It was a fortunate day for Winnipeg, when in 1987, musical power couple, pianist David Moroz and violinist Gwen Hoebig moved here from Montreal. Both 27-year-old graduates of the esteemed Juilliard School, they returned to Moroz's hometown where Hoebig began her position as concertmaster of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
They soon began to make their mark here. Both quickly became sought-after performers and teachers, but they wanted more. They had played chamber music regularly as members of Les Chambristes de Montreal, but realized that there was nothing quite like the group in Winnipeg at the time.
"When we decided to start up a chamber music concert series, Max Tapper, then the general manager of the WSO put me in touch with Bill Loewen," Moroz said in a telephone interview. "Bill was heading up Comcheq Services Ltd. at the time and they became our first sponsor and continued to sponsor us for many years."
The two musicians first formed a piano quartet comprised of the principal players of the WSO -- Hoebig on violin; Rennie Regehr, viola; Bryan Epperson, cello and Moroz, piano and artistic director. They booked the Muriel Richardson Auditorium at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and on Oct. 28, 1987, the Winnipeg Chamber Music Society was born.
Twenty-five years later, only Moroz and Hoebig remain of the original members, but the WCMS is still going strong. It is giving a special concert on Jan. 22 at 8 p.m. at the WAG with guest, Winnipeg soprano Tracy Dahl.
In celebration of their 25th season, the musicians have invited more exceptional guest soloists to join them later this year -- pianist Jon Kimura Parker on March 4 and Hoebig's brother, cellist Desmond Hoebig, will participate in their annual Mozart and More! mini-festival in June.
The current group, made up of Hoebig, Moroz, violinist Karl Stobbe, violist Dan Scholz and cellist Yuri Hooker has been together for over a decade. "That's longer than many professional touring ensembles," noted Moroz, who adds that all are close friends, with many of them teaching one another's children.
"Gwen teaches Karl's daughter," he said, "and our son studies viola with Dan. It is quite unique. I am certain there isn't a group of principal musicians who play chamber music together and get along so well." The players even hold "big kids' concerts" at Christmas and in June, inviting all the grandparents.
Moroz and his colleagues share a love for the chamber music genre. Defined as a form of classical music written for a small group of instruments, with no two parts doubled and no conductor, it was created for performances in a palace "chamber," gaining fashion as an intimate activity among friends.
This is what makes it work so well among this particular group of colleagues/friends. "The tradition of chamber music is that composers tended to write for people they knew or loved," explained Moroz, citing Brahms as an example. "The music has a certain quality -- a warmth and friendship you can hear within the music, so when you are actually friends, it adds another dimension."
The WCMS audience can see that congeniality. The ensemble has a loyal and discerning following. "They understand what we do on a very deep level," said Moroz. "They come particularly to hear the music, not necessarily for the person playing."
The program for the Jan. 22 evening includes Schumann's Quintet in E flat major, considered one of the greatest of his chamber scores (and incidentally, dedicated to his wife, Clara), Schumann's op. 107 set of songs arranged for soprano and strings, Veni Sponsa Christi by Niccolo Jommelli and Winnipeg composer Randolph Peters' Wonder If? which Moroz described as "a beautifully atmospheric mood piece."
What does the WCMS have in the works for its next 25 years? "I was afraid you'd ask me that," laughed Moroz. "We try to think of rewarding projects. Since 2003, we've been working our way through all the Beethoven quartets. We're now on the later quartets. We'll continue with our successful Mozart and More! festival. We might do the Schubert string quartets. There's lots of great music we haven't played yet."
So, Winnipeg chamber music enthusiasts -- there's lot to look forward to. The tradition continues with this exceptional group of musicians who share with us the music they love to play -- that just happens to be the music we love to hear.
Tickets for the Jan. 22 concert are $20 for adults, $10 for students and are available at the WSO box office or at the door.