Maybe nothing means as much in Mobile as tradition. The older the better, the sentiment goes, which would make Mobile Chamber Music one of the best things on Mobile’s arts scene.
Formed in 1960, Mobile Chamber Music’s longevity is surpassed only by Mobile Opera, with its 15 years of seniority, and the Mobile Arts Council, with a head start of less than 10 years. That makes MCM longer in the tooth than the Mobile Museum of Art, Mobile Ballet or Mobile Symphony Orchestra.
Birthed by Anthony Fisher and former Mobile Public Library Director Guenter Jansen, the group first staged concerts at Bernheim Hall in the library’s Government Street main branch. While they initially employed faculty ensembles from nearby colleges, they’ve grown notably.
These days, their shows unfold in the pitch-perfect concert hall of the Laidlaw Performing Arts Center on the University of South Alabama campus. The annual schedule boasts world-class musicians from around the globe who create startling beauty and poignant experiences.
That track record continues Sunday, Nov. 6, at 3 p.m. when New Orford String Quartet takes the stage in West Mobile. The Canadian ensemble carries something of a tradition itself.
Almost as old as its local host organization, the original Orford String Quartet logged its first concert in 1965 and continued as one of Canada’s best-known string quartets. Then — 26 years, 2,000 concerts and six continents later — the original ensemble disbanded.
Fast forward to 2009 when a new foursome of principal players from the Montreal and Toronto symphony orchestras renewed the combo. Committed to renewing the Orford legacy, the quartet stepped beyond the standard repertoire.
As a result, it draws from a well 225 years deep, from Haydn and Beethoven to Sir Ernest MacMillan and Denis Gougeon. The quartet is committed to including 20th century or newer work, preferably of Canadian origin.
For instance, the Mobile show includes Beethoven’s Quartet in E flat major and Debussy’s Quartet in G minor and also includes Uriel Vanchestein’s Les Veuves (“The Widows”), which was written for New Orford in 2016.
The ensemble’s members boast their own individual accolades. Violinist Jonathan Crow, while serving as concertmaster for both Toronto and Montreal symphony orchestras, became the youngest concertmaster for any major North American orchestra. Crow has taught violin at McGill University since 2005.
Violinist Andrew Wan was likewise a young concertmaster for Montreal Symphony Orchestra and has appeared as soloist with numerous major orchestras in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall and the Kennedy Center. In 2008 he was the only violinist accepted into Juilliard’s prestigious Artist Diploma Program and is currently on the faculty of McGill.
Violist Eric Nowlin first snagged a major prize at a 2001 Juilliard competition and continued doing so around the continent. He has since played with symphony orchestras globally, has a slew of television performances in major markets and a regular chamber gig in New York City, in addition to a position as associate principal viola with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Cellist Brian Manker has been a principal of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra since 1999 and enjoyed performances with Canadian and American chamber groups. A participant in festivals at Norfolk, Blossom, Chamber Music East, Roundtop, Swannanoa, the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival and at the Canton International Summer Music Academy in China, he too has a wealth of media appearances to his credit. Also a McGill faculty member, Manker has taught at West Texas State and Emory Universities to boot.
The sum of these impressive parts is “stupefying.” The quartet gives annual concerts on national CBC broadcasts and won two Opus Awards for Concert of the Year.
The Montreal Gazette described one performance as “sweet, balanced and technically unassailable.” Their concert recordings of the last few years have been called “stunning” by the Audio Video Club of Atlanta, “flawless” by Classical Musical Sentinel and “nothing short of electrifying” by the Toronto Star.
Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students. Season tickets are available at mobilechambermusic.org. Some tickets will be available at the door the day of the concert.
Considering Mobile’s lofty tradition with Canadian imports — Bienville and d’Iberville — these new visitors have big shoes to fill. Luckily for us, they just might have the pedigree to do so.