Russian River Chamber Music

Star Chamber

Classical music series tries a radical notion

By Greg Cahill

When a friend of Gary McLaughlin took a look at past ticket sales from the venerable Russian River Chamber Music series with an eye toward increasing attendance, he came up with a radical notion: make concerts for the entire season free of charge.

“It’s the old Medici idea that you can make the arts available to people who can’t afford it,” says McLaughlin, artistic director of the 14-year-old music series. “Chamber music has always been a marketing problem because a lot of people simply don’t know what it is. In the past, we were willing to comp a few people so they could learn about it. We got to thinking, what if we just comped everyone?”

Thanks to grants from the Healdsburg Area Fund of the Community Foundation Sonoma County, the Bulger family, the city of Healdsburg and other patrons, that’s exactly what has happened.

This year, music lovers can savor some of the best music ever written performed by some of the best musicians in the world, heard in intimate venues in one of the most beautiful places on the planet–for free. Oh, yeah, and the wine and hors d’oeuvres are free, too. What’s not to like about that?

For its season, the Russian River Chamber Music series will host five young and exciting string quartets–each featuring just two violins, a viola and a cello–offering programs packed with sensational music and emotional power.

Here’s the lineup:

The Grammy-nominated St. Lawrence String Quartet, the quartet-in-residence at Stanford University, perform the music of Haydn, Golijov and Schumann on Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Healdsburg Community Church. Their newly released Awakening (EMI) includes the complex, intriguing music of Greek-born Canadian composer Christos Hatzis.

The Borealis Quartet, a brilliant young Canadian ensemble with a strong command of classical and Romantic period music, appear Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Healdsburg Community Church.

Parisii Quartet, a French foursome that has dazzled audiences in Europe, North America and Asia, perform the music of Tailleferre, Brahms and Beethoven on Feb. 3, 2006, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Windsor. This is a rare chance to catch this acclaimed ensemble in a small, intimate setting.

Ethel, the New York–based group that the New York Times has called “more of a band than a quartet” and who recently supported the Todd Rundgren/Joe Jackson gig at the LBC, perform their original music on March 10, 2006, at the Healdsburg Community Center. Ethel is one of the most daring of the contemporary string quartets, playing and recording with everyone from Sheryl Crow to Yo-Yo Ma.

The Miro String Quartet, an ensemble that packs intensity into even the hoariest classical warhorse, performs the music of Beethoven, Shostakovich and Schubert on April 8, 2006 at the Healdsburg Community Church. The Miro are at the top of their game; the quartet recently became the first ensemble to win the coveted Avery Fisher Career Grant and the prestigious Cleveland Quartet Award. Their latest CD, Epilogue (Artemis Classics), is a captivating interpretation of Schubert’s String Quartet in C Major with guest cellist Matt Haimovitz–one of the year’s best classical CDs.

Once again, admission to these concerts is free (donations are encouraged). “There is no risk,” McLaughlin adds. “I hope that folks will see this as a chance to get in on a culturally enriching experience.”

Every date features an illuminating preconcert discussion. For details, visit

From the August 24-30, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.

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