1 of 2
The Lee Trio will perform in Salt Lake City on Jan. 28 as part of the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City's concert series.

SALT LAKE CITY — Though it’s been 50 years since the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City invited the Juilliard String Quartet to pioneer its concert series, for some of the society’s members, the time has flown by.

“Kuss! Yes, yes, I had forgotten about that group,” exclaimed Paul Griffin, who served as the society's treasurer for 35 years, as he and vice president Rodolphe Ruffy pored over volumes of history of the Chamber Music Society. The two laughed, satisfied with the lucky recollection, and added it to the long list of their favorite performances of the past half-century.

The Chamber Music Society, now in its 50th season, does not have performers of its own; rather, it brings in some of the biggest names in classical music for its concerts each year.

“We put on an annual concert series, and we bring the absolute best musicians in the world,” said society president Jeannette Swent. “Sometimes people think that we’re presenting local musicians, but we’re different. … If you want to hear these groups, you have to go to New York or Paris or London and pay twice, sometimes three times, as much. We provide world-class music that you could not otherwise hear.”

Founded in 1966 by a group of residents who noticed a void of quartets and trios in the city, the Chamber Music Society has hosted over 180 different ensembles for Salt Lake City audiences over the past 50 years.

“It’s the deepest form of music,” Ruffy said. “It’s reflective and deep, and it’s really intimate. It’s introspective.”

Griffin nodded, adding, “For me, it’s like four people speaking in a group, it’s a conversation, and the instruments echo what each of the artists is trying to say. I’m enchanted when they pass the melodies around. … It’s not flashy, so you have to come in and absorb it.”

The Juilliard String Quartet, a renowned American ensemble, has returned several times, and other notable performers include the Guarneri Quartet, Emerson Quartet, Pavel Haas Quartet and The Pacifica.

“We have to book two years ahead, these groups are so in demand," Swent said.

The society started in the old Salt Lake City Public Library with an average of three concerts per year, but it has since moved to the prestigious Libby Gardner Concert Hall and now presents seven concerts each year.

One ensemble to perform there, the Meccore String Quartet of Poland, said of its visit: “Our concert with Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City at the University of Utah was definitely a highlight of our second U.S. tour. We were honored to be among many outstanding ensembles and artists who contributed to (the) society's long and strong tradition. Warm hospitality, proficiency and fantastic acoustic(s) of the concert hall remain in our memories till this day.”

A world-class repertoire isn’t all the society offers; concertgoers can get up to speed on the historical and musical context of the shows in pre-concert lectures, get their albums or programs signed by the artists, and attend master classes with the pros.

This year, the society is celebrating by continuing to invite top talent and preparing for the next 50 years.

“The Chamber Music Society looks forward to bringing the world's finest chamber music to new audiences, including the next generations of musicians and music lovers in Utah," Swent said. "We also look forward to experiencing the growth of new chamber music ensembles, both the groups that we present in future concert series and local groups who are inspired by CMS performers.”

If you go …

What: Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City's concert series

When: Lee Trio on Jan. 28, Modigliani Quartet on Feb. 18, Escher Quartet on March 3 and Doric Quartet with pianist Jonathan Biss on April 11; concerts begin at 7:30 p.m., pre-concert lectures begin at 6:45 p.m.

Where: Libby Gardner Concert Hall, 1375 Presidents Circle

How much: $30 for general admission, $10 for students; season tickets and group rates available

Phone: 801-561-3999

Web: cmsofslc.org, facebook.com/chambermusicsocietyofSLC

Email: scobb@deseretnews.com