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Deseret Morning News Archives
Bassist Corbin Johnston is the artistic director of the NOVA Chamber Music Series.

Since taking over as artistic director of the NOVA Chamber Music Series five years ago, Corbin Johnston has seen a steady increase in audience attendance and financial support.

"To me that shows that what we're doing is the right thing," Johnston told the Deseret Morning News. "Our audience base is growing, and people are embracing what we're doing."

For Johnston, programming has been the central focal point of his directorship. A firm believer in presenting the great masterpieces of chamber literature, Johnston is also passionate about introducing neglected works and new (or newer) pieces.

Of the three composers featured in today's NOVA concert, only Camille Saint-Saens is a known entity. And he's primarily known today for his opera "Samson and Delilah" and the orchestral "Carnival of the Animals." Yet he also wrote a large amount of chamber music, unusual for a French composer of the 19th century.

Saint-Saens' Septet, op. 166, for trumpet, piano and strings, will be played today by Utah Symphony members Nick Norton, trumpet; Gerald Elias, violin; Julie Edwards, viola; Meeka Quan-DiLorenzo, cello; and Johnston, bass. Joining them will be violinist Hasse Borup and pianist Heather Conner.

Of the seven, only Elias has played the Saint-Saens previously, a fact that Johnston didn't know and was surprised to hear.

That performance took place some 30 years ago when Elias was a new member of the first violin section of the Boston Symphony. The trumpeter for the performance was Roger Voisin, one of the 20th century's greatest trumpet players and who had just retired from Boston as principal trumpet. The rehearsals and concert were an experience that Elias has never forgotten. (Today's concert will be dedicated to Voisin.)

Also on today's program is Louise Farrenc's Piano Quintet, op. 30. Farrenc is almost unknown today, yet in her day she was one of France's most respected composers. Robert Schumann praised her and championed her music in Germany. "Farrenc was an anomaly in early 19th century France," Johnston said. "Not only was she a woman, but she was writing chamber music at a time when French composers were obsessed with writing operas. And she had a great deal of success —against all odds."

Rounding out the concert is Henri Dutilleux's "Les Citations," for oboe, bass, harpsichord and percussion. "The harpsichord part is incredibly virtuosic, and it also has some virtuosic bass solos," Johnston said. He added that he likes Dutilleux's music, because of its substance and the composer's writing style. "It's difficult, but it's not hard to take."

If you go . . .

What: NOVA Chamber Music Series

Where: Utah Museum of Fine Arts Auditorium

When: Today 3 p.m.

How much: $15, $12 senior citizens, $5 students

Web: novachambemusicseries.org

E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com