Vermont became a destination for top-notch classical music instrumentalists with the founding of Marlboro Music Festival in 1951, but most played and left. Not so anymore, as many fine musicians have made Vermont their home, while others grew up here and stayed or returned.
That has led to Vermont spawning its own excellent chamber music ensembles. Next weekend, two of those are performing four concerts in central Vermont.
The Northern Third Piano Quartet and Vermont Virtuosi are performing a total of five concerts in northern Vermont. Northern Third is in Montpelier Oct. 20 and Richmond Oct. 21, while Vermont Virtuosi performs in Burlington Oct. 20 and Montpelier Oct. 21. And both are introducing works by Vermont composers — Northern Third by Brookfield composer Erik Nielsen, and Vermont Virtuosi by its co-founder David Gunn, who lives in Barre.
Northern Third comprises four of the region’s best-known musicians: violinist Sofia Hirsch, violist Elizabeth Reid, cellist John Dunlop, all longtime members of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, and pianist Alison Bruce Cerutti, who is also frequently heard throughout the region. The four will perform the Nielsen premiere, as well as works by Robert Schumann, Gabriel Fauré and Arvo Pärt.
Vermont Virtuosi was created by Laurel Ann Maurer, a virtuoso flutist who has performed and recorded internationally, and Gunn, her husband. Unlike Northern Third, personnel changes with the program. For the Oct. 20-21 program, “Places Remembered,” Maurer will be joined by pianist Claire Black, a regular, as well as clarinetist Steven Klimowski and cellist Bonnie Thurber Klimowski, founding members of the venerable Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble.
The Vermont Virtuosi programs are often adventurous. In this one, composers Benjamin Lees, Ken Benshoof, Fauré, Philippe Gaubert, Belinda Reynolds and Gunn recall places, both real and imaginary, that have somehow shaped their creative processes.
Northern Third, while tending toward more traditional programming, commissioned Nielsen to write a piano quartet in celebration of its sixth year. The work comprises six movements including three for the ensemble, plus two for solo instrument and one duet, in order to showcase the individual players. The music is trademark Nielsen — lyrical, dramatic, with touches of humor, and influenced by jazz and classical music of different eras.
The remainder of the Northern Third program is traditional: Schumann’s Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105, for violin and piano; Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” for cello and piano; and Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15.