Musical Anchor: Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth charts a forward looking new year

“The one thing about this group—and the entire season—is that nobody takes any prisoners. Nobody’s afraid to try things just because it hasn’t been done before,” says Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth’s Artistic Director Gary Levinson, describing their upcoming concert in January. For more than a decade, the Juilliard-trained violinist’s name is one that most people involved in DFW’s classical community know; in addition to his post with CMSFW, he’s also the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Senior Principal Associate Concertmaster Emeritus. Levinson’s prolific collaborations on the international stage have led to him cultivating friendships with some of today’s preeminent classical musicians, who rarely turn down the invitation to perform with him in Fort Worth.

“The rich history of CMSFW since its founding is part of the Fort Worth DNA,” Levinson says. “I am proud of the artists who have played in the past, legends like Joseph Kalichstein and the Vermeer String Quartet and current legends like the Dover Quartet and the Montrose Trio, Marina Piccinini and Clive Greensmith.” More than three decades after its first season, the organization has become one of the city’s musical anchors, building strong relationships with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and The Cliburn along the way. Choosing the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth as their performance venue more than 10 years ago has further embedded them in the city’s cultural landscape. “The staff at The Modern is incredible,” Levinson says. “They’re really part of our family.”

CMSFW is halfway through its current season, which continues with No Barriers on Jan. 6. Levinson says the title refers to the featured composers’ approach to pushing the barriers of form and rhythm. Acclaimed American pianist Orion Weiss, renowned for his interpretations of Brahms’ music, returns to Fort Worth to perform the composer’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 26. “I think when we play a central European program like this, it’s still incredibly exciting to see how they can push the envelope on everything with respect to how we work together,” Levinson says, who will join Weiss, violist Michael Klotz and cellist Ani Aznavoorian in an afternoon that includes Suk’s Elegie and Faure’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15.

February brings a forward-looking approach to the season by pairing alumni and current students from the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music for Curtis on Tour. “I’m thinking that if I’d never been to a CMSFW concert, I would go to this one, simply because there is a perspective you can’t get anywhere else,” Levinson says. “You have the people who have graduated, who really established their careers, that have their own fingerprints on chamber music and our industry. Then you have the next generation right next to them at the same time, playing a Brahms sextet. It’s an incredible opportunity.” Strauss’ Sextet from Capriccio, Op. 85 and Berg’s Piano Sonata in B minor, Op. 1 also share the program for the afternoon Feb. 24.

Musicians revered for their mastery of Mozart’s music join forces to perform the composer’s K. 479 Piano Quartet for Pillars of Our Craft March 23. Cliburn Competition gold medalist John Nakamatsu joins Levinson with cellist Inbal Segev and violist Michael Klotz in a concert that also features Mozart’s K. 424 Duo in B-flat Major, Wieniawski’s Legende and Dohnanyi’s virtuosic, Hungarian-flavored Op. 10 Serenade. “This is a serenade for three instruments,” Levinson explains. “They sound like a string orchestra, which is not to say it’s thick—it’s just really rich and powerful.”

Levinson describes the musicians in May’s season finale as a ‘powerhouse group’ for the concert he’s appropriately titled Powerhouses. Pianist Denes Varjon, regarded as one of today’s best chamber musicians, makes his CMSFW debut with Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34, frequently considered to be the crown of his chamber music, and Dohnanyi’s Piano Quintet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 1.

Though he can’t reveal too many details about their 2024/25 season and beyond, Levinson was able to whet appetites with the news of two commissions in the works by “very, very well-known composers.” It’s one example of CMSFW’s mission to build current and future chamber music audiences through innovation and creativity, which requires strong community initiatives. They’ve partnered with Fort Worth ISD, Cook Children’s Hospital, and the city’s museums for their Building Blocks of Music initiative and work to cultivate and enrich aspiring young musicians through their CMSFW2 and Learning with the Masters programs. It’s not uncommon to see families with younger children attend concerts and Levinson says they’ve seen a more diverse audience this season than ever before. Additionally, every concert includes pre-concert conversations to give context to the music, often giving patrons the opportunity to meet and visit with the performers.

Chamber music is often described as “the music of friends,” due to the intimate nature of the repertoire and performances. From the audience’s perspective, it really can appear as though the instrumentalists are having a musical conversation, each having his or her own thread, and where the balance of listening and communicating among participants is essential. And no, you don’t have to have a doctorate in music to enjoy what you’re hearing. “Like any venture, great art benefits from some understanding,” Levinson explains. “But this is not a prerequisite. Much like films and books can be enjoyed on multiple levels, so can classical music. We welcome all audiences, so long as they want to hear our music, something every musician on stage has spent hundreds of hours dedicating their life to.”