The Gardner Museum’s popular chamber music series returned from its hiatus on Sunday and took up residence in its gleaming new home. It was the first public classical performance in Calderwood Hall, and a capacity crowd turned out for the occasion, also broadcast live on WGBH-FM. In a nice touch, the afternoon’s program sidestepped the tired gala formula of celebrity musicians playing only certified masterworks and instead featured a youthful ensemble, the Claremont Trio, premiering a new piece by emerging composer Sean Shepherd alongside music by Mozart and Mendelssohn.
In recent years the Claremont has been a frequent guest at the Gardner, and Sunday’s concert was, in fact, the first of a three-part series planned for the coming months, with each program featuring a Mozart and a Mendelssohn trio along with a commissioned work (new pieces by Helen Grime and Gabriela Lena Frank are on the schedule). The trio itself consists of twin sisters Emily and Julia Bruskin, on violin and cello, respectively, and new member Andrea Lam, who recently replaced Donna Kwong on piano.
Sunday’s program opened with Mozart’s C-Major Piano Trio (K. 548), in a reading that was precise and conversational if somewhat expressively bland. The group made a stronger impression with Mendelssohn’s D-minor Piano Trio, delivered from the outset with a robust tone, a darker palette, and a clear commitment to this music’s surging Romantic textures. Lam’s fluid and attentive playing throughout suggested she’s settling in smoothly to her new position.
Between the two repertory standards came an appealing new work by Shepherd, a Daniel R. Lewis Young Composer Fellow this year with the Cleveland Orchestra. Titled simply “Trio,’’ it’s cast in three parts beginning with a movement called “Florid Hopscotch,’’ described by the composer as a “confused welcome’’ and featuring a series of angular, propulsive upward and downward flourishes that give way to a section of ambiguous repose.
The second movement, titled “Calderwood,’’ foregrounds some long-breathing, vaguely French sounding melodic lines, and is followed by a “Slow Waltz of the Robots,’’ a movement packed with off-kilter and rhythmically inventive dance-like figures. On the whole it’s a brief and approachable piece that the Claremont will surely enjoy having in its repertoire. The composer was on hand to introduce the work in conversation with WGBH’s Cathy Fuller, but more generally, isn’t it time for the Gardner’s own newly prominent Sunday series to provide its listeners with program notes?
On the broader level, it should be fascinating to watch how this Sunday series grows into this space, and also how the hall itself affects the larger musical ecosystem in Boston. A lot will depend on the Gardner’s own policies. It’s easy to see why, for now, the museum plans on maintaining careful control over what gets performed here, reserving the hall only for the Gardner’s own presentations and private nonticketed functions. But it’s also strange to think that there will be so few actual concerts taking place here, with performances only on Sunday afternoons and select Thursday nights.
I hope the museum will eventually consider opening up its policy and renting out the space to other local performing groups, as now happens most weekends at Symphony Hall, Jordan Hall, and Sanders Theatre. The museum says it does not yet have the budget to expand its own music programming but I can think of many ensembles that might leap at the chance to make creative use of this exciting new space. And outside rental concerts could of course be clearly distinguished as such, avoiding any risk of the “brand confusion’’ that presenters tend to fear.
One could easily imagine crackling early music concerts in the round, daring contemporary works in site-tailored performances, or multimedia chamber operas. As the Gardner continues to build its own musical aspirations, why not allow this to be a space where the rest of the city can also take risks and think big?