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If you think chamber music and boxing have little in common, know this: Salt Lake City cellist Jesús Morales disagrees, and he knows a lot about both.
Morales and his violinist wife, Dara, are matched up for "Morales vs. Morales," the first concert of the Intermezzo Chamber Music Series, Monday at Westminster College. Pianist Vedrana Subotic is the other featured artist in the evening of chamber works by Dvorák, Kodály and Brahms - whose sonatas form the backbone of this year's series.
Morales spent his childhood in Puerto Rico, where boxing is a major sport. Long before the cello entered his life at age 12, he began learning the art of boxing at a gym - handy know-how in a neighborhood where boyhood chums laced on gloves to settle friendly disputes.
Classical music and boxing were twin passions in the home of Morales' parents, whose six children all became professional musicians. Jesús Morales' older brother Rolando - a percussionist and music faculty member at Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia - even won a Golden Gloves championship in Pittsburgh. "That's as good as it gets in amateur boxing," said Jesús.
Jesús Morales stays out of the boxing ring these days, but remains interested in the sport. He loves observing the craft and discipline of a great boxer or an excellent musician and finds parallels in both endeavors. The Kodály "Duo for Violin and Cello," which he will perform Monday with Dara, is an example.
"This program feels like a boxing match," because each musician is expected to play with individuality, he said. "Kodály has written it that way. The opening cello solo is a dramatic, forceful beginning. When the violin solo enters, it is smoother, more lyrical. Later there is a reversal of those roles."
Each of this year's five Intermezzo concerts has a nickname drawn from the world of boxing - puns invented by Intermezzo president David Porter as a "goodbye tribute" to the Moraleses, who will move from Salt Lake City to Philadelphia in three weeks.
Utah's music community will feel the loss, but the move is a happy one for the couple, who became parents of a daughter, Isabel, nine weeks ago. Dara, principal second violin of the Utah Symphony, has accepted the post of assistant principal second violin of the revered Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra.
Jesús, who substitutes in the Utah Symphony's cello section and tours as a recitalist and chamber musician, will become principal cello of Philadelphia's Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra and will take care of Isabel while sorting through other offers.
They look forward to spending time with family members in the Philadelphia area, but Monday's concert is a bittersweet reminder of musical friendships that developed since their arrival here in 2004.
"It's always easier to play with someone you know, and love their playing - and assume they love yours, since they've asked you to play with them," Jesús said. "When you have friends this close, and work with them so much, it feels like an extended family."
The idea of an intimate musical family is important to Subotic, artistic director of the Intermezzo series. She and Porter, her husband, had such thoughts in mind when they co-founded the series five years ago to showcase artists from Utah, or those with Utah connections.
"The greatest enjoyment for us has been to be able to spend our summers playing great music with our colleagues and friends for Salt Lake City audiences who feel that this is a musical oasis in the summertime," Subotic said. "We want to . . . concentrate on bringing groups together who we think could have a great time playing together - who have an interpersonal dynamic and chemistry, and who understand how important it is to have fun while playing chamber music."
This year's repertoire is especially suited for summertime in a city encircled by mountains, Porter said. Many of the Brahms sonatas featured on this year's series were composed during summer vacations in the Austrian and Swiss Alps, a setting the composer found inspiring.
Not only is the repertoire a good fit, the series itself seems to fit the city's cultural scene. Salt Lake City's Klaus and Annelie Rathke are among a group of dedicated concertgoers who took an immediate liking to the Intermezzo Series when it debuted.
"If anyone had talked to me before this came to life, I would have raised my eyebrows, wondering how long it would take to build an audience," Klaus Rathke said. "But it took off from day one - the very first concert."
Attendance has been strong ever since, which Rathke attributes to clever programming, an inviting venue, "important" music and another essential ingredient:
"[The Intermezzo series] exudes a sense of quality that is almost tangible," he said.