The weeks immediately following the holidays tend to be relatively quiet in terms of classical music, as audiences in the Chicago area rest after the festivities and often stay home to avoid the harsh winter weather.
One notable exception is Northwestern University’s Winter Chamber Music Festival.
“We have a lot of regular audiences,” said Blair Milton, an associate professor of violin who oversees the series. “Quite a few people who made up the original audience are still with us 26 years later. Quite a few have been to all 159 concerts.”
To mark the return to a full schedule after canceled and shortened offerings in 2021 and 2022 respectively due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will feature six concerts from January 6 to 22. will resume.
The 1,003-seat Pick Steiger Concert Hall, opened in 1975, was a boon to the event.
“Pick Steiger is a very welcoming hall to play in and listen to,” said Milton. “Big enough, small enough.
A member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Milton devised a music festival in 1997 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Johannes Brahms, now known as the Bienen Music School. Therefore, in all six of his first concerts, chamber music by well-known composers was performed.
The first year, the participation of Daniel Barenboim, then CSO’s music director, quickly put the event on the map. He is also an internationally renowned pianist and has performed with four members of the orchestra.
Despite being held on Super Bowl Sunday in the middle of a snowstorm, demand for Barenboim’s concert was so high that Pickstiger staff had to add 200 seats on the balcony and 75 on stage. And even with the extra location, some people were still turned away.
Milton hoped the festival would become an annual event, but school officials knew they would only allow it to continue if it did well. It was a huge success,” he said.
Because of Milton’s ties to the CSO, many of his early concerts featured ensemble performers. About fifteen years ago, however, the orchestra began scheduling an international tour for his January, which reduced the number of performers.
As such, the series features more touring artists and ensembles, including notable groups such as the Escher Quartet and the St. started.
The festival regularly announces the up-and-coming winners of the prestigious Banff (Alberta, Canada) International String Quartet Competition held every three years. In fact, this year’s production features the Isidore Quartet, winners of his 2022 Banff His Competition held on January 13th. He formed in 2019 as a student ensemble at the Juilliard School in New York City.
The festival showcases groups with other instrumental combinations, such as a wind quintet and a piano trio, but the emphasis is on the string quartet, featuring 23 different groups and multiple performers. For example, Calidore Quartet, winner of an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2018, is back for their fifth visit.
Other string quartets featured at the 2023 Festival are Canada’s New Orford String Quartet (January 15th) and the Jupiter String Quartet (January 22nd). One of his featured touring groups that isn’t a string quartet is his Horszwoski Trio, a piano-focused ensemble scheduled for January 20th.
Back in 1997, CSO’s four musicians — Associate Concertmaster Stephanie John, Violinist Simon Michal, Violinist Wayzin Michal, and Assistant Principal Cellist Kenneth Olsen — were about two weeks before leaving on their North American tour. will attend the concert on January 8th.
This work features the composer’s Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op.
Milton said, “It’s a little way to remember and honor that opening season.