Each year for the past 20 some of the world's finest chamber musicians have gathered at Tucson's Leo Rich Theatre to make magic and memories.

For many of them, the Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival is old home week - a chance to reconnect personally and musically with friends they see only a couple of times a year.

Some of them first met through the Tucson festival, which kicked off last Sunday and continues through Sunday. Such was the case with violinist Joseph Lin, who became fast friends with violist Paul Coletti and cellist Antonio Lysy during the 2009 festival.

Two years later, Lin, who is the first violinist for the storied Juilliard String Quartet and composes on the side, penned "Trio for Friends." It was intended to express his friendship and respect for Coletti and Lysy, but it also was a nod to his long friendship with festival host Arizona Friends of Chamber Music, said its president Jean-Paul Bierny.

Long friendships are made at the festival.

"A number of (the artists) have played together at the festival. They are very familiar with each other," said Bierny, who ends his tenure after this season.

Festival musicians, most of them solo artists, are paired in ensembles of three to five players to perform old and new works. At daily rehearsals - open to the public at Leo Rich Theatre - they work out the musical challenges, and rekindle friendships.

By the time they take the performance to the festival stage, the musicians have settled back into friendships that have outlasted the divide of time and miles. Their performances celebrate their relationships as much as the music they are playing.

"They love to play for our audience because our audience is extremely attentive and extremely warm," Bierny said. "They don't leap up to their feet in a standing ovation after every performance. They are discriminate and (the musicians) know that if they play very well, they are going to get a very warm reception from our audience."

Arizona Friends audiences are especially kind when it comes to new works like Lin's. Since the commissioning program started in earnest in 1995, the audience has supported the friends commissions financially and with their applause.

On Friday, the audience will hear the premiere of commission number 51 - Czech composer Sylvie Bodorová's Quintet for Clarinet and Strings. On Sunday it's the premiere of number 52, Australian Carl Vine's Piano Quintet.

If you go

• What: 20th annual Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival.

• When: Today through Sunday. Concerts are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Sunday. A youth concert will be at 11:30 a.m. today and the gala dinner will be at 6 p.m. Saturday at Arizona Inn, 2200 E. Elm St.

• Where: Concerts are at Leo Rich Theatre, 260 S. Church Ave.

• Tickets: $30; $10 students; $160 for Saturday's gala. Available in advance at arizonachambermusic.org or by calling 577-3769.

• Artists: Shanghai Quartet; violinists Ani Kavafian, Helena Baillie and Axel Strauss; violists Cynthia Phelps and Baillie; cellists Colin Carr and Sergey Antonov; pianists Bernadette Harvey and Xak Bjerken; clarinetist Bil Jackson; and soprano Jennifer Foster.

• Schedule and programs: 11 a.m. today, youth concert. 7:30 p.m. Friday, Respighi's "Il Tramonto"; Bodorová's Quintet for Clarinet and Strings (world premiere); Fauré's Piano Quartet No. 2 in G minor. 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, master classes. 6 p.m. Saturday, gala dinner and concert, Weber's Clarinet Quintet in B-flat; Villa Lobos' Suite for Voice and Violin; Chinese Melodies arranged for string quartet. 3 p.m. Sunday, Strauss's Sextet from "Capriccio"; Vine's Piano Quintet (world premiere); Schubert's "Der Hirt auf dem Felsen"; Schoenberg's "Verklärte Nacht."

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@azstarnet.com or 573-4642.