Great bookends and neglected gems

The American Chamber Players to offer classic and less-familiar compositions in concert Sunday

Posted: Thursday, October 10, 2002

People are sometimes intimidated by classical music, and that's something Miles Hoffman hopes to eliminate.

Hoffman, a violist and a musical commentator for National Public Radio, brings his group The American Chamber Players to Juneau for a concert Sunday.

"It's like gardening or cooking, or football or baseball," Hoffman said. "The more you know about a subject the more levels for appreciation that are available. That's why they have color commentators with football. But not knowing about cooking doesn't mean your enjoyment of a meal is any less."

The American Chamber Players performance at Chapel by the Lake will feature familiar and possibly unfamiliar works, he said.

"We usually have great pieces as bookends for the program and the rest are neglected gems," he said. "We have Mozart and Fauré, but the pieces in between are also great but far less well-known. I think they'll be delightful discoveries for the audience."

The five-piece group will perform music spanning almost 200 years - from Mozart's "Quartet for flute and strings in D Major," to "Jet Whistle," Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos' 1950 duet for flute and cello.

The program also features Maurice Duruflé's "Variations for flute, viola and piano," Gabriel Fauré's "Quartet No. 1 in C Minor for piano and strings" and Frank Bridge's "Phantasy in F-sharp Minor for piano quartet."

Hoffman said Bridge's piano quartet, composed in 1911, is often new to audiences.

The American Chamber Players

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13.

Where: Chapel by the Lake.

Who: Fiveperson chamber group features music of Faur, Bridge, VillaLobos and Mozart

Tickets: $18; $15 for students and seniors; $60 for family pass; available at Hearthside and Rainy Day books. All tickets $2 more at the door.

Sponsor: Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.

"I'll be surprised if people have heard them before," he said. "I'll also be surprised if they don't find them (to be) beautiful works."

He described The American Chamber Players as "a piano quartet plus flute." In addition to Hoffman, the group includes flutist Sara Stern, violinist Joanna Maurer, cellist Michael Mermagen and pianist Edward Newman. The group also includes a clarinetist who alternates on tour with Stern.

Every member of the group, except Stern, was trained at the renowned Juilliard School of Music in New York.

"She is largely self-taught, no conservatory or formal training after high school," Hoffman said. "She's a remarkable flutist. She did tremendous work to get to the level at which she plays and you won't find a Juilliard graduate who plays more beautifully."

The ensemble allows for a variety of configurations. A concert can feature a flute and piano duo or just the strings and piano.

"The possibilities are virtually endless. There's so much repertoire and the variety appeals to us and audiences as well," he said.

Hoffman will be a musician first and musical educator second on this tour, he said. Every week for the past 13 years, Hoffman has brought his musical commentary to NPR's "Performance Today" program. His commentary includes listener-friendly explanations of the many foreign words and technical terms peculiar to the world of classical music. He is also the cultural commentator for NPR's Morning Edition and the author of "The NPR Classical Music Companion: Terms and Concepts from A to Z."

"My radio talks are geared at helping people not to have any sort of insecurity complex about classical music, because it's not necessary," he said. "You go to a movie and someone asks if you like it, you don't apologize because you don't know about cinematography and film editing. You just like it or not. There's no reason we can't have that be true of classical music."

He doesn't feel compelled to explain the music he performs, but he doesn't want there to be any barriers between the music and the audience.

"There's always something to be said for breaking down any unnecessary barriers that may exist between the music and audience," he said.

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