Jean-Paul Bierny, former head of Arizona Friends of Chamber Music, will be honored on Sunday by Chamber Music America.

Courtesy Arizona Friends of Chamber Music

Jean-Paul Bierny, who led Arizona Friends of Chamber Music for 35 years before retiring last year, will receive the CMAcclaim award from Chamber Music America, the national service organization for chamber musicians, composers, presenters and educators.

Chamber Music America will present the award during the Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival kickoff concert Sunday, March 13, at Leo Rich Theatre. The award recognizes people whose work in chamber music “has had a significant cultural impact on a local or regional community.”

Under Bierny’s leadership, Arizona Friends expanded its concert programs to include the Piano and Friends series and the winter festival, both of which he co-founded with other board members in 1994.

But it is the Friends commissioning program, which Bierny founded in 1997 and has spearheaded and championed since, that has given the organization its biggest national exposure. Arizona Friends will premiere its 60th commission — Heather Schmidt’s Cello Sonata — on Wednesday, March 16 as part of the festival, which runs through March 20.

“That is very exceptional because every single one of the pieces has been sponsored by a member or several members of the audience,” said Bierny, who with his wife, Chris Tanz, sponsored the first-ever commission in February 1997.

The couple has been behind a number of commissions since including Ellen Zwilich’s Quintet for Alto Saxophone and String Quartet in 2008, which she dedicated to Bierny.

Bierny, the Belgium-born retired physician, said he shares the Chamber Music America award with the volunteer Arizona Friends board.

“Without the whole board — entirely volunteers and participating actively — nothing would have happened,” he said.

“I’m so happy for him and proud and excited,” added Tanz. “He really poured himself into this for all these years and had a huge amount of satisfaction doing it, but it’s nice to have this national acknowledgment for him and for the organization, and for this town.”

I cover music for the Arizona Daily Star.