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Brooklyn Friends of Chamber Music co-founder Wanda Fleck has for 15 years overseen the programming of what has quietly become one of the borough’s longest-running musical institutions.

Since its debut in December 1988, Brooklyn Friends has put on 93 concerts to intensely loyal audiences, mostly from its home base at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Their upcoming 16th season will culminate with a rare and most welcome milestone: the group’s 100th concert, on March 28. That performance will include a rare commission for a new work by Brooklyn Friends, David Little’s Piano Trio, to be performed by the Amelia Piano Trio, who played for Brooklyn Friends for the first time last year.

"We asked David to write a piece for our 100th concert because I had heard some of his work, and it just leaped out at me," says Fleck. "He knows that it’s going to be a festive occasion, so he won’t be writing any dirges!"

The Amelia Trio will be playing two core works of the trio repertoire: Beethoven’s Opus. 11 Trio and Antonin Dvorak’s famous "Dumky Trio."

But that milestone concert is six months away; Brooklyn Friends is presenting six other recitals in its 2003-04 season, including the opening performance, on Sept. 21, of bassist Ranaan Meyer and fiddlers Zachary De Pue and Nicolas Kendall, who put their own spin on classical composers.

"I heard them in Philadelphia and could hear what they can do," says Fleck. "They first called themselves the Bluegrass Ensemble [at press time they do not have a group name], but I don’t hear that entirely in their playing. But because they’re so incredibly good, their unique take on this music somehow works."

Although the trio is scheduled to play music by Bach, Brahms, Bartok, Astor Piazzolla and others in their inimitable style, Fleck says, "I don’t know if [the program is] in stone. They have their own compositions, they do a lovely ’Amazing Grace,’ and they play Hungarian pieces where they sound like an entire orchestra of csardas [gypsy music] players."

Another obvious highlight, according to Fleck, will be the first appearance of soprano Susanna Phillips, who will be accompanied at her Nov. 23 recital by pianist Lydia Brown.

"I heard Susanna in a master class, and she was the best singing voice there," Fleck says. "She was a Juilliard student, so I went to hear her final recital there, and she was again really terrific, so I went backstage afterwards and invited her to come."

Phillips’ program is a meaty menu of Vivaldi, Schubert, Ernst Chausson, Samuel Barber and Edvard Grieg.

"That’s mostly what I heard her perform in concert, and it flowed so well," says Fleck. "Also, she’s very radiant and has a very engaging personality."

The remainder of Brooklyn Friends of Chamber Music’s 2003-04 schedule includes a 15-member ensemble, tentatively named E Pluribus, performing Bach, Shostakovich, Mozart and Edward Elgar (Oct. 26); the Chiara String Quartet (Juilliard School’s quartet-in-residence) performing Mozart, Schumann and Carter Pann’s "Love Letters" (Feb. 8); violinists Jonathan Gandelsman and Colin Jacobson, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Raman Ramakrishnan performing Beethoven and Britten string quartets, as well as Henry Purcell’s "Fantasias for the Viols" (Feb. 29); and the Borealis String Quartet and pianist Sara Davis Buechner performing a Beethoven quartet, a Schumann quintet and a recent work by Canadian composer Kelly Marie Murphy titled, "A Little Piece of My Heart" (March 14).

With music from Bach and Beethoven to Pann and Murphy scheduled this season, Brooklyn Friends of Chamber Music definitely has something for every classical music fan.

After a decade-and-a-half, Fleck has discovered that there is no such thing as a "typical" audience.

"The mainstays have been there, coming time and again, since the very beginning, since our very first concerts," she explains, "but your audiences change when you change the repertoire that you do.

"When we started programming new works and started commissioning our own works to perform, some people stopped coming," she says. "But some others said, ’Finally! We can hear something new!’"


Brooklyn Friends of Chamber Music presents bassist Ranaan Meyer and fiddlers Zachary De Pue and Nicolas Kendall at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, on Lafayette Avenue at South Oxford Street, on Sept. 21 at 3 pm. Tickets are $15, $5 students. For reservations, call (718) 855-3053.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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