Pianist Greg Presley, like a lot of musicians, encounters some music that he identifies with as a performer, and some music that he's simply been asked to play. But when he talks about his collaborations with Spokane's contemporary chamber music ensemble director Kendall Feeney, he says it's been nothing but excitement. "It's been that way with almost everything we've performed together," says Presley. "We did a series of piano duets that on my own I probably would have just played the notes. But Kendall found all sorts of interesting things in the music, and different ways to bring out things, that the pieces came alive for me as well."
That sense of excitement and ownership while presenting art is rare -- it's rare for a performer and it's especially rare to find in an artistic director, who is involved in shaping everything an organization presents. But 12 years ago, when Feeney founded Zephyr, it was that quality that drew artists and supporters around her and has helped the organization thrive.
"I joined the Zephyr Board," explains Zephyr board secretary Louisa Rose, "because I felt that Kendall was doing something absolutely unique and at a level of artistic excitement and execution that is unparalleled in our community."
Presley agrees: "The type of music that Zephyr does, you're not going to find in a standard concert. That Kendall finds it and presents it to you is a rare opportunity."
Unfortunately for Spokane audiences, the opportunities may become rarer after this year. In the spring, Feeney announced her retirement as Zephyr's artistic director. While the board is exploring the possibility of continuing the concert series under new direction, whatever happens will be without Feeney's unique touch.
"I'm hoping that enough people will feel the way I do," says Rose, "and will take advantage of this year to come and experience the great musical gifts Kendall is offering us. I'm looking forward to this year's Zephyr concert series with tremendous anticipation -- it's going to be a wonderful one -- and with a feeling of loss."
Illustrative of the variety that Feeney has brought to Spokane's musical scene, the upcoming Zephyr will open on Nov. 1 with an intimate evening of music featuring the ancient Chinese instrument, the erh-hu. Concerts later in the year will explore the tango and madness.
"I wanted to dust off the concert format and offer audiences repertoire that was unusual, sounds their ears had never heard before, new instruments, new tones," Feeney said last spring, discussing the origins of Zephyr. "I feel very grateful to the loyal audience members, and to the individuals and foundations that made the series possible."
Whether Zephyr continues after this year has not been officially announced. In any case, Spokane audiences have been given a dozen years of artistic invigoration. And like the musicians Feeney performs with, audiences have several more chances to make unfamiliar music come alive.