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The 2013 Chamber Music Festival: indispensable music!

By Bryan Townsend

The line-up of artists and repertoire this year is better than ever. As always, the festival has chosen outstanding soloists and ensembles like the Parker String Quartet, winners of the 2011 Grammy award for best chamber music recording, and highly respected pianist Shai Wosner, who just released a CD of Schubert sonatas which he also played at the Kennedy Center. You won’t want to miss the innovative programming of the Onix Ensemble who this year brings us an all-Latin American program. The young members of the Daedalus Quartet are especially known for their refined and translucent treatment of both Haydn and modern music. Another young string quartet, the Ensō String Quartet, has won a number of competitions including the 2003 Concert Artists Guild, 2004 Banff International String Quartet Competition and Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. The Canadian Gryphon Trio has released 15 CDs on the Analekta label, two of which have won Juno awards.

The selection of repertoire this year is the best I can remember in the years I have been attending. We have a healthy portion of the great Viennese trio of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. As a special treat we have a quartet from Haydn that was written at the dawn of the string quartet—a genre invented by Haydn! Another treat is one of his trios for violin, cello and piano that we rarely get a chance to hear. From Mozart we will hear two quartets including one of his most famous string quartets, the “Dissonance” (so called because of some strange harmonies in the introduction) dedicated to Mozart’s dear friend, Haydn. We will also hear one of Mozart’s trios, another rare treat. Beethoven was a student of Haydn and also greatly influenced by Mozart. We will hear three of his most famous quartets, the early B flat quartet with the “Melancholia” movement, the “Harp” from his middle period and one of the late quartets, the E flat major. This is an astonishingly lyrical quartet dominated by its slow movement, one of Beethoven’s superb sets of variations.

Felix Mendelssohn was one of the Romantic masters and a child prodigy like Mozart. We will hear both a string quartet and a trio by him. Another 19th century composer of lovely, folk-influenced music is Bedřich Smetana and we will hear the quartet that he titled “From My Life.” From the late 19th century we will hear a quartet by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. The great Czech composer Antonín Dvořák contributes both a quartet and a quintet with piano.

In the 20th century the string quartet regained new life as many outstanding composers transmitted their most profound musical thoughts in this medium. Among them are Leoš Janáček whose two string quartets are greatly admired. We will hear the first named “Kreuzer Sonata.” We are lucky enough to get the chance to hear two of Béla Bartók’s six quartets. He, along with Dmitri Shostakovich, is probably the most important composer of string quartets in the 20th century. Speaking of Shostakovich, we won’t hear a quartet, but are privileged to hear one of the greatest pieces of chamber music ever written, his Trio in E minor with perhaps the most haunting opening ever. Erwin Schulhoff is one of that group of composers who tragically lost their lives in concentration camps and whose music is only now being rediscovered. We will hear both his Five Pieces for String Quartet and his String Quartet No. 1.

The all-Latin American program of the Onix Ensemble takes us from the 20th century into the 21st century with some of the chamber music of today. We will also hear the Trio of Maurice Ravel and four tangos by Astor Piazzolla, who turned a popular musical form into a classical one.

That only leaves to mention the very special treat of an evening of the piano music of Franz Schubert along with a modern piece written as an homage to Schubert. Tickets are on sale now in the Festival office in the Bellas Artes at Hernández Macías 75, second floor, 10am-4pm for 150, 350, 450 pesos. 154-8722,

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