Chamber Of Delights

The Arizona Friends Of Chamber Music Offers An Innovative Season.
By Margaret Regan

IN MIDDLE AGE, it's said, the waist broadens and the mind narrows. Happens with people, happens with arts groups. But the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music, a presenting organization now in its 49th year, is carefully avoiding that stodgy fate.

Consider that last year, at its third-annual Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival, the Friends put a multimedia spin on two concerts by the Prazak Quartet, mixing in slide projections and spoken word with the music, and even screening a movie after one concert. The daring presentation was so successful, says Friends President Jean-Paul Bierny, that a national tour is projected for the participants, who included a trio of Tucson actors.

"It was a huge success," Bierny said. "The musicians said it even helped them understand the pieces. It was extraordinary." But, speaking in the spirit of New Year's Eve, when he was interviewed, Bierny was more eager to talk about upcoming innovations than last season's news.

What the future entails is some very contemporary music slipped into concerts featuring lovable old favorites. Next Wednesday, for instance, at the fifth concert of the Friends' regular season, the American String Quartet will play a pair of familiar works from previous centuries, Haydn's Quartet in G Major, Op. 76, No. 1, and Brahms' Quartet in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2. Sandwiched in between, however, will be Quartet No. 2 by Giampaolo Bracali, an Italian who's very much alive. In fact, Bracali will be at the concert to speak to the audience before his work is performed. His appearance, and his piece, are part of a Friends' scheme to win over concertgoers to new music.

"We want to try to introduce a very contemporary piece as much as possible in each concert," Bierny said. "A lot of harsh, dissonant music has been composed in the last 40 years. The audience has hated it. It has driven the audience away. But that has changed in the last five or 10 years or so...The composers have left atonality and turned away from dissonance, and gone back to consonance, back to melody."

Bypassing agents, who assume the typical conservative music presenter wants nothing to do with contemporary music, the Friends have gone directly to musicians to ask for euphonious new pieces. Though the Tucson audience is adaptable, Bierny said, "We have to tread the water carefully. We want good, solid pieces with melody."

So far, the strategy seems to be working. Last November, for instance, at a concert by the Muir String Quartet, Bierny said the audience enjoyed a new work called "Night Fields" by Joan Tower, tucked into a program that also included Brahms and Schubert. A concert scheduled for April, more daringly, will offer a whole program of unfamiliar work. The music, to be performed by the Cuarteto Rios Reyna of Caracas, Venezuela, will be "entirely by Latin American composers and played by Latin American musicians," Bierny said. "Normally this repertoire is not heard in this country."

Presenting new music and putting the composers on stage whenever possible--demonstrating via their living flesh that the classical music tradition is alive and well--is also part of the group's energetic strategy to attract younger audiences. That's also one of the reasons for "Piano and Friends," a series of Sunday afternoon concerts now in its second season, featuring younger musicians playing the neglected piano repertoire. (The next "Piano and Friends" concert, featuring Rina Dokshinksky on piano and Alblan Gerhardt on cello, is January 26.) The Friends are also distributing a number of free tickets to selected high school students for each of the seven main chamber music concerts, and will once again offer a free youth concert at the chamber music festival in March.

The Friends have one more major project on the boards: commissioning new music.

"We've already commissioned a quartet for piano and strings for our '98 festival," Bierny said. Bierny himself has commissioned a sonata for violin and piano; it will have its premiere at the "Piano and Friends" concert on February 16. The composer is Fazil Say, a Turkish pianist in his 20s, whose own compositions have been performed in Berlin and Boston. He'll play his own work at the concert, along with violinist Scott Yoo. Bierny said he decided to seize the chance to underwrite a new Say work, telling himself, "My God, this is a great opportunity!"

Arizona Friends of Chamber Music presents a concert by the American String Quartet at 8 p.m. Wednesday, January 15, at TCC Leo Rich Theatre, 260 S. Church Ave. Tickets are $14, $4 for students with ID. The remaining concerts in the series are on February 5, when the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio performs, and on April 11, when the Cuarteto Rios Reyna plays, with Monique Duphil on piano.

The "Piano and Friends" concert is at 2 p.m. Sunday, January 26, at Leo Rich. Pianist Rina Dokshinsky and cellist Alban Gerhardt will play a program of Prokofiev, Kodály, Rachmaninoff and Beethoven. Tickets are $10, $4 for students with ID. Other piano concerts are on February 16 (Fazil Say, piano, and Scott Yoo, violin) and March 30 (Christopher Taylor, piano).

This year's Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival, March 9 through 16, showcases the Bartok String Quartet of Budapest, joined by 10 other musicians. For more information call 298-5806. TW

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