Every spring, music lovers' fancies turn to festivals, with the Winnipeg Chamber Music Society's annual offering Mozart and More! right at the top of the list.
"One thing we try to do with these concerts is to include some lighter pieces," says the society's artistic director/pianist, David Moroz, who founded the chamber music group with his wife, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Gwen Hoebig, in 1987. "I know that people enjoy our concerts enormously and so it's also a nice way for us to finish our year."
First established in 2006 in its earlier incarnation, A Mozart Celebration, this year's mini-festival being held next Tuesday and Thursday features Moroz with the Clearwater Quartet, composed of WSO's key players: Hoebig (violin); Karl Stobbe (violin); Daniel Scholz (viola); and Yuri Hooker (cello). Now in its 27th season, the society has been a fixture on the local classical music scene since its inception, with an annual series of five concerts presented throughout the year at the Winnipeg Art Gallery's Muriel Richardson Auditorium.
The first of the festival's two centrepieces, Mozart's String Quartet in D major K575 also marks a première for the ensemble during the opening-night program.
"There's a certain perfection to his music," Moroz says of the 18th-century master's enduring classics. "First of all, there's great beauty that's very pure. There's also great emotion and lyricism, with form and structure all co-existing together in a perfect balance."
Also being offered is Mozart's Piano Quartet in G minor, K478, which closes the festival -- last performed by the ensemble in 2008. And if that's not enough, there's also Beethoven's Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 5 No. 2, Schubert's Rondo Brilliant, D895 and Italian virtuoso Alessandro Rolla's Duo for violin and viola.
In past years, the festival has featured guest artists such as Winnipeg coloratura soprano Tracy Dahl and jazz bassist Steve Kirby performing crowd-pleasing works by (Claude) Bolling to (Leonard) Bernstein. There are often unexpected twists in store -- for instance, three years ago, Franz Schubert's sublime Piano Quintet in A major, or "Trout Quintet," was paired with Jan J§rvlepp's Atlantic Salmon Quintet.
This year's edition proves no different. Sonata for Viola 4 Hands by P.D.Q. Bach (a.k.a. musical satirist "Professor" Peter Schickele) will be performed, naturally, by Scholz. But when asked which one of the ensemble's players -- or, more pointedly, whose second pair of hands will also be playing Scholz's fiddle simultaneously -- the Juilliard graduate isn't giving anything away. "That will be a secret," he teases. "But it will be unexpected."
Another highlight will be Thomas-Mifune's South American Lapses, which sees graceful, Viennese-inspired music going head-to-head with fiery Latin-American tango. "It's not a long work but it's packed full of drama," Moroz says of the approximately five-minute piece scored for string quartet.
Local audiences will also be treated to a rare sighting of a harmonium, played by Moroz in Czech composer Antonn Dvor°k's Bagatelles, op. 47.
"I played one about 20 years ago at a summer festival," the versatile artist says of the small, reedy pump organ. "But this will be my local debut."
One of the great hallmarks of chamber music is its congeniality that recalls days of kinder, gentler music-making. Players often appear engaged with each other as though in intimate dialogue. This particularly holds true for the chamber music society, with all five members particularly close-knit.
"Concertos are meant to be display pieces, with the soloist appearing a bit like a prizefighter in the spotlight," Moroz explains. "Chamber works tends to be written by composers for their friends. The music is just very warm and always has this feeling of love and friendship."
"Most musicians, if given the choice as to how to make their careers entirely, would play chamber music," Moroz says. "We're doing what we love and we're happy to do that. There's nothing like sitting down with your friends and making music."
Mozart and More! takes place at the Winnipeg Art Gallery's Muriel Richardson Auditorium. For tickets or further information, visit www.wcms.mb.ca.