When Giuseppe Verdi found himself idle in Naples in 1873, in between a revival of Aida and performances of Don Carlo , he decided to try his hand at a new venture — chamber music. According to Verdi, he dashed off what became his String Quartet in E minor in three weeks, purely for the fun of it. Verdi originally had no intention of publishing the work; in fact, he rather turned down his nose at it, observing that while the Italians had the corner on the opera market, “the string quartet is a plant that is not suited to the Italian climate.” In actuality, however, what Verdi dismissed as a little time-killing exercise turned out to be a masterpiece — really no surprise, since Verdi is perhaps the greatest opera composer who ever lived[Note by myiasemide: , had a natural affinity for singing lines and “conversation” between instruments. This weekend, you can hear this lovely work in the kickoff concert of the Southwest Chamber Music Festival at the Huntington, an outdoor series that beats the Bowl any day for charm and intimacy. The typically globetrotting program also includes Puccini's delicate Chrysanthemums , an “elegy” for string quartet; Chen Yi's Blue Dragon Sword Dance ; and Lei Liang's Gobi Canticle . Add a preconcert Tea Room Dinner and you've got the perfect summer evening.

Sat., July 11, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., July 12, 7:30 p.m., 2009

LA Weekly