Music News & Reviews

Chamber music flows ‘Along the Danube’

Mention Danube and violins, and a familiar waltz immediately comes to mind.

To Bill Barbini, the Danube represents a lot more than Johann Strauss’ greatest hit. The European river that inspired Strauss’ lilting “By the Beautiful Blue Danube” also ties together many other classical composers.

“Follow the Danube and you’ll find the home countries of a lot of great composers,” said Barbini, longtime director of the Chamber Music Society of Sacramento. “Austria was the home of Mozart, of course. Beethoven worked in Vienna for years. But the Danube also goes through Hungary and Romania. Brahms, Haydn, Schubert, Saint-Saens, Franck; there’s so many composers to choose from.”

That meandering waterway also ties together the society’s 28th season, which kicks off this weekend with two performances. “Along the Danube” serves as the theme of all seven programs that make up the nine-month schedule.

With music by Franz Joseph Haydn and Franz Schubert as well as more modern composers, this weekend’s opener spotlights works for flute and clarinet as well as the society’s Ariel Ensemble string quartet. Flutist Mathew Krejci and clarinetist Patricia Shands will be the featured artists.

Like the music they play, this chamber ensemble has staying power. Former concertmaster for the Sacramento Symphony, Barbini has been part of the chamber society since 1987. Featuring Barbini, the society’s Ariel Ensemble also includes his wife – fellow violinist Kineko Okumura – as well as another couple, violist Paul Ehrlich and cellist Victoria Ehrlich.

“It’s very unusual to have a quartet that’s made up of two married couples,” Barbini said. “People talk about how a quartet is like a marriage; we have a double.”

Like other local classical music organizations, the Chamber Music Society has had to weather financial difficulties in recent years. They’ve at least been able to keep playing, Barbini noted. The Sacramento Philharmonic and Sacramento Opera suspended their 2014-15 seasons until further notice.

“It’s all been pretty depressing,” Barbini said. “It’s pretty sad to see the philharmonic and opera in trouble.”

The society recently benefited from an unexpected windfall. The late J. David Ramsey, a former U.S. Forest Service worker who retired to Davis, wanted to keep the music he loved playing for years to come after his death. As part of a $1.1 million bequest Ramsey made for local classical music, the society will receive more than $200,000.

“We’re discussing the possibility of creating an endowment that could secure our future,” Barbini said.

For now, they’re focused on a flowing season of music, traversing from Bach sonatas to modern tangos. And, yes, the society will eventually get to Strauss.

“We’re saving that for our ‘Let’s Dance’ program (Feb. 28 and March 1),” Barbini said with a smile. “I’ve always wanted to do a program of all dance music. We’ll explore 300 to 400 years of dance music from baroque to tango nouveau. There are many great waltzes and polkas and other dance music (for a chamber ensemble). ‘Danube’ would be perfect.”