A musical series that began almost the same way a kids’ lemonade stand does —as an activity for friends to have some fun in the long days of summer — expands after 21 years this week into the fall season.
Tomorrow night at the Wold Performing Arts Center at Lynn University in Boca Raton, and Friday night at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Lake Worth, the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival opens the first of three programs on a series it hopes will become as permanent a part of the area’s classical music offerings as the summer concerts have been since 1992.
On the program for both 7:30 p.m. concerts are four works, the chief one being the glorious Clarinet Quintet of Mozart (in A, K. 581), along with a sonata for flute, violin and piano by Bohuslav Martinů (H. 254), an arrangement of Aaron Copland’s Quiet City for trumpet, alto sax, clarinet and piano, and a trio for bassoon, violin and cello (in B-flat, Op. 33, No. 3) by the early Romantic French bassoonist François René Gebauer.
“It’s going great. We’ve been having good rehearsals, we’re excited about the program and the repertoire, and things are going super-smoothly as far as the venues go,” said flutist Karen Fuller Dixon, one of the festival’s three founding members. “All of that is going extremely smoothly. The biggest problem we’ve had is that we haven’t raised as much money as we wanted to, but who doesn’t have that problem?”
Dixon said the festival organizers are hoping to see some attendance from seasonal residents who’ve already come to South Florida and have not seen the summer programs. “We’re hoping that they’ll like the concerts and they’ll want to help us out a little bit,” she said, adding that ticket sales for the October and November concerts are doing better.
The pieces on the concerts were chosen in the same manner as the summer concerts: A major chamber work with broad appeal (the Mozart) and other works in which the musicians go trolling the worklists for worthy but little-known pieces that can find a new audience. Because all three of the founding members are wind players, that has meant a festival with a far higher proportion of fresh programming than other chamber music events where the much larger repertory of music for strings tends to crowd out the offbeat.
“That is a formula that seems to work well for us, and that our audiences like,” Dixon said. “It works for us on a lot of different levels, both in terms of the success we’ve had with it during the summer, but also for spreading the work around for our core musicians.”
The festival faced a different kind of staffing challenge this fall, in that some musicians are less available than they would be in the summer, particularly in the November program, when all of its string players have other commitments. For that pair of concerts, the musicians will be joined by student musicians from the Lynn Conservatory of Music.
“It was a good opportunity to do some side-by-side stuff that we had talked about with Lynn University,” she said. “It works well for us in that it saves us some money and gives them some experience … playing with professionals and to get some standard repertoire under their belts.”
The November program (Nov. 14 and 15) features the Octet of Stravinsky, Bernstein’s Clarinet Sonata, Andre Jolivet’s Pastorales de Noël, and a concerto by Tomaso Albinoni for trumpet, three oboes, two bassoons and harpsichord.
October’s event, set for Oct. 10 and 11, spotlights works by contemporary American composers: Clare Shore’s Cycle de Vie for bassoon and string quartet, and James Stephenson’s Remember Forward and Bagatelle, both for trumpet and piano. A woodwind quartet by Frenchman Jean Françaix and the Brahms Piano Trio No. 3 (in C minor, Op. 101) round out the program.
Shore, the second woman in Julliard history to earn a doctorate in composition (the first was Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, a Miami native and part-time Pompano Beach resident), has been helping the festival do public relations, program printing and other necessary production tasks, Dixon said.
“She’s been fantastic,” Dixon said. “And while we know that she does these things for us, her primary identity in life is really as a composer, and so we wanted to have that opportunity to honor her.”
Stephenson, too, has personal ties with all the festival musicians, and Dixon and Stephenson, a trumpeter, played together in the Naples Philharmonic. Festival trumpeter Marc Reese and pianist Lisa Leonard premiered Stephenson’s concerto for trumpet, piano and strings a few years back at Lynn.
“We really enjoy the opportunity to play new music, music by living composers,” she said. “That’s something we feel is important to do.”
The September, October and November concerts will not be the only appearance for the festival musicians. On Nov. 8, they will play on the opening concert of the second annual Distinguished Artists Series at Palm Beach Atlantic University, which later in the year will feature Chicago-based violinist Rachel Barton Pine (March 21) and the Omer String Quartet (Feb. 28). The series has been created by violinist Patrick Clifford, a PBAU faculty member.
Dixon said the group is still working on a program for the PBAU concert, but is delighted to be a part of Clifford’s series. “We’re extremely excited to be able to collaborate with him on that program,” she said.
Dixon points out that the three-concert series starting this week is being billed as an “inaugural” fall event, “so it’s certainly our intention that we keep going,” she said. But it will come down to revenue and attendance, and the musicians are hoping for the best.
“One of our goals for doing this, as far as expanding the festival into the fall part of the regular season, is that we want to be playing as many concerts as we can. We love playing these chamber music concerts, and our orchestral seasons keep getting compressed and compressed, starting later and later,” Dixon said. “So this is a great way for us to fill out our season.”
Tickets for Thursday and Friday’s concerts will be available at the door or in advance and are $20 each. For the Lynn concert, call 237-9000; for the St. Andrew’s concert, call 800-336-6874. Patrons can also buy tickets online by visiting www.pbcmf.org.