Three decades of Spoleto Festivals have left Charlestonians with a healthy hunger for chamber music — but, between festivals, that appetite has often gone unsated. Lots of pretty darned good groups have come and gone, few lasting more than a couple of seasons. But, with two promising new chamber music organizations now among us, local addicts can now get fixes on a regular basis.
The very respectable Chamber Music Society of Charleston folded recently, the victim of warring visions for the group (and personalities). But the phoenix popping up from its ashes is Charleston House Concerts, an alliance of 13 pros who play (either as regulars or occasional imports) with the Charleston Symphony. With most of the usual instruments at their disposal, the possibilities are endless: string quartets, wind trios, mixed ensembles with piano ... just about any kind of chamber music you can name.
CHC, directed by CSO principal bassoonist Sandra Nikolayevs, aims to bring quality chamber music to Charleston historic homes and churches — as well as public venues like the Gibbes Museum of Art and the Footlight Players' Theatre. They also plan to take part in multimedia events that blend music with drama or local lore. Typical of their parallel educational mission is their scheduled "Family Concert" in March: a kid-friendly program that introduces young listeners to music for string quartet while celebrating the handing down of family history and crafts in the context of our very own ur-African sweetgrass basket tradition. I have yet to attend any of their events, but I'm familiar with most of these musicians and what they're capable of, so my expectations are high. Check them out — and cross your fingers that they outlast their predecessors.
The College of Charleston's new Charleston Music Fest should raise the quality bar even higher. The school has long harbored world-class musicians, like pianist Enrique Graf. But more recent starry imports have included mega-violinist Lee-Chin Siow (from Singapore) and Russian cello dynamo Natalia Khoma — along with their global reputations and networks. They now codirect a chamber program that needn't take a back seat to anybody's.
Along with Graf and more than a half-dozen guest artists from the global A-list, Siow and Khoma have three remaining events in store this season. Don't miss their generous "Fantasia" program this Friday, Jan. 12 at the Dock Street Theatre. In February comes "Extravaganza," a gala four-concert series — and a glittering program of French music will end their season in May. I attended their opening concert last October, and can testify that these artists are on full par with any we've heard at Spoleto from Charles Wadsworth.
This series offers an educational component, too. Guest artists alike will offer free, open-to-the-public masterclasses to advanced students throughout the community: an unprecedented chance for our budding musicians to benefit from instruction and insights from some of the best in the business.
With the New Year, happy days are here again for Chucktown's throng of chamber nuts, for if both of these fresh initiatives live up to their potential, we'll never have had it better.