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Annual Winter Chamber Music Festival

Miro, Parker, Dover and Lincoln quartets among festival participants

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December 2, 2013 | by Judy Moore

EVANSTON, Ill. --- America’s high-profile Miro Quartet, the Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet, Chicago Symphony Orchestra cellist Brant Taylor, two former Vermeer Quartet members -- violinist Shmuel Ashkenasi and cellist Marc Johnson, and internationally recognized pianist Shai Wosner are among the world-class guest ensembles and artists set to appear on stage at Northwestern University in January.

All -- and many other top artists -- are slated to perform at the 18th annual Winter Chamber Music Festival, Jan. 10 through Jan. 26.

Presented by the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, and open to the public, the 2014 festival includes six concerts of chamber works performed by small groups of from two to eight. 

The programs will take place on the University’s Evanston campus at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive. Four of the performances in the series will be held in the evening and two are afternoon concerts. Cellist Marc Johnson will also lead a chamber music master class at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, in Regenstein Recital Hall, 60 Arts Circle Drive, that is free and open to the public.

“Pick-Staiger is a fairly large concert hall but it has a small hall feel and the sound is good no matter where you sit,” said violinist Blair Milton. “This year, there will be three amazing young string quartets.”

Milton, an adjunct associate professor at the Bienen School of Music and a Chicago Symphony Orchestra member since 1975, has directed the annual Winter Chamber Music Festival since it was launched in January 1997. He always strives to bring something new and stimulating to the series and the 2014 festival is no exception.

“We engaged the first place winner of the Banff International String Quartet Competition in advance last spring, which wasn’t announced until Sept. 1. The Dover Quartet didn’t just win first prize at the Banff competition, they won all the prizes, including the sub-categories, so they made a clean sweep,” he said. 

Milton is also delighted that two former Vermeer Quartet members -- violinist Shmuel Ashkenasi and cellist Marc Johnson -- will perform on Jan. 24 with pianist Andrea Swan. He said their program of three Brahms works would harken back to the opening of the very first Winter Chamber Music Festival in January 1997, when the entire festival was devoted solely to Brahms’ chamber works.

Other 2014 highlights include a rarely heard arrangement for string quintet of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Violin Sonata (a piece originally written for piano and violin), and a performance of Benjamin Britten’s Three Divertimenti for String Quartet, a “wonderful piece” in remembrance of the 100th anniversary of Britten’s death. Both works will be featured in the festival’s final concert Jan. 26 by the Lincoln String Quartet with guest cellist Brant Taylor.

“When you think back to how little chamber music was going on in the Evanston area in 1997, the year of our first festival, and what a change has taken place, the difference is staggering,” said Milton, who attributes the increased popularity of live chamber music to its intimacy that “makes audience members feel part of the performance.” 

Subscription prices for this year’s six-concert Winter Chamber Music Festival series, which includes prime reserved seating and a savings of up to 10 percent off single-ticket prices, are $130 for the general public and $54 for students with IDs. Northwestern faculty and staff who present a valid WildCARD receive a 15 percent discount off the general public price for single tickets only. Subscriptions are on sale and can be ordered by calling (847) 467-4000.

2014 WINTER CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL CONCERTS

The Miro Quartet and guest pianist Shai Wosner will open the festival at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10. The Miro ensemble has won first prizes at the Coleman, Fischoff and Banff competitions as well as the prestigious Naumburg Chamber Music Award. Comprised of violinists Daniel Ching and William Fedkenheuer, violist John Largess and cellist Joshua Gindele, the quartet will be joined by guest pianist Wosner, who has gained recognition throughout his career with appearances with many leading orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony and Philadelphia orchestras and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. They will perform Mozart’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat Major, Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 6 in B-Flat Major and Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F Minor. Single tickets are $24 for the general public and $10 for students with valid IDs. 

The Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 12. The Parker Quartet earned acclaim from winning the Concert Artists Guild Competition as well as the Grand Prix and Mozart Prize at the Bordeaux International String Quartet Competition in France. The group, which includes violinists Daniel Chong and Ying Xue, violist Jessica Bodner and cellist Kee-Hyun Kim, also served as the quartet-in-residence with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media. In the fall of 2014, the group will join the music department teaching faculty at Harvard University as Blodgett Quartet-in-Residence. They will perform Haydn’s String Quartet No. 23 in F Minor, Ades’ “Arcadiana” and Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 12 in E-flat Major. Single tickets are $24 for the general public and $10 for students with IDs.

Bienen School faculty and guest artists will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17. Artists include violinists Gerardo Ribeiro and Renee-Paule Gauthier, violist Rami Solomonow, cellist Stephen Balderston, double-bassist Kathryn Nettleman, pianist James Giles, flutist John Thorne, oboist Jelena Dirks, clarinetist Steven Cohen, hornist Gail Williams and bassoonist Christopher Millard. The program includes Fine’s Partita for Wind Quintet; Reger’s Serenade for Flute, Violin and Viola; Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in A Minor; Mozart’s Sonata for Bassoon and Cello in B-flat Major and Thieriot’s Octet for Strings and Winds. Single tickets are $22 for the general public and $10 for students with IDs.

The Dover Quartet, winner of the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition, will appear at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan.19. The quartet was recently named the first Quartet-in-Residence at the Curtis Institute of Music and the Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence at the Caramoor Festival for the 2013-14 season. Their program features Mozart’s String Quartet No. 16 in E-flat Major, Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 3 in F Major and Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 4 in E Minor. Single tickets are $24 for the general public and $10 for students with IDs.

Violinist Shmuel Ashkenasi, cellist Marc Johnson and pianist Andrea Swan will perform works by Brahms at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24. Ashkenasi, a professor of music and an artist-in-residence at Northern Illinois University, won the Merriweather Post Competition. Johnson, a Boston University faculty member, served as cellist for the Vermeer Quartet for 35 years. Swan is the founder and pianist of the Evanston Chamber Ensemble and the Pressenda Trio and appears frequently on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra chamber series. Their program includes Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major, Cello Sonata No. 1 in E Minor and Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major. Single tickets are $24 for the general public and $10 for students with IDs.

Marc Johnson Chamber Music Master Class, 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, Regenstein Recital Hall. Cellist Marc Johnson has performed with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Vermeer Quartet. As both a quartet member and a soloist, he has commissioned and premiered works by composers Ezra Laderman, Chinary Ung, Cristobal Halffter and Steven Mackey. In 2007 Johnson joined the faculty of Boston University. Admission is free.

The 2014 Winter Chamber Music Festival’s final performance at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26, will feature the Lincoln String Quartet and guest cellist Brant Taylor. The Lincoln String Quartet is comprised of current and former Chicago Symphony Orchestra members, including violinists Qing Hou and Lei Hou, violist Lawrence Neuman and cellist Kenneth Olsen. Cellist Taylor has appeared on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and “The Late Show with David Letterman” with the band Pink Martini. The Lincoln Quartet and Taylor will perform Beethoven’s String Quintet in A Major (“Kreutzer”), Britten’s Three Divertimenti for String Quartet and Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major. Single tickets are $24 for the general public and $10 for students with IDs.

For more information, call the Pick-Staiger Concert Office at (847) 491-5441. To order subscriptions or single tickets, call the Pick-Staiger Ticket Office at (847) 467-4000; to order single tickets online, visit Pick-Staiger