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Quirky opening to Chatter Cabaret

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James Shields, Chatter’s co-artistic director, will perform a Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet next Sunday.

James Shields, Chatter’s co-artistic director, will perform a Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet next Sunday.

Traditional classical listeners may furrow their collective brow, but a quartet of musicians will open the June 1 Chatter Cabaret concert with the music of Jimi Hendrix. Namely the 1967 psychedelic rock anthem “Purple Haze.”

“David (Felberg) and I are always trying to find quirky things to do with our concerts, ideas that are slightly off, but that feel right to us. This is one of those things,” said Chatter co-artistic director James T. Shields.

What made it easy to program was that Felberg knew of an arrangement of “Purple Haze” for string quartet. The ensemble will have Felberg and Megan Holland on violin, Joel Becktell on viola and James Holland on cello.

Shields thinks the piece is followed by Kevin Volans’ String Quartet No. 1 (“White Man Sleeps”).

“Volans wanted to explore the melding of African traditional music with contemporary European styles,” he said. “It has a real driving pulse to it and harkens back to the rock and roll sound of the ’60s. … It’s a really beautiful piece and we’re glad we decided to do it.”

The South African composer, Shields said, wrote the work for harpsichord and viol ensemble but he arranged it for string quartet at the request of the Kronos Quartet.

The closing work on the Chatter Cabaret program is Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet. Shields is on clarinet.

“It’s a challenge in performing it for me … shaping the four movements in different ways,” he said.

“There is so much weight to every movement that it’s tempting to play each one as a slow, emotional movement. Each is full of complexity and depth.”

The Brahms is a favorite of many musicians, even non-clarinetists.

“It’s one of the most perfect and sublime works for my instrument,” said Shields, who is principal clarinet of the New Mexico Philharmonic.

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