Maybe you've already held the dates for late-October concerts by the Blair String Quartet and pianist Craig Nies, and rightly so — both are obvious highlights of the fall classical calendar. But if those are the only Blair School of Music visits on your agenda this harvest season, now would be a good time to look over that concert schedule again. Blair's stage hands will juggle no fewer than eight events over the next seven days, any one of them worth the trip to Blakemore Avenue.
The week's fare is a good cross-section of Blair's diverse programming. Top-shelf local performers from the school's faculty and Nashville's Alias Chamber Ensemble. Distinguished guest artists from both East and West coasts, and the world-renowned Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet. Recent music by Vanderbilt composer Michael Slayton and a world premiere from Californian Gabriela Lena Frank. A Sunday afternoon discussion with music biz legend Jim Foglesong and a chance to hear standout students in a master class setting (4 p.m. Oct. 4). And if you've never heard a viola quintet, there's one of those too. Here's a brief roundup of what's on tap:
• As you might expect, The Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet is composed of musicians from Berlin's venerable orchestra, where they have worked under dozens of famous conductors including Claudio Abbado and Herbert von Karajan. The group's acclaimed recordings span repertoire from Mozart to Ligeti, and Blair's Ingram Hall has wonderful acoustics for the their Monday Nashville performance (8 p.m. Oct. 4)
• One of the most hotly anticipated events of this classical season is Friday night's Alias Chamber Ensemble fall concert, featuring the premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank's newly-commissioned Hilos. (Check the Scene's Sept. 16 Fall Guide issue for details about this watershed project for the all-volunteer group.) Guest guitarist/composer D.J. Sparr also joins Alias to perform his 1997 Vim Hocket, Calm for electric guitar and violin, and Kenji Bunch's 2005 String Circle for viola quintet further demonstrates the ensemble's fondness for unusual instrumental groupings. (8 p.m. Oct. 1, Turner Hall)
• Speaking of unusual combinations, how about two pianists plus two percussionists? That's the lineup of New York ensemble Yarn/Wire, whose Tuesday performance includes the Béla Bartók-inspired Fantasy and Fugue by Blair composer Michael Slayton. Yarn/Wire itself owes a debt to Bartók, since his 1937 Sonata pioneered the use of pianos with percussion – but the group's ever-expanding repertoire emphasizes new music, including over 20 works written specifically for them since 2005. (8 p.m. Oct. 5, Turner Hall)
• For his Thursday night concert, local classical guitar favorite John Johns enlists a half-dozen of his Blair colleagues, from relative newcomers like oboist Jared Hauser to familiar stalwarts like violinist Christian Teal. Hauser, flutist Jane Kirchner and cellist Kirsten Cassel join the guitarist in a Telemann sonata, and soprano Amy Jarman takes the stage for music by Bach and Handel. Johns' own arrangement of Beethoven's early Serenade, Op. 8, rounds out the program, featuring Teal and violist Kathryn Plummer. (8 p.m. Sept. 30, Ingram Hall)
• Guitarist Michael Cedric Smith visits from New York for a Saturday night recital, making the weekend a kind of a mini-festival for classical guitar enthusiasts. Smith's nationwide concert appearances have included solo recitals at Carnegie Hall and a guest feature with the St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble. His program includes music by Bach and Baroque guitarist Santiago de Murcia, as well as a pair of Romantic-era works and time-tested favorites from Spanish composers Isaac Albéniz and Joaquín Rodrigo. The public is also invited to observe Smith's Sunday master class for a peek into his musical thought process and a sampling of Blair's top guitar students. (Concert 8 p.m. Oct. 2, class 4 p.m. Oct. 3, Turner Hall)
• And for one more listening option, the Blair Symphonic and Chamber choirs appear on Saturday evening under the direction of David Cassel. The program includes David McCullough's "Holocaust Cantata," which alternates between readings from letters written by victims in Nazi concentration camps in Poland and music for cello, chorus and piano. (8 p.m. Oct. 2, Ingram Hall)
If Blair has a lot to offer Nashville, that's partially due to the Nashville philanthropists who helped fund the construction of Ingram Hall. Blair dean Mark Wait, speaking about the school's role in offering free performance space to community-based groups like Alias and the Nashville Jazz Orchestra, says that "when our building expanded with the addition of Ingram Hall ten years ago, we pledged that our facilities would serve a community mission in parallel with our educational mission." This week's busy schedule seems to reflect that pledge.