Preview: Northwestern Winter Chamber Music Festival Starts This Weekend

James Ehnes and Andre Armstrong continue playing Beethoven sonatas on Friday. Photo by Elliot Mandel.

In honor of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th Birthday, the 2020 Northwestern Winter Chamber Music Festival starts this weekend with violinist James Ehnes and pianist Andrew Armstrong continuing their performance of Beethoven’s violin sonatas on Friday, January 10, and Sunday, January 12. All but one of Beethoven’s violin sonatas are from his early period, and Friday’s concert will feature some of the earliest, including the Spring Sonata in F-major, Op. 24. Sunday’s concert has works written a bit later, including the ­Kreutzer Sonata in a-minor, Op. 47. Ehnes and Armstrong played Beethoven’s other violin sonatas at last year’s festival.

Over the following two weekends, several Beethoven masterpieces will be performed at the festival, including one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, String Quartet No. 14 in c-sharp-minor, Op. 131. The Aizuri Quartet has big shoes to fill when they perform it on Friday, January 17. Last year, the Jupiter Quartet gave it a wonderful rendition. The Aizuri Quartet will also be performing music by Hildegard von Bingen, Carlo Gesualdo, Conlon Nancarrow, and Joseph Haydn.

Dudok Quartet Amsterdam is returning Sunday, January 19, with a program that does not include Beethoven.  Instead, they’ll be playing music by Joseph Haydn, Olivier Messiaen, and Jean-Philippe Rameau. They will conclude with Maurice Ravel’s awesome String Quartet in F-major.

Beethoven returns with the Bienen School Faculty concert on Friday, January 24, with performances of the rarely heard Sonata for Horn and Piano in F-major, Op. 17, and the Septet in E-flat major, Op. 20. Sandwiched in between is Johannes Brahms’ Clarinet Trio in a-minor, Op. 114. For the final concert, on Sunday, January 26, soprano Stephanie Blythe will perform songs by Franz Schubert with the American String Quartet, which will perform quartets by Schubert and Haydn.

All concerts take place on the Evanston campus of Northwestern University at the Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 7:30pm. $30, $10 for students. For more information, click here.


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Louis Harris

A lover of music his whole life, Louis Harris has written extensively from the early days of punk and alternative rock. More recently he has focused on classical music, especially chamber ensembles. He has reviewed concerts, festivals, and recordings and has interviewed composers and performers. He has paid special attention to Chicago’s rich and robust contemporary art music scene. He occasionally writes poetry and has a published novel to his credit, 32 Variations on a Theme by Basil II in the Key of Washington, DC. He now lives on the north side of Chicago, which he considers to be the greatest city in the country, if not the world.