worldwide.
Reflecting on the past decade with the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival, Krentz said, “I feel like we’re doing great stuff and am proud of what we have achieved. We’re in a happy, healthy place. We have great ideas, and a great product, in a venue that can makes the Festival come alive.”

Tickets are available now at www.methowmusicfestival.org