"Idealistic people do idealistic things." That's how the Nova Chamber Music Series is described by Barbara Scowcroft, artistic director.
From its outset, Nova has provided a forum for professional musicians in the Salt Lake community to perform chamber works before an audience that has learned to expect the unexpected.This week the series finishes its 20th anniversary season with a grand finale that exemplifies a spirit of collaboration among resident artists, and which has characterized Nova from its genesis. The concert will be Tuesday, May 19, at 8 p.m. in All Saints Episcopal Church and will feature "The Soldier's Tale" by Stravinsky along with the premiere of a new work, "Chrysanthemum," by Salt Lake composer John Costa.
The Nova Series premiered in 1978 under the direction of Russell Harlow, who is currently acting principal clarinet with the Utah Symphony. When he took sabbatical leave from the symphony in 1984, he turned the series over to Scowcroft, acting assistant concertmaster of the Utah Symphony.
During its 20-year history, the Nova Series has developed into a mainstay of the Salt Lake musical scene with a devoted core of followers who have become addicted to hearing cutting-edge chamber music at a modest price.
The work of running the series is a volunteer effort, headed up by Scowcroft - an enthusiastic dynamo with a deep passion for music. While she takes on the daunting task of managing behind-the-scenes details of making the dream a reality, the musicians, who are members of the Utah Symphony or free-lance professional musicians, perform their services at minimal cost out of dedication to their craft.
Scowcroft says, "It's about everyone working together for the art - for the sheer beauty of it. Obviously, it wouldn't be possible if these people didn't have full-time positions as professional musicians. What they do for the series is just one of their gifts to the community."
Audiences at Nova concerts are treated to the rare opportunity of experiencing chamber music in an appropriately intimate venue. There, they can see and hear the subtle interactions between players and feel that they are a part of the web of musical communication being woven by the performers. Musical selections are a diverse grab-bag of traditional offerings mingled with unusual surprises.
Certain performers have developed a group of series followers who eagerly anticipate the annual appearance of their favorite artists. Mezzo-soprano Lani Poulson, who appears on opera stages throughout the world, but rarely in her home state of Utah, is one of these. Joseph Silverstein, who recently stepped down as musical director of the Utah Symphony in order to pursue his international career as a violin soloist and conductor, is another.
Scowcroft indicates that Silverstein has been a tremendously supportive mentor to the series. "You'll notice that when he plays with us, I'm always the one playing second violin. That's my payoff for doing the series. Once a year, I get to play second violin with him - and it's worth it."
Another outgrowth of the series is the Nova Chamber Quartet, which has matured along with the series, and whose members form its core of performers. The quartet consists of Ralph Matson and Barbara Scowcroft, violins; Roberta Zalkind, viola and Ellen Bridger, cello. Evidence of the quartet's growing reputation for excellence is the invitation they received this past year to perform on the Grand Teton Chamber Music Series.
On the program for Tuesday's concert is a unique chamber piece composed in 1918 by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. "The Soldier's Tale" was conducted by Scowcroft in her first concert as director of the series and is being brought back as part of the 20th anniversary celebration. The work is based upon a Russian folk tale and includes three spoken parts along with an unusual grouping of instruments.
The readers for "The Soldier's Tale" have been drawn from somewhat unexpected sources. Scowcroft noted that the Nova Series has traditionally had a number of fans who are professors in the University of Utah English department. Citing their involvement with the subtleties of language, she invited Barry Weller to read the part of the Soldier and Michael Rudick to be the Narrator.
In the Russian tale that inspired the piece, a prominent and colorful role is the Devil, who tricks - and is tricked by - the Soldier. This role will be spoken by Poulson, a colorful character herself.
The instrumentalists will be Eric Janners, percussion; Ralph Matson, violin; Jami Allyn, bass; Edward Cabarga, clarinet; Christine Osborne, bassoon; Peter Margulies, trumpet, and Larry Zalkind, trombone. Barbara Scowcroft will conduct.
Also on the program is a work commissioned for the Nova Series, "Chrysanthemum" by John Costa (see accompanying story). Performing the work will be Sally Humphries, flute and piccalo; Edward Cabarga, clarinet; Stephen Kostyniak, french horn; Marjorie Janove, piano; Ralph Matson, violin; Pegsoon Whang, cello; Jami Allyn, bass and Eric Janners, percussion.