After the Fourth, it’s all chamber music

Arts / Article

Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival founders, left to right: Michael Forte (clarinet), Michael Ellert (bassoon) and Karen Dixon (flute).

Although July Fourth usually signals a slowdown in cultural activity as everyone takes a breather to celebrate the holiday, this week actually marks the beginning of one of South Florida’s most durable music festivals.

Friday night, the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival opens its 22nd season of summer concerts, four weeks of three concerts apiece that will take each of the weekends in July. The musicians who founded the group and who play in it each year are familiar faces all over South Florida, not just Palm Beach County, and they draw a regular, devoted crowd to three county venues for programs with a substantial supply of unusual, out-of-the-way works.

One of the highlights this year will be a performance of a fine American work, the Piano Quintet (in F-sharp minor, Op. 67) of Amy Beach, an important member of the Second New England School of composers who until very recently was the most high-profile of all female American classical composers. Written in 1908, the work is a long, lush, powerfully dramatic piece with a beautiful slow movement and tremendously challenging piano writing, which befits Beach, who was a terrific pianist.

The concerts begin Friday in West Palm Beach at Palm Beach Atlantic University; each program is then repeated Saturday night in Palm Beach Gardens and Sunday afternoon in Delray Beach. Here’s a brief rundown of the programs:

Week 1 (July 5-7): Johannes Brahms’ Serenade No. 1 (in D, Op. 11), in an arrangement for nine instruments, is featured on a program that also includes the Trumpet Sonata of the contemporary American composer Eric Ewazen and the Fantaisie (Op. 124) for violin and harp of Camille Saint-Saens.

Week 2 (July 12-14): The Beach Piano Quintet shares the concert with the Serenade (Op. 25) for flute, violin and viola of Beethoven and the Dixtuor (Dectet) for winds by the 20th-century French female composer, Claude Arrieu (her real name was Louise-Marie Simon). Week 3 (July 19-21): The big work on this program is the String Quintet No. 2 (in G, Op. 77) of Antonin Dvorak, unusual in that it calls for a double bass instead of a second viola. Also on the bill is the Clarinet Trio of Aram Khachaturian, Clifford Shipp’s Six Variations on a 13th-Century Minnelied, for trumpet and wind quintet, and Thierry Caens’ arrangement of an earlier treatment of Rossini’s Una voce poco fa, from his Barber of Seville, also for trumpet and wind quintet. Week 4 (July 26-28): Ernst von Dohnanyi’s first opus, his Piano Quintet No. 1 (in C minor), is the featured work on the second half of this program (this piece has been getting more attention of late; the Amernet Quartet did it last season with pianist Milana Strezava). The program also includes Mozart’s Duo No. 1 (in G, K. 423) for violin and viola, Villa-Lobos’ Quintet in the Form of a Chôros, for wind quintet with English horn substituting for French horn, and Stravinsky’s Pastorale, for violin, flute, oboe, English horn and bassoon.

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