A music festival's 27th anniversary might not seem an obvious time for a "Celebration," which is the theme for this year's La Musica International Chamber Music Festival.
But when its artistic director and violist is hitting a milestone birthday just as the festival begins, it's time for a party.
Bruno Giuranna turned 80 on April 6, just as musicians from six countries congregated in Sarasota to begin rehearsals for five concerts between Monday and April 19 at the Sarasota Opera House.
On Wednesday, Giuranna will be feted at an interactive dinner at Michael's On East, where two of the longtime musicians — Daniel Avshalomov and Eric Kim — will join with Michael's owner Phil Mancini to cook for the crowd.
"It's all such fun. Of course there are bottles of wine on the tables," said Sally Faron, La Musica's executive director.
The festival's 14 musicians will configure themselves into various chamber music ensembles for the next two weeks, set to perform Strauss' "Metamorphosen;" Glinka's Grand Sextet for Piano, String Quartet, and Double Bass; Brahms' Clarinet Quintet and Dvorak's Quintet Op. 97, among other works.
Most of the musicians are "repeat offenders" who have been coming to the festival for years, if not decades. Three new musicians have been added to the fold this years: cellist Dmitri Atapine from Russia, violinist Laura Zarina from Latvia and double bassist Scott Faulkner, who is executive director of the Reno Chamber Music Festival, which Faron calls "La Musica West" because several of the players come annually from Reno.
"I'm gulping because he's going to get here and see what an idiot I am," she said facetiously.
The musicians' familiarity with each other is helpful in chamber music situations where the ensembles must pull themselves into a single unit in just a few rehearsals.
"Remember that chamber music does not have a conductor, so they have to work the whole thing out among themselves," said Faron. "Really everyone that comes has played with someone in the group sometime, somewhere. It's known that they're adaptable and they quick-learn."
La Musica alumni also have built followings among the audience members, who come to the open rehearsals and eagerly await the return of their favorites.
The musicians "are so outgoing as far as the audience is concerned, with the open rehearsals," said Faron. "People are so delighted to see them come back again."
But newcomers serve a function as well: To "add a bit of life and spark," said Faron. "Bruno has always felt that we need to have younger, very good players, so it doesn't look like a bunch of old men and antique women. He's always tried to have master musicians and rising musicians."
Among the newcomers is Latvian violinist Zarina, who arrived early last week from "cold Europe" and had already acquired a sunburn.
Zarina has played with Giuranna in Europe and said she was happy to accept his invitation to Sarasota.
"It's not just fun but really great," she said. "He's a very nice person and it's very pleasant to play with him."
Other than Giuranna, Zarina knows none of the other musicians. She intends to "be open for the other people, for the group, for the music, bring the passion, bring my own ability and of course to be aware of how other people react."
LA MUSICA 2013 CONCERT SCHEDULE
Monday, April 8, 8 p.m.
Dvorak, Trio in E minor, Op. 90 "Dumky"
Bridge, Piano Quintet
Brahms, Quintet in F major, Op. 88
Thursday, April 11, 8 p.m.
Boccherini, String Trio, Op. 14, No. 2
Tchaikovsky, Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50
Sunday, April 14, 2:30 p.m.
Sister Cities 50th Anniversary Celebration
Rossini, Sonata a Quattro, No. 3
Ravel, String Quartet in F major
Glinka, Grand Sextet in E flat major for Piano,
String Quartet and Double Bass
Wednesday, April 17, 8 p.m.
Schumann, Märchenerzählungen, Op. 132
Hindemith, String Quartet, Op. 22
Brahms, Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115
Friday, April 19, 8 p.m.
Beethoven, Piano Trio in G major, Op. 1, No. 2
Françaix, String Trio
Dvorak, Quintet, Op. 97
All concerts at the Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. Tickets are $40; five-concert subscriptions are $175.
Rehearsals are open to the public and continue through April 19 at Sainer Pavilion, New College of Florida, 5313 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. Daily rehearsal passes are $10; a pass to all rehearsals is $50. For a rehearsal schedule, visit www.lamusicafestival.org.
For tickets, call 366-8450, Option 3, or visit www.lamusicafestival.org.