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Intimate Musical Excellence

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If you've ever wished a few world-renowned musicians could appear in your living room to play you some Beethoven—or perhaps a brand-new piece of their own—consider attending one (or more) of the performances at the Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival.

Chamber music is an intimate form of classical music, meant to be played by a small group of musicians in a cozy setting. The festival, in its 19th year, is put on by Arizona Friends of Chamber Music.

Peter Rejto, an acclaimed cellist, has been the artistic director for each of the festival's 19 years. He essentially creates each festival, selecting artists from all over the world and deciding which pieces they will play, said Jean-Paul Bierny, president of the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music.

Bierny said he met Rejto after hearing him play the cello at the University of Arizona, where Rejto was a professor at the time. The two got to talking and decided a chamber-music festival would be an exciting addition to Tucson's springtime.

"Peter creates really brilliant programs that combine music that people know and recognize and love, with new pieces," said Randy Spalding, an AFCM board member.

A variety of musicians will perform throughout the weeklong fest. Some are new faces, and some have played at past festivals.

"It certainly is a rarified group," Spalding said. "The same people who perform in Carnegie Hall and great venues throughout Europe come here to perform as well."

This year, two pieces will have their premieres at the festival, thanks to a commissioning program in which a supporter can "essentially hire a composer to write a new piece," Spalding said.

The brand-new pieces are a piano trio by Lera Auerbach, and a piano quartet by Pierre Jalbert.

"We commission more new works than any organization in the United States today," Spalding claimed.

Jeannette Sorrell plays the harpsichord and directs for the Baroque orchestra known as Apollo's Fire. She said she sees it as her personal mission to connect with the festival crowds. She strives to hook the younger generation, and said her group is known to draw crowds that are youthful, at least by classical-music standards.

"Classical music is not going to survive if it's only listened to by people who are 65 years old," Sorrell said. "It should be for everybody, and I think that everybody really enjoys it if it's presented in a way that is accessible."

Members of Apollo's Fire play on period instruments from the 17th and 18th centuries. She said the musicians are well-versed in the historical background of the instruments. "But we do not seem scholarly when we're performing. ... It's a very high-energy kind of performance."

This is the second year in a row in which Apollo's Fire will appear at the festival. This year, a group of eight musicians and one dancer will perform Mediterranean Nights, described as "sultry songs and passionate dances from Italy and Spain."

"I call it a Baroque jam session," Sorrell said. "Even people who are not really typical classical-music concertgoers usually like this concert. ... This would be a nice chance for them to give it a try, because the music is very lively, entertaining and accessible."

The festival also includes classes, a gala dinner, a youth concert and open rehearsals. The free youth concert is intended to get kids of all ages packing the theater to get an earful of chamber music.

"What we hope is that some young kid is going to sit there and think, 'Whoa, this is way more incredible than I imagined,' and develop an interest as a performer or future audience member," Spalding said.

Bierny said there has been a rise in attendance at his group's Evening Concert Series, now in its 64th season, and he's hoping that will mean bigger crowds for the festival.

"We're presenting absolutely top-notch chamber music," he said. "You can't get better than what were offering to Tucson—not in New York, Paris, anywhere."

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