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NOVA marks 30th with 'reprise' debut

NOVA CHAMBER MUSIC SERIES, Utah Museum of Fine Arts Auditorium, University of Utah, Sunday

This season marks the NOVA Chamber Music Series' 30th anniversary. And although the music scene in Salt Lake City has changed dramatically for the better over the past three decades, NOVA is still one of the area's most significant outlets for chamber music. When Utah Symphony associate principal clarinetist Russell Harlow founded NOVA in 1977, it was the only chamber music series in town.

Harlow's symphony colleague Corbin Johnston (the orchestra's associate principal bassist) now runs NOVA. And to celebrate the organization's milestone, Johnston asked local composer Morris Rosenzweig to write a piece.

Rosenzweig's "reprise" premiered at the season opener, played by Johnston, violinist Gerald Elias, violist Brant Bayless, cellist Noriko Kishi and pianist Jason Hardink, under the composer's direction. The five gave a wonderfully nuanced reading that captured the intricacies superbly.

A fairly short piece, "reprise" is based on a simple chord. But Rosenzweig gets a lot out of it. There is quite a bit of repetition throughout; however, he constantly adds some new elements to the patterns he repeats — and this brings a certain intensity to the work. (This isn't minimalist music in any sense of the word. Instead of repeating phrases ad infinitum, Rosenzweig adds substance to the musical fabric through subtle changes and additions.)

None of the instruments in "reprise" can stand alone. Rather, it is the constantly shifting instrumental combinations and the intricately woven interplay among the five that make this piece work and which create a fascinating mosaic of sound.

Without question, "reprise" is one of Rosenzweig's best chamber works to date. Fortunately, NOVA will soon be recording the piece for a disc devoted exclusively to Rosenzweig's music. It was paired in the first half with Ramiro Cortes' Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano. NOVA's first commissioned work, it was written for Harlow, who premiered it in 1981.

Cortes' trio is intense in expression and bold in its statements, with sweeping lines and phrases. It's charged with energy and uncompromising in its attitude. Harlow, cellist Walter Haman and pianist Melissa Livengood, in solid ensemble play, gave a gripping reading of the work that captured the vitality, passion and intense drive of the piece exquisitely.

The same five players who opened the concert also ended it, this time with a luminous reading of Schubert's glorious "Trout" Quintet. Their playing of this piece was wonderfully perceptive and insightful. Particularly the fourth movement set of variations (based on the tune Schubert used for his lied "Die Forelle"), the focal point of the work, was given a splendid performance with seamless playing and delightfully fluid figurations.