Jefferson County hatches new chamber music group

CAPE GEORGE — The former director of Centrum’s Chamber Music Festival will perform Friday as the artistic director of a new chamber music group.

In September 2007, William and Willa Doppmann packed up their grand piano and their computers, their writing desks and their dog from their Gig Harbor homes and moved into a secluded house in the woods near Discovery Bay, west of Port Townsend.

The purpose of the rural retreat: to focus on finishing the opera the couple started 25 years ago.

Their plans went slightly astray when local music lovers learned that William Doppmann, a concert pianist, composer and the director of Centrum’s Chamber Music Festival from 1975 to 2000, was in town.

Wanting to capitalize on his talent as well as his connections in the music world, they formed the Chamber Music Society of Port Townsend and asked Doppmann to be artistic director.

He agreed, and on Friday, will perform with guest artists the first of three chamber music concerts that make up the society’s premier season.

Each of the three concerts will begin at 8 p.m. at the Quimper Unitarian Church, 2333 San Juan Ave., Port Townsend.

“I split my time between the two”– the opera and the chamber music group, he said.

The opera is a collaboration with his wife, Willa Doppmann, a pianist as well as a children’s author and dramatist.

Inspired by shaman

Inspired by the stories of Carlos Castaneda, the couple started writing the opera, which they describe as a magic comedy, in the 1980s.

Castaneda, who died in 1998, was a Peruvian-born American author who wrote a series of books that describe his purported training by a Yaqui shaman named don Juan Matus, who lived in Mexico. Castaneda’s 12 books have sold more than 8 million copies in 17 languages.

The Doppmanns’ full-length opera, titled “The Apprentice,” is about a shaman’s apprentice who wants to become a warrior. It has six leads as well as an on-stage chorus.

“I’ve written a lot of dramatic music for voice and various song cycles,” William Doppmann said.

Liked Port Townsend best

The opera could be set in any time and place, said Willa Doppmann, but the Doppmanns specifically chose Port Townsend as the setting for their new home.

The couple returned to Port Townsend, Willa Doppmann said, because it is the place they liked the best out of all the places they have lived.

Originally from Massachusetts, William Doppmann grew up in Cincinnati, a child prodigy who conducted his own composition with the Louisville Philharmonic at the age of 7.

He was a piano soloist with the Cincinnati Symphony at age 10, and by the time he was 19, was he winning international music competitions.

According to his biography on the chamber music Web site, Doppmann has performed concerts throughout the world and recorded piano sonatas and chamber music on a number of labels.

He also has won awards for his compositions, which the Doppmanns publish along with his poems on their home-based press, Divers.

The two met at the University of Iowa and have lived in Austin, Texas, New York City and Tacoma, where they raised a family and started a chamber music series.

“That was in 1979, 1980,” Willa Doppmann said. “Now it’s big stuff.”

Two more years for opera

Her husband figures that, with the addition of the chamber music series to their schedule, the opera will take another two years to finish.

“You write every single thing, including the lighting cues,” William Doppmann said.

“When it goes into production, they can be changed. But you want to visualize and notate as much as possible.”

For the first Port Townsend Chamber Music Society concert, William Doppmann will perform music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky and César Franck with guest artists Elisa Barston, principal second violinist for the Seattle Symphony, and Walter Gray, a soloist and member of the Seattle Symphony.

The second concert will be a solo recital by William Doppmann on March 27.

He will perform music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms and Zoltðn Kodaly with cellist Hamilton Cheifetz and violinist Theodore Arm at the third concert on May 8.

“We chose a mix of familiar and unfamiliar,” he said. “We try to get a balance between older and newer composers.”

Each of the three concerts will begin at 8 p.m. at the Quimper Unitarian Church, 2333 San Juan Ave., Port Townsend.

For tickets or more information, go to or phone 360-385-4599.


Jennifer Jackson can be reached at

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