Reaching the age of 100 calls for celebration, and the Chandler Music Hall in Randolph has been doing it in grand style. As part of a yearlong fête for the century-old venue, the Chandler Center for the Arts commissioned work from three Vermont composers. Gwyneth Walker turned her commission into a two-day choral celebration; Kathy Wonson Eddy's choral suite was performed by the renowned Hilliard Ensemble. And this Saturday, audiences can hear the final commission: the Chiara Quartet will premiere a full-length string quartet by composer Erik Nielsen of Brookfield.
Nielsen's Quartet #2 for Strings - written in the musical language of swing-time, with a slow, tonal "arch movement" in the middle - is a fine pairing for the hip Chiara Quartet. Currently the quartet-in-residence at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Juilliard-trained group recently landed an additional residency at Harvard. Its thirtysomething members have turned heads by bringing chamber music out of the sometimes-stultifying classical setting and into bars and cafés - reportedly to the delight of beer-sipping audiences across the country.
Nielsen compares Chiara to the Emerson and Tokyo String quartets, now well-established groups that drew similar rave reviews when they formed 20 years ago. "Chiara is in about the same position" as Emerson was then, says the composer, "very much on the radar of programmers."
Nielsen has made his living as a composer since 1983, when he graduated with a Master's from the Hartt School of Music. (A young Emerson Quartet workshopped his student compositions there.) This will not be his first collaboration with Chiara: In 2005, the group performed his clarinet quintet at Chandler shortly after the piece's premiere at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Chiara viola player Jonah Sirota's father played clarinet.
Of the group's other members - Gregory Beaver on cello and Julie Yoon and Rebecca Fischer on violin - Fischer has the strongest ties to Vermont: She grew up partly in Norwich and went to the same summer string camp as did Nielsen's eldest daughter. Her father Norman, a cellist, played with the late Concord String Quartet and taught for many years at Dartmouth College. "They love coming back," Nielsen says; this will be the quartet's fourth appearance at Chandler.
Saturday's program also includes Beethoven's Grosse Fuge and a quintet by Schubert with Norman Fischer on second cello. The latter work's slow movement inspired the Vermont composer's piece; Nielsen also acknowledges "the inspiration that writing for a group of this caliber gives me. [The Chiara Quartet] bring a tremendous amount of energy to it, and they're risk-takers. It should be an exciting evening."