The Coastal Star

Summer Arts: Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival marks 20th season of summer sounds

Flutist Karen Dixon (left), bassoonist Michael Ellert
and clarinetist Michael Forte founded the Palm Beach
Chamber Music Festival in 1992.
Photo provided


By Greg Stepanich

In 1992, the cultural scene in South Florida was on the verge of a new phase of growth.

The Kravis Center for the Performing Arts opened that year, a year after the Broward Center for the Performing Arts opened in Fort Lauderdale. The Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, which had assumed that name only about a year earlier, was making plans for its first recording.

That same summer, three woodwind-playing members of the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra came together to play some chamber music, ostensibly as nothing more than a friendly gathering. But the Duncan Theatre offered the three — flutist Karen Dixon, clarinetist Michael Forte and bassoonist Michael Ellert — a hall for public performance, and a concert series was born.

This month, the Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival will open its 20th season of concerts, and as in years past will offer four different programs, each played three times, in West Palm Beach (Persson Hall at Palm Beach Atlantic University, 8 p.m., Fridays), Palm Beach Gardens (Eissey Campus Theatre, 8 p.m. Saturdays) and Delray Beach (Crest Theatre, 2 p.m. Sundays).

On tap are some of the towering masterworks of the chamber literature, including the Mozart Clarinet Quintet, Arnold Schoenberg’s pivotal string sextet Verklärte Nacht, and Igor Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat. And while the occasion provided an opportunity to do a “best of,” revisiting of pieces that have proven successful in earlier seasons, the musicians for the most part are looking ahead.

“We haven’t even actually done that many before,” Ellert said of the pieces on this summer’s program. Instead, the group is finally getting to some long-cherished selections such as the Schoenberg and the Gran Partita (K. 361) of Mozart, which calls for 13 wind players.

The dozen core members will be joined this summer by about 20 guest artists, including three narrators for the Stravinsky and conductor Alexander Jimenez. Many of these musicians have appeared on the festival’s six excellent recordings on the Klavier label, based in Boca Raton. 

Because it was started by three woodwind players, Palm Beach’s chamber fest favors wind repertory more than it does string quartets, and its programs always contain fresh, underappreciated repertoire. This season’s programs will include music by the American composers Eric Ewazen and Robert Muczynski, Frenchmen Philippe Gaubert and Eugène Bozza and the Czech Bohuslav Martinů. 

Choosing that kind of repertory  offers something special to listeners and players alike, Ellert said, and it’s been a guiding principle of the festival since that first concert in July 1992. 

“It’s not fair to the audience, it’s not fair to the musical world, to just play Mozart, Brahms and Beethoven. And that would be really easy to do,” he said. 

The concerts are scheduled for July 8-10, 15-17, 22-24, and 29-31. Tickets for the concerts are $25 apiece, with a four-week subscription for $85, a $15 discount. Call 800-330-6874 or visit



This also is a milestone year for the Boca Raton Museum of Art, which this month is hosting the 60th edition of its all-Florida juried show. The exhibit, which features 101 artworks by as many Florida artists, opened June 29 and runs through Sept. 11 at the museum in Mizner Park.

The museum’s senior curator, Wendy Blazier, said interest in the competition has grown in the past four years, which is when the museum switched its application method to email. This year, 583 artists from across the state submitted 1,840 works, a 30 percent increase over last year, she said.

“It boosts our attendance every summer, and it’s always an interesting show with a broad variety of styles and approaches,” Blazier said of the exhibit. “It’s a way that we can provide for the inclusion of area artists in a museum setting, where their work can be reviewed and judged by a professional in the field.”

The art was judged this year by Valerie Ann Leeds, an expert in the Ashcan School painter Robert Henri, who is an adjunct curator at the Flint Institute of Arts in Flint, Mich. Blazier said the process of getting the juried show together takes the museum about six months, and was overseen by Assistant Curator Kelli Bodle. 

But while other museums have dropped juried shows, Boca’s remains a central part of the museum’s educational mission, Blazier said.

“Part of that education, we believe, is creating awareness and appreciation for those rare individuals in South Florida who are artists. It’s a difficult thing, an extraordinary direction, that an individual takes,” she said. “And the museum plays a primary role in providing support. It’s very, very important in any community that there be an institution that shows support, and continues that support, for the artistic community.”

Tickets for the juried show are $8, $6 for seniors 65 and older, and $4 for students. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and until 9 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month. Call 392-2500 or visit



Arts notes: Delray Beach’s Arts Garage has added a ceramics exhibit to its home at 180 NE First St. The exhibit, viewable by appointment (, or call 243-7129). Clay From Earth is open through July 30 and features the work of 13 artists including Jeff Leedy, whose credits include ceramics for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway … The Museum of Lifestyle and Fashion History in Boynton Beach has announced its Saturday summertime tours of historic Delray Beach. The first one was June 25; the next two are set for July 23 and Aug. 27. The tours board at the Boynton Beach Mall at 11 a.m.  and last two hours as the buses travel through Delray’s five historic districts (email, visit, or call 243-2662).


Greg Stepanich is the editor/founder of the Palm Beach ArtsPaper, available online at

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