The NOVA Chamber Music Series closes out its season today with a matinee concert in the Utah Museum of Fine Arts Auditorium. On the program are works by Leos Janacek, Bohuslav Martinu and Johannes Brahms.
This is the series' 30th anniversary season, and the fourth under artistic director Corbin Johnston, whose goal with the series has been to see it as a venue of cutting-edge chamber music.
"I've wanted it to be the place where you can hear music that hasn't been played here before, or that hasn't been played here often, so it becomes normal for audiences to hear this music," Johnston told the Deseret News.
That can be a risky proposition for concertgoers weaned on the standard chamber music repertoire. But fortunately for the series, and for Johnston, "audiences have been happily embracing this." That's not to say that NOVA has been neglecting the core staple of any chamber music series — the music of the late 18th and 19th centuries. But a good mix of the familiar and the unknown is healthy, Johnston said.
Take today's concert. While Janacek and Martinu aren't unknown entities, Johnston feels their music isn't played as often as it deserves. "They wrote some amazing pieces. They're 20th century composers, but their music poses little challenge for an audience."
Janacek's "Concertino," for piano, two violins, viola, clarinet, horn and bassoon, will open the concert. "You'll love this piece," Johnston said. "He wrote with such an amazing voice and an amazing inflection of Czech dialect in terms of music."
Martinu's "Nonetto" is equally captivating, Johnston said. Written in 1959, in the last year of his life, it's scored for one each of the woodwinds and strings and shows off Martinu's incredible facility as a composer. "He was a real master craftsman and a wonderful composer."
As with much of his output, the "Nonetto" is neo-classical in vein and indebted to a small degree to Igor Stravinsky. "There is some gorgeous solo writing, and the sound he creates is almost orchestral in texture."
Rounding out the concert today is Brahms' Piano Quintet in F minor, op. 34. "After all, this 'new' music, we'll close with something well-known and familiar," Johnston said.
Johnston is pleased with how this season has turned out. "The season has been very successful. We've done some significantly challenging 20th and 21st century music. That builds the appetite and palate for even more adventurous programming."
Having seen how people have opened up and embraced his programming concept, Johnston is eager to unveil the 2008-09 season, which begins on Oct. 19. Of the composers represented, about half are from the 20th and 21st centuries. Among them are Hans Werner Henze, Alfred Schnittke, Sofia Gubaidulina, Gyorgy Ligeti and Gyorgy Kurtag. They'll share programs with Louis Spohr, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann and others.
"I'm intrigued by people who put together programs that have some connective tissue, although at the time you think that these composers make strange bedfellows," Johnston said. "My effort has been in blending works and trying to find musical connections between composers."
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 general admission, $12 senior citizens, $5 students (at the door)