This was an exceptional year for chamber music in Utah, and that’s reflected in my top 10 list for 2011. Half of the concerts I chose feature small chamber or vocal ensembles. And although I normally don’t rank the concerts, one in particular stood head over shoulders above the rest and is my choice for best concert of the year. That is the Doric Quartet’s

Doric Quartet

November performance in Libby Gardner Concert Hall. Part of the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City’s series, the Doric epitomizes what quartet playing is all about. In a program of Beethoven, Korngold and Brahms the four players exhibited incomparable technique, exquisite musicality and an exceptionally refined sense of interpretation. This was the group’s first appearance in Salt Lake City and I hope we don’t have to wait too long to see them back here again.

Listed in chronological order below are my picks for the best concerts of 2011:

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center – Last January pianist Wu Han (co-director, along with her husband, cellist David Finckel, of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center) came to Brigham Young University with fellow society members Arnaud Sussman, violin; Mark Holloway, viola; and Andreas Brantelid, cello. These are among the best chamber musicians in the country today and they gave a wonderful concert highlighted by Pierre Jalbert’s edgy and sophisticated Piano Trio.

Utah Philharmonia – Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai joined the Philharmonia and conductor Robert Baldwin for a mesmerizing performance of James DeMars’ Two World Concerto. The work deftly combines Western classical music traditions with Native American idioms in a compelling and fascinating work. And Nakai brought a sense of spirituality to his soulful playing. This was a deeply moving and heartfelt performance.

Prazak Quartet – Another one of the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City’s offerings, the Prazak is one of the top quartets today. The Czech ensemble played a program of works by their countrymen, highlighted by Martinu’s Sixth Quartet. Their playing was perceptive and profound and displayed their consummate artistry, flawless musicality and stunning technique.

Anonymous 4 – One of the best early music vocal groups, Anonymous 4 visited Utah twice this year – in August at the Deer Valley Music Festival and in December as part of the Chamber Music Society of Logan’s concert series. There is hardly a group that sings early music with such deeply crafted artistry and conviction as Anonymous 4. But the ensemble has expanded its repertoire in its 25 year existence to include a broad range of works that span a millennium – from the earliest polyphonic works to contemporary music, as well as pieces from the American folk tradition. A concert by Anonymous 4 is not to be missed, as they proved yet again this year.

Utah Symphony and Chorus – The opening night concert’s highlight was John Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls, a powerful work written to commemorate 9/11. I applaud music director Thierry Fischer for bringing notable new works to the Abravanel Hall stage, something that is long overdue. Under his direction the symphony and chorus brought feeling an emotion to this heartfelt, bittersweet work.

Tanner Gift of Music – This was a fabulous collaboration between the Utah Symphony and Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Under the baton of Thierry Fischer, the musicians and singers gave a remarkably nuanced and vibrant account of Berlioz’s Requiem. It was wonderful to once again have the Tabernacle Choir outside of its comfort zone of hymns and Christmas music and take on one of the major choral works of the 19th century – and perform it with the eloquence and artistic flair you have come to expect from this articulate ensemble.

Salt Lake Choral Artists – Brady Allred is one of today’s finest choral conductors. He’s made the Salt Lake Choral Artists one of the elite vocal ensembles in Utah and, quite possibly, in the country. Allred frequently likes to program works not previously done in Utah and last October he and his choir performed Jenkins’ The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, a strong anti war statement that was given a passionate and emotionally charged account that captured the immediacy of the music.

Trio con Brio – This young Danish group has really developed as an ensemble since it appeared here last. Playing a concert of Haydn, Ravel and Tchaikovsky on the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City’s series, the trio showed remarkable maturity and poise in articulation, expressive subtlety and interpretation. This is another group I’m looking forward to having return to Utah.

American Festival Chorus and Orchestra – Craig Jessop’s new group, the American Festival Chorus and Orchestra has developed tremendously under the guidance of the former Mormon Tabernacle Choir music director. Jessop is without question one of the most respected and formidable choral conductors today; he is a director who knows how to cultivate and nurture a certain sound and get the most out of his musicians. In November the group, together with the Fry Street Quartet and the Logan Canyon Winds, gave a stellar performance of Britten’s War Requiem, the most passionate and compelling anti war work of the 20th century. Jessop captured the intensity of the music and brought his audience on an unforgettable emotional journey.

Doric Quartet – As noted above, the Doric Quartet’s concert is without question the highpoint of 2011. The group’s four young Englishmen have raised the bar on quartet playing considerably. They have become the standard against which other quartets must be measured.

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About Edward Reichel

Edward Reichel, author, writer and composer, has been covering the classical music scene in Utah since 1997. For many years he served as the primary music critic for the Deseret News. He has also written for a number of publications, including Chamber Music Magazine, OPERA Magazine, 15 Bytes, Park City Magazine and Salt Lake Magazine. He holds a Ph.D. in composition from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He can be reached at Reichel Recommends is also on Twitter @ReichelArts.

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