Although it's not the only chamber ensemble in town, Brightmusic Society of Oklahoma plays to a different beat.
A newcomer to the city arts scene in 2003, the nonprofit aimed to showcase top-quality classical music. Its sounds were far from the usual melodic masterworks, offering a creative twist via its mix of local talent and a bit of an iconoclastic spirit.
"We bring together fellow Oklahoma residents as performers," says David Johnson, president of Brightmusic's board of directors. "We have 16 musicians who play 13 instruments. There is a tremendous diversity represented in the ensemble."
Dexterity among musicians is a necessity, given the way this intimate style is performed. Chamber music, typically defined, is an instrumental piece written for a small group. In contrast to big symphony orchestras that feature large sections such as strings and horns, chamber ensembles have only one musician dedicated to a particular instrument.
"When you are playing with people of your quality in a small group," Johnson says, "that is just very, very fun for everyone."
For its concert series, Brightmusic unites musicians of enormous talent, many of whom hold academic appointments at Oklahoma colleges, serve as section principals in a philharmonic orchestra or work as solo performers. Ordinarily, organizing such prized talents could be expensive. In this case, the price is right.
"They have brought first-rate classical music for free," says Eileen West, a member of the now-defunct Civic Music Association of Oklahoma City, which donated money to Brightmusic upon the association's folding. "A lot of enthusiasm and interest has been generated." WELL-SEASONED
Each season, Brightmusic prides itself on presenting a repertoire that reaches back to the past few centuries. Selections encompass Baroque, Romantic, 20th-century and modern compositions.
"That enormity of chamber music literature opens up to the rest of what most people never get to hear, especially in a live performance," says Johnson. "Many of the things we play are things that many music aficionados have heard only on CD."
Brightmusic's new season opened in September with "Clarinet Serenade," featuring the world-renowned David Shifrin. Five concerts remain in the current season, starting with "Die Forelle," Nov. 1-2, where the musicians turn "fishy" for Franz Schubert's famous "Trout Quintet." A piano trio from Mendelssohn also is slated.
In 2011, the company will perform "Sounds from Vienna" on Jan. 24-25, spotlighting pieces from Beethoven and Mozart, among others.
"German Romanticism" will be the theme of the March 7-8 concert. The energetic husband-and-wife piano duo of Ning An and Gloria Chien will serve as guest artists, playing Schubert, Brahms and Schumann. On April 11-12, Brightmusic presents "A Soldier's Tale," anchored by Igor Stravinsky's "L'Histoire du Soldat."
Closing out the season on May 9-10, Brightmusic will pay tribute to "Americana." This concert will feature five works by living composers. Two of the works have been specially commissioned by Brightmusic for a world premiere: Rob Deemer's "Quartet for Trumpet and Strings" and Kris Maloy's "American Folk Song Medley." Also included is Edward Knight's "Beneath a Cinnamon Moon," which Brightmusic commissioned in 2007 for the state's centennial celebration.
In all, 23 works will be played this season, featuring 22 instrumental combinations.
"The musicians of Brightmusic are truly exceptional artists delivering an outstanding chamber music experience not to be missed," says Deborah McAuliffe Senner, president of Allied Arts and a Brightmusic board member. "The ensemble is impressive on its own. Then when you add world-class guest artists, it is simply fabulous. Brightmusic is an arts organization that is truly on the move."
Monday evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Fee Theatre on the campus of Casady School, 9500 N Pennsylvania. Tuesday night performances start at 7:30 p.m. at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, 127 NW 7. Admission to all events is free, although donations are appreciated. A musicians' reception follows each performance.
For more information, visit www.brightmusic.org.