Roughly 20 young people from across the country will stay at Linfield University’s McMinnville campus starting this weekend to learn and perform as part of the Aquilon Music Festival, mixing opera classics with Ukrainian folk music.
The students, coming from a variety of conservatories and universities — including Linfield — are part of Aquilon’s Young Artist Program. In the program, they will learn stagecraft, vocal techniques, acting and dance from world-renowned musicians, conductors and choreographers.
That will lead up to the festival’s biggest performance later in July, Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” taking place from July 19 to 22.
Anton Belov, the festival’s director and associate professor of music at Linfield, started Aquilon in 2018. He said the Young Artist Program gives students the opportunity to “experience their art in a practical way” by performing and learning in a professional environment.
“There’s this gap period between the professional life and educational life, and we kind of fulfill that place by providing them opportunities to perform a full role,” Belov told OPB.
For “Don Giovanni,” the students will be performing with a chamber orchestra along with veteran conductor Michael Recchiuti, who has played as a pianist in the past with famed opera stars like Plácido Domingo.
Belov said having the students work with people like Recchiuti is the “number one thing we do.”
“To have an opportunity to work on Mozart with a musician of his caliber is extremely special,” Belov said. “Number two, we give them an opportunity to learn new repertoire and to perform new repertoire.”
Some of that lesser-known repertoire includes Ukrainian material.
Belov was born in Moscow, Russia, but his family has deep roots in Ukraine, and he said sharing Ukrainian culture and music with the community has always been very important to him, including a pro-Ukraine classical charity concert he hosted in Portland early last year.
“What is important is that the general public is more aware of Ukrainian cultural heritage, of the level and beauty of Ukrainian art song and Ukrainian folk song,” Belov said. “And that it can stand on its own and not just be viewed as some sort of appendix of Russian classical culture.”
The students will perform a “Songs of Ukraine” concert on July 9 with two Ukrainian musicians — Valentyn Lysenko who plays the bandura, a Ukrainian instrument akin to a lute, and Inna Kovtun, a singer, specialist in ethnomusicology and Ukrainian refugee who now lives in Portland.
“[Kovtun] performs in the authentic Ukrainian folk music style, and she’s actually going to teach our students how to sing in that style as well,” Belov said. “So [the festival] is a combination of authentic folk music and classical music. We are exploring art songs by various wonderful Ukrainian composers who unfortunately we don’t know in this country whatsoever.”
Aquilon’s concerts, recitals and galas will take place both on Linfield’s campus and at vineyards in the area.
Students arrive Sunday, but the first concert of the festival will be Saturday and will feature local musicians, including Belov and his wife.
Like other large scale events, Aquilon was ground to a halt a few years ago by the pandemic. Belov said the festival restarted last year, but there was still a lot of hesitancy for people to attend public concerts. This year, he estimates hundreds of people will attend the festival’s events over the next month.
“We feel that the audiences are ready to come back,” Belov said. “That’s the most important thing.”