Four world-class ensembles will perform at this year’s Chamber Music Festival

By Fredric Dannen

In all of the best chamber music groups, the individual members appear to be engaged in a conversation. Musically speaking, the players listen intently to their partners and finish one another’s sentences. Consider, for instance, the Gryphon Trio of Canada, one of the four premier ensembles scheduled to appear at this year’s San Miguel Chamber Music Festival, which commences on July 31 and runs through August 23. Said a critic for the Washington Post: “Any decent trio can create a dialog between instruments; the Gryphon conjures a conversation of sound.” Now in its thirty-sixth season, the festival has achieved the international éclat to attract musicians in demand at festivals in much larger cities around the world. Two acclaimed string ensembles—the Borromeo String Quartet, and the Calder Quartet—round out this year’s festival, along with the equally acclaimed Claremont Trio.

The Borromeo, which first performed in San Miguel in 2009, kicks off the festival this season on Thursday, July 31, with string quartets by Mozart, Bartók and Dvořák and returns the following evening to play works by Bach, Schubert and Britten. The ensemble, which has been the quartet-in-residence at the New England Conservatory of Music for more than twenty years, is known for reinvigorating often-heard works in the standard repertoire and for making even the most challenging new music accessible. Says Cathy Fuller of NPR: “To hear and see them perform has always felt to me like taking a private tour through a composer’s mind.”

The Gryphon Trio (Saturday, August 9, and Sunday, August 10), is also making a return appearance, having played two sold-out concerts last season. The group chose the name Gryphon (pronounced “griffin”), says cellist Roman Borys, because the mythological lion and eagle hybrid “was purported to be the guardian of treasures.” Works like the Haydn Trio in C, which opens the Gryphon’s first concert, is one of the gems of the repertory, and Borys adds, “We like to think of ourselves as guardians of the tradition.” The group has also championed the non-traditional, having commissioned and premiered no fewer than 75 new works; and each of the Gryphon’s concerts will feature a work by a living composer: Old Photographs, by the Greek-Canadian composer Christos Hatzis and the Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano by R. Murray Schafer, the noted composer and environmentalist.

Likewise, the Calder Quartet (Friday, August 15, and Saturday, August 16), will perform works by two living composers, Thomas Adès and Don Davis, alongside standard repertory from the pens of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. Based in Los Angeles and making its San Miguel debut, the much-lauded Calder Quartet (“superb,” says the New York Times), has commissioned or premiered more than 30 new works. The Davis composition, Vexed, commissioned by the Calder, was inspired by a similarly titled sculpture by Franz Xavier Messerschmidt. Davis is principally a film composer, best known for writing the score of the The Matrix.

The all-male Calder Quartet will be followed a week later by the all-female Claremont Trio, which will present the festival’s closing concerts, on August 22 and 23. Founded in 1999 at the Julliard School of Music and composed of twin sisters Emily Bruskin (violin) and Julia Bruskin (cello) and Andrea Lam (piano), the group has been lauded for its exuberance and artistic maturity. One reviewer said of the Claremont’s CD of trios by Ravel and Beethoven, “These are some of the most impassioned, moving and notable readings of these favorites that I have ever heard, bar none.” As it happens, the Beethoven Trio in E flat is the first work that the Claremont, also making its San Miguel debut, will perform, to be followed by trios composed by Brahms, Shostakovich and Schubert. And once again, San Miguel audiences will be treated to works by two living composers—the Four Folk Songs of Gabriela Lena Frank, and a trio entitled A Serious Man, by Judd Greenstein.

General seating tickets go on sale at the San Miguel Chamber Festival office on the second floor of the Bellas Artes on July 1, but subscription packages may be purchased now at the office from 10am until 3pm, 415-154-8722. For more information, send an email inquiry to or visit


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