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NOVA marking 30-year milestone

Today's concert kicks off 2007-08 chamber season

Corbin Johnston is NOVA Chamber Series artistic director.
Corbin Johnston is NOVA Chamber Series artistic director.
Liz Martin, Deseret Morning News

The NOVA Chamber Music Series opens its new season today with a 3 p.m. concert in the Utah Museum of Fine Arts Auditorium — marking the series' 30th anniversary.

Founded by Russell Harlow, the Utah Symphony's associate principal clarinet, the series was under his direction for nearly a decade until symphony violinist Barbara Scowcroft assumed the position of artistic director in 1986 and ran it for nearly two decades.

Corbin Johnston, the Utah Symphony's associate principal bass, now heads the series, and to mark NOVA's milestone, he's decided that the six concerts that comprise the new season should be a musical time capsule of the past 30 years.

For Johnston, who is starting his fourth season as artistic director, programming has become a core element of NOVA. And for the opening concert today, he's uniting the past with the present. "We're doing Ramiro Cortes' Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, which was NOVA's first commission, and a new commission by Morris Rosenzweig," he told the Deseret Morning News.

Cortes taught for a number of years at the University of Utah before his untimely death in 1984. He was a close friend of Harlow's, and asked him to write a piece for the series in 1981. Harlow, for whom the trio was written, will be playing it again today.

"I'm really glad that Russell will be here," Johnston said. "And Barbara will also perform with us later in the season. Having them here is one of the highlights of the season."

Rosenzweig's piece, "reprise," is just the latest in the series of works that NOVA has commissioned over the years. "It's important for us to acknowledge contemporary composers and play their music," said Johnston. "And having Morris write a piece for us is a big deal, because he's not just a local composer, but someone who is well known outside of Utah, too."

A recording of "reprise" is also on tap. "This will be NOVA's first commercial recording," Johnston said, adding that the disc will be devoted to Rosenzweig's music.

Schubert's "Trout" Quintet, D. 667, rounds out today's program. It's a far cry stylistically from the other works, but there is a connection to at least one of them, Johnston said. "Morris includes a quote from the 'Trout' in his piece. It'll be fun for the audience to see if they can catch it."

Looking at the season as a whole, Johnston pointed to several things he considers highlights. "For one, we're doing four piano quintets, two of which are among the greats in the genre, while the other two are virtually unknown." Besides Schubert's "Trout Quintet," the other famous work is Brahms' F minor Quintet, op. 34, which will be played on the last concert of the season, on April 27, 2008.

Of the two unknown quintets, one is by one of the most prominent composers of the 20th century, Bela Bartok. His Piano Quintet is an early work, dating from 1904 and, unlike his later works, is solidly in the German romantic tradition. It will be played at the concert on Nov. 18.

The other unknown quintet is by a 19th century composer who is largely forgotten today, Jeanne-Louise Farrenc. Her Piano Quintet No. 1 in A minor, op. 30, was written around 1830, Johnston said. "It's a very romantic and lovely piece." While neglected today, Farrenc was a well known and highly regarded composer during her lifetime. "Schumann spoke very highly of her skills as a composer and pianist." Her work will be performed at an all-French concert on Jan. 20, 2008.

The Fry Street Quartet, which has been in residence at Utah State University for several years, will make the first of several appearances on NOVA on March 30, 2008, playing Schubert's "Rosamunde" Quartet, D. 804. "This will be a multiyear residency on NOVA for them," Johnston said.

And despite the fact that several 20th and 21st century composers will have their music performed this season, Johnston said that this is a solid and exciting season. "We're doing some great music, and we have a great roster of (my) colleagues from the symphony. I'm looking forward to getting it under way."

If you go . . .

What: NOVA Chamber Music Series

Where: Utah Museum of Fine Arts Auditorium, 410 Campus Center Drive

When: today 3 p.m.

How much: $15

Phone: 463-5223

Concert schedule

Here is the schedule for NOVA's 2007-08 season (all concerts begin at 3 p.m.).

Today: Rosenzweig, "reprise"; Cortes, Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano; Schubert, Piano Quintet ("Trout"), D. 667

Nov. 18: Kurtag, "Hommage a Robert Schumann," op. 15d; Schumann, "Marchenerzahlungen," op. 132; Bartok, Piano Quintet

Jan. 20: Dutilleux, "Les Citations;" Saint-Saens, Septet, op. 166; Farrenc, Piano Quintet No. 1 in A minor, op. 30

Feb. 24: Leclair, Sonata for Two Violins, op. 3, no. 4; Dvorak, Terzetto, op. 74, and Sextet, op. 48

March 30: "Franz Schubert, The Chamber Music of 1824, Part III" — "Deutsche Tanze," D. 820; "Moments Musicaux" no. 6, D. 780; Introduction and Variations, D. 802; String Quartet ("Rosamunde"), D. 804

April 27: Janacek, Concertino; Martinu, Nonetto; Brahms, Piano Quintet in F minor, op. 34