Getting Intimate with the classics
Volunteer Power: Thanks to dedicated believers, Houston Friends of Chamber Musicschedules a daring new season
Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. Houston Friends of Chamber Music isn't preparing for nuptials, it's the almost 52-year-old company's vow to meld variety and familiarity in the upcoming 2012-13 season.
Sure, the volunteer-led organization could just stick with the genre's most established group: The string quartet. Loved by Papa Haydn, developed by young Mozart and embraced by Beethoven, Dvořák, Shostakovich, Bartok and Villa-Lobos, the homogenous instrumentation has much to offer. Instead, HFCM is embracing a mixed bag approach.
Whether that means scouting international competitions, poring through countless hours of recordings or traveling to preview potential musical guests, one thing is certain: HFCM is married to the philosophy that only the crème de la crème of classical music's intimate scene receive a spot in the nine-concert lineup.
"We are just as interested in introducing Houston to the next Emersons or Tokyos as we are bringing back what history has told us has struck a chord with our audience and volunteer board."
"We want to provide an opportunity for Houston audiences to hear the best in an effort to muster community appreciation for chamber music," Marc Sofia, director and vice president of programming, tells CultureMap.
Like many of the colorful personalities that make HFCM run like a well-oiled nonprofit machine, Sofia is a passionate volunteer: Engineer at Baker Hughes by day, chamber music buff by night.
In recent years, HFCM programming strategy has changed. It aims to achieve a balance between showcasing proven Houston favorites with the next generation of excellence in chamber music while adding some spice with wind and vocal troupes.
"We are just as interested in introducing Houston to the next Emersons or Tokyos as we are bringing back what history has told us has struck a chord with our audience and volunteer board," Sofia explains. "Soon, we will have more top chamber groups at our disposal than we need to fill a season."
To coincide with a website revamp, subscription sales will be available online beginning March 6. Classical music junkies wishing to reserve the best seats can do so before then by calling 713-348-5400 or emaling email@example.com.
Though no specific repertoire has been announced yet, below is the schedule you'll see at Shepherd School of Music's Stude Concert Hall.
New to Houston Friends of Chamber Music
It's not every year that HFCM has the option of hosting larger groups like Chamber Orchestra Kremlin (Oct. 16). This gathering of emerging Russian string talent has been growing strong for 17 years and in spite of the fall of Communism, after which many troupes appeared and vanished from the scene. Writes the New York Times: "Misha Rachlevsky, the ensemble's music director, elicited warm, full-blooded and virtuosic playing with colorfully shaped, gleaming phrases."
HFCM has been eyeing the Gryphon Trio (Feb. 12) for a couple of years. With 14 albums ranging from Mozart to tango to a Juno Award-winning premiere recording featuring the music of Canadian composers Kan Nin Chan, Christos Hatzis, Gary Kulesha and Kelly-Marie Murphy, the Toronto-based threesome is just as comfortable with the classics as they are with more risqué selections. Multimedia projects and collaborations with Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello and Laurie Anderson are just a sample of Gryphon's willingness to step outside of theater conventions.
"With ensembles like the Gryphon Trio, we are looking at ways to bring music outside of the concert hall," Sofia says.
The Canadian Brass (Jan. 22) is arguably the most in-demand of brass quintets. Don't be surprised if a mishmash of styles includes tunes with bluesy grooves.
Recent audience favorites
The Pavel Haas Quartet (Nov. 8) — the name honors the Czech composer who was held at Theresienstadt in 1941 and died in Auschwitz three years later — made its debut with HFCM in 2009. Coming off winning Gramophone's 2011 Recording of the Year for Dvořák's String Quartets Opus 106 and Opus 96 "American," the group is committed to showcasing and expanding music of Czech origins. The quartet's interpretation of Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Beethoven and Mozart is not to be missed.
It was back in 2010 when the Artemis Quartet (March 12) presented an all-Beethoven program at HFCM. Reviews of works by Ligeti, Bartok and contemporary composers like Jörg Widmann have been described as intense and fascinating.
It was Da Camera that first brought the Ebène Quartet (April 9) to Houston in 2011. The quartet's Ravel, Debussy and Fauré record made quite the impressionist splash, winning the 2009 Gramophone Recording of the Year. Chances are, audiences will hear more than just classical works. The eclectic gang may just add a jazzy encore from its album Fiction.
It's fitting that the Tokyo String Quartet (Sept. 20) opens the season. After all, it was HFCM who championed the musicians in Houston before they were a household name in high art circles. In fact, the tireless group has been a regular for decades and opened the 2011-12 season with works by Haydn, Schumann and Szymanowski.
The last time Tallis Scholars (Dec. 4) were hosted by HFCM was in 2002. Led by Peter Phillips, the British choral troupe was due for a comeback, especially in expectation of four decades of performing a cappella sacred music of the Renaissance as well as contemporary works by Pärt, Tavener and Whitacre.
The Emerson String Quartet (April 30) may be an established group but with cellist David Finckel's scheduled leave in the Fall of 2013, this will be the last time Houston will hear the Emersons in this configuration, one that has won over critics and audiences for nearly 35 years. Replacing Finckel is cellist-cum-conductor Paul Watkins, music director of the English Chamber Orchestra and guest conductor of the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast, Northern Ireland.