At first glance, the music of the 19th century German composer Robert Schumann and that of the 21st century American composer C. Curtis-Smith would seem worlds apart.

But Jason Hardink doesn't quite see it that way.

"There is a connection to their approach to composing," said Hardink, artistic director of the NOVA Chamber Music Series.

"Both are inventive and imaginative personalities, and both conceived of new ways to play the piano."

The music of the two composers will be featured at the next NOVA concert taking place today at 3 p.m. in Libby Gardner Concert Hall. On the program will be Schumann's "Fantasy Pieces" for clarinet and piano, along with a set of art songs, as well as Curtis-Smith's "Rhapsodies," "Fantasy Pieces" and Second Piano Trio.

Schumann, of course, expanded piano technique and opened the doors to greater virtuosity. And Curtis-Smith took it to a new level unimagined by Schumann or any other 19th century composer.

"He invented the technique of bowing the piano," Hardink said.

Always interested in expanding the sonic possibilities of the instrument, Curtis-Smith hit on the idea of bowing the piano's strings by using a flexible bow made from nylon line.

That was in 1972, and soon after other composers began borrowing the technique, including George Crumb, who used it with great skill in many of his own works.

"One of (Curtis-Smith's) first pieces to use this technique is the 'Rhapsodies,' " Hardink said. "He creates some amazing sounds."

But in the Second Piano Trio, from 1992, Curtis-Smith doesn't use bowings at all. "It's a very straightforward and optimistic work. It's really uplifiting and grandiose, but it's also rhythmically challenging and difficult to put together."

The "Fantasy Pieces" for violin and piano also incorporates bowed sounds. "There are some incredible sonorities in this piece," Hardink said. "Curtis-Smith actually matches the timbre of the violin on the piano."

Performing in today's concert will be Utah Symphony colleagues Lee Livengood, clarinet; Pegsoon Whang, cello; David Porter, violin; and Jason Hardink, piano.

They will be joined by pianists Vedrana Subotic and Barlow Bradford; baritone Michael Chipman; and violinist Stephanie Cathcart, NOVA's newly appointed general manager.

If you go ...

What: NOVA Chamber Music Series

Where: Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah

When: Today, 3 p.m.

Cost: $18 general admission, $15 senior citizens, $5 students

More details: 801-463-5223 or novachambermusicseries.org

e-mail: ereichel@desnews.com