The Candlelight Concert Society of Columbia enters its fourth decade of artistic life this season animated by the same cultural directive that has defined its first three: to present solo and chamber recitals of the highest caliber.
String quartet playing is traditionally at the heart of Candlelight programming, and no fewer than three of the world's finest will visit Columbia this season.
One is the Leipzig Gewandhaus Quartet, a foursome culled from the ranks of one of Europe's most distinguished orchestras.
Leipzig, in eastern Germany, has some of mankind's richest musical blood flowing in its veins. It was home to Johann Sebastian Bach for much of his career, and the Gewandhaus Orchestra that bears the city's name was founded by Felix Mendelssohn, the composer-conductor who used his orchestra to bring the great choral and instrumental works of Bach into the symphonic canon, where they have remained.
Still one of the most aristocratic orchestras of the world, the Gewandhaus sends its first-desk string players to Columbia where they will appear as a quartet in November.
The Pacifica Quartet that follows them in January burst onto the scene in the late 1990s when it captured three of the chamber music world's most prestigious awards; the Coleman Competition Grand Prize (1996), the Concert Artists Guild Competition (1997) and the Naumburg Chamber Award in 1998.
Now ensconced as the resident quartet of Manhattan's Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, the Pacifica comes to Columbia on an upward trajectory.
Also up-and-coming is the Miro Quartet, which was formed in 1995 and won its Naumburg Award in 2000. Now in residence at the University of Texas at Austin and also well-connected at New York City's most prestigious concert venues, this young, immensely gifted ensemble visits Smith Theatre in April.
Far fewer works have been composed for the foursome of violin, viola, cello and piano than for four strings alone, but famous composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Schumann did write for that combination, as did Gabriel Faure, Ernest Chausson and others.
One of the finest practitioners of this musical genre, the Los Angeles Piano Quartet, commences the Candlelight season in October.
A pair of piano trios also will grace Smith Theatre stage this season.
One is the all-female Eroica Trio, famous not only for the glamour of their playing on the EMI label, but for the glamour of their stunningly photogenic faces on the cover. The trio will perform in February.
The other is Amelia Piano Trio, which was invited by cellist Yo-Yo Ma to participate in his Silk Road Project -- an ongoing collaboration of virtuoso musicians, East and West.
In April, the Amelia will be joined by a pair of Chinese instrumentalists for an exploration of common musical language set off by the exotic sound world of the East.
Other larger combinations are set to appear.
Windscape, a woodwind quintet created by some of New York City's finest players -- several of them members of the marvelous Orpheus Chamber Orchestra -- will perform in January.
Concertante, a constellation of seven young Juilliard-trained stars, will perform string works by Mozart, Brahms and Bohuslav Martinu in December.
This season's solo recital in May will be given by violinist Frank Huang, whose mastery of works by Beethoven, Prokofieff, Paganini and Sibelius recently won him the $10,000 top prize at the 2003 Naumburg Violin Competition.
Candlelight supporters and lovers of great jazz will want to attend a return engagement by bassist Wayne Roberts and the Onyx Club Sextet playing the music of John Kirby, a bassist whose own sextet defined the "chamber jazz" style in the 1930s.
This special curtain-raiser to benefit the Candlelight programs is scheduled at 8 p.m. Aug. 30 at Smith Theatre.
Last year's re-creation of the Kirby sound at Smith Theatre attracted a capacity audience, reports Bob Thulman of Columbia's Last Chance Jazz Band, which co-sponsored the event with Candlelight.
Tickets for this concert are $25 for the first purchase and $20 for additional tickets. Call the society at 410-480-9950 or visit the Candlelight Web site at www.candlelightconcerts.org.
Candlelight Concerts season
Oct. 25: Los Angeles Piano Quartet
Nov. 14: Leipzig Gewandhaus Quartet
Dec. 6: Concertante
Jan. 10: Pacifica String Quartet
Jan. 31: Windscape Wind Quintet
Feb. 7: Eroica Piano Trio
April 3: Amelia Piano Trio, "East Meets West"
April 24: Miro String Quartet
May 1: Frank Huang, violin (2003 winner, International Naumburg Violin Competition) All Candlelight Concert programs are performed at 8 p.m. at Smith Theatre on the campus of Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. To order season subscriptions: 410- 480-9950, or contact the society's Web site at www.candle lightconcerts.org.