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Chamber music fest warms up winter at NU

A Far Cry | Phoby YoS. Byun

A Far Cry | Photo by Yoon S. Byun

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Chamber Music Festival

♦ 7:30 p.m., Jan. 11-31

♦ Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Northwestern University, 50 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston

♦ Tickets $20-$148

♦ Visit;
(847) 467-4000

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Updated: February 12, 2013 2:07PM

If it’s January, it must be time for the Winter Chamber Music Festival at Northwestern University.

This is the 17th year chamber music fans will gather in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall to enjoy performances by local, national and even internationally acclaimed chamber musicians.

“I started planning for this year right after the 2012 festival ended,” said festival director Blair Milton, a Northwestern faculty member and player in the first violin section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 33 years.

The 2013 festival follows the established format, but also has several surprises among its seven concerts.

Performances will include the Chicago premiere of “Perpetual Chaconne,” featuring the Calder Quartet and Chicago Symphony assistant principal clarinetist John Bruce Yeh on Jan. 20. It was written by Yale-based Aaron Jay Kernis, 2012 recipient of Northwestern’s Nemmers Prize in Music Competition.

Kernis said “I’m very happy that John and the Calders were so enthusiastic to add it to their concert at Northwestern.”

Yeh and the Calder Quartet gave the California premiere of the quintet and will give the fourth performance of “Perpetual Chaconne” at the Chamber Festival.

“The first time I heard the piece I thought ‘wow,’ ” Yeh concluded. “It is a delight for me to play.”

The Boston-based ensemble, A Far Cry, will make its festival debut Jan. 18. The group will play what violinist Jesse Irons calls “a bunch of our greatest hits over the last six years.”

Their program includes works by Golijov, Arvo Part, and Biber, as well as William Walton’s Sonata for strings. “Only one person in our group knew the Walton,” Irons said.

He is one of the founders of the 17-member group, a conductor-less orchestra with rotating leadership. Its members call themselves Criers and show a strong independent streak.

“We do our own thing,” explained Irons. “We build from the ground up and play music we choose. We get input from each other and consider ourselves to be like a giant string quartet.”

From the San Francisco Bay area, the New Century Chamber Orchestra with violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg returns to conclude the festival Jan. 31.

The ensemble has 19 players, including Salerno-Sonnenberg, but at Northwestern they are playing Richard Strauss’ “Metamorphosen,” which requires four more musicians. The German composer wrote it in the midst of World War II as he mourned the bombing of the Munich Opera House and all that symbolized.

“This is a piece for 23 solo strings,” the violinist continued. “It is Strauss at his most glorious, a showcase for the orchestra.”

Blair Milton established the initial Winter Chamber Music Festival in January of 1997 to commemorate the death of Johannes Brahms. That first program included his Piano Quintet, with no less than Daniel Barenboim, then CSO conductor, at the piano.

Dorothy Andries is a local free-lance writer.

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