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The Mimir Chamber Music Festival in Fort Worth opens with an exciting program

FORT WORTH — Texas Christian University is a hive of musical activity each summer, with two festivals that combine educational and concert activities. June is the PianoTexas International Festival & Academy, and July is the year of the Mimir Chamber Music Festival.

In its 27th year, Mimir offers young string quartets and piano trios intensive coaching by musicians from major symphony orchestras, conservatories and chamber ensembles. Both lecturers and emerging artists give public chamber music concerts.

The quality of the performance is impressively high for the faculty's musicians, who come together for only a few weeks, although some have been participating in the festival for a long time. The programming has become increasingly adventurous.

The opening concert Wednesday evening at TCU's PepsiCo Recital Hall included the first of this year's festival's three works by African-American composers, but also rarely performed works by Antonín Dvořák and Jean Sibelius.

33-year-old Shelley Washington is a multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer who combines folk, jazz, rock and other influences. Her nine-minute string quartet Middlegroundcomposed in 2016, begins and ends with energetic hoedown music, interspersed with half-remembered snatches of melody. A contrasting middle section begins with a soulful rumination from the viola, with which the other instruments gradually interact.

Both aspects of the piece were vividly realized by violinists Curt Thompson (founding director of Mimir) and Jun Iwasaki, violist Joan DerHovsepian (with a particularly rich tone) and cellist Brant Taylor.

The ninth of Dvořák's 14 string quartets, Op. 34 in D minor, was written in 1877 between the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. Perhaps because it was overshadowed by the deaths of two of the composer's young children, it is less obviously melodic and less typically Czech than Dvořák's better-known works. Although it contains dance rhythms in the second movement and finale, what is more striking is the frequent ambiguity of the harmonic progressions.

Stephen Rose joined Iwasaki, DerHovsepian and Taylor in a committed, capable performance, although the harmonies were occasionally imperfect. The first movement coda was more aggressive than necessary, and elsewhere Taylor, normally the most elegant cellist, was occasionally too dominant in the balance.

Given the popularity of Sibelius' symphonies and violin concerto, it is surprising that, in addition to the Intimate voices String quartet, his chamber music is little known. The Piano Quintet in G minor is an early work that dates from a year of study in Berlin in 1890-91.

The 36-minute work in five movements seems to be groping for an identity. Grand announcements are accompanied by echoes of Brahms and Dvořák, jumping melodies and, in the second movement, even something that could pass as Palmenhof music.

Although the organization is difficult to grasp, it shows imaginative material and imaginative gestures. Pianist John Novacek gave a great performance along with Iwasaki, Rose, DerHovsepian and Taylor.

details

Mimir Festival concerts are July 5, 9 and 12 at 7:30 p.m. in PepsiCo Recital Hall at Texas Christian University's Walsh Center for Performing Arts, 2800 S. University Dr. in Fort Worth. A July 7 concert is at 2 p.m. in the Renzo Piano Pavilion of the Kimbell Art Museum, 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd. in Fort Worth. $35; discounts for students and seniors. Two concerts for emerging artists are July 6 and 11 at 7:30 p.m. in PepsiCo Recital Hall. $10. 817-984–9299, mimirfestival.org.