For the past 25 summers, local musicians have come together in three different parts of Palm Beach County for a four-week series of 12 concerts of chamber music, much of it unusual and rarely heard, though always worthy.
The Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival, which debuted in 1992 at the Duncan Theatre, returns for another summer starting tomorrow night at the Persson Recital Hall on the campus of Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach.
That’s the central county venue for the series, which offers the same program in the north and south parts of the county. This year, the north county venue will change because the hall that’s been used for years, the Eissey Campus Theatre on the campus of Palm Beach State College in Palm Beach Gardens, will be dark this summer in a cost-cutting move.
The festival has therefore relocated its Saturday night north county concerts to the First Presbyterian Church in North Palm Beach.
“It’s a beautiful hall, and it’s just down the block,” said bassoonist Michael Ellert, one of the three co-founders, along with clarinetist Michael Forte and flutist Karen Dixon, of this durable festival. The church also is on one level, rather than being reached by a flight of stairs, which Ellert sees as a plus for concertgoers with physical challenges.
The concerts this 26th season, which are held on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons from Friday to July 30, feature the mix of beloved and offbeat that has been standard operating procedure for these concerts since the beginning. Along with the Brahms Piano Quartet No. 3 (in C minor, Op. 60) on Program I and the Dvořák String Quintet No. 2 (in G, Op. 77) that closes Program IV, the concerts include pieces by two 20th-century composers whose works will be new to most of the audience: the Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano by Britain’s Madeline Dring (Program III) and the Divertimento for Flute, Clarinet and Bassoon (in B-flat, Op. 12a) by Germany’s Joachim Köstchau (Program I).
The major works on Programs II and III continue in the offbeat vein: The Dixtour, or dectet, for wind quintet and string quintet, by the 20th-century Frenchman Jean Françaix closes the second program, and the third ends with the Clarinet Quintet of Robert Fuchs (1847-1927), an Austrian composer who taught harmony at the Vienna Conservatory — his students included Gustav Mahler, Jean Sibelius and Hugo Wolf — and was highly admired by Brahms, which is saying something considering all the ungracious things Brahms said about other composers.
“The Françaix starts out very different. It’s a slow beginning, very atmospheric, for about 32 bars, and then it goes into Françaix: It’s light, and it’s fun … it’s just so clever,” Ellert said. “The first time I listened to it, I thought: ‘We’re programming that this summer. That’s going to be the big piece.’”
Françaix, who died in 1997, was a hugely prolific composer in the neoclassical tradition whose aesthetic is reminiscent of Emmanuel Chabrier, the 19th-century French pianist and composer whose music was witty and light while being very serious at the same time.
The Clarinet Quintet of Fuchs, written in 1919, is a piece co-founder Michael Forte has been trying to program for a couple years now, Ellert said.
“It is Brahmsian without being Brahms,” said Ellert, who had not heard of Fuchs before this. The quintet is a lovely piece, very much in the Brahms mold, but perhaps without the more famous composer’s sense of inner turmoil.
Few, if any, other regular local concerts present so much obscure music, and that’s due in part to the fact that its three founders are woodwind players, and the bulk of familiar chamber music includes strings or piano. And it’s also because these musicians — and the dozens of colleagues that have joined them over the decades — have developed a record of trust with their audiences, introducing them to overlooked but important corridors of the repertoire.
“If you’re going to come to hear Dvořák, you’re going to have to hear Fuchs. That’s how we program,” Ellert said. “We could do Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, etc., for the rest of our lives and never run out of music. But why?”
Friday and Saturday night’s concerts begin at 7:30 p.m., and the Sunday afternoon concerts, at the Crest Theatre on the Old School Square site in Delray Beach, begin at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 per concert, but buying a package of four goes for $85, or a $15 discount.
For more information, call 561-547-1070 or visit pbcmf.org, where you can find the complete programs for the entire series.