Interactive: North Carolina Symphony Blog
Why perform chamber music? With the full and erratic schedule of a North Carolina Symphony musician including statewide travel, the added dedication to teaching a full studio of students, on top of the many hours per week dedicated to honing skills and preparing upcoming music, who has the extra time or energy to prepare a full length chamber recital? The answer must be that chamber music is a quintessential “labor of love.”
Perhaps the crucial aspect that drives a symphony musician to play chamber music is that each member has a say in how to interpret and shape a piece. Each participant is both a soloist and an accompanist. Chamber music is a true democratic process. There is no single authoritative artistic viewpoint, but as many as there are participants. For this recital, the musical and intellectual wealth of eight musicians is available. This provides a richness of interpretations which must be considered, negotiated and finally meshed into a cohesive artistic expression. When there are two to four musicians this can be accomplished relatively efficiently. With each additional participant the process complicates, sometimes exponentially! With the seven artists required by the Beethoven, rehearsals turn into, at times intense, negotiating sessions. To complicate matters, instrument families are mixed, strings with winds. This contributes another range of technical challenges to rehearsals. The process is a daunting task but a truly enriching process, both to the final musical product and to each individual artist. As a violinist and frequent chamber music performer, I have often sought out ensembles that are outside of the standard string quartet. I find the challenge of adding winds to strings gives a complexity and special interest to the listening texture.
The journey to a chamber performance involves many steps. A musician, usually in consult with others must create a program. There are many angles to consider. Compositions: should there be a theme, or should the pieces contrast? Instrumentation: how many, what combination of instruments, what combination of personalities? Then comes the hard part—scheduling rehearsals. Coordinating the seven musicians required by the Beethoven Septet is a logistical nightmare! This undoubtedly contributes to the rarity of performances of such a great work. Several musicians in the chosen ensemble are on staff of universities and teach the entire day we have off. Other members are less comfortable with extensive rehearsals on days with evening performances. Most of us fit in lessons with students whenever there is a window in the symphony schedule. Then there must be individual practice time and for the winds, reed making time. We all have families to balance as well who must be acknowledged for their forbearance and sacrifice because without their support we musicians would not be able to share our passion for the more intimate chamber art with our audience. We end up with several rehearsals without one or another instrument. This is actually beneficial as it lessens the complexity of the texture and reveals details otherwise we might have missed. Coordinating rehearsals for the Brahms's five musicians in contrast seems a breeze, a good thing considering the complexity of the work.
One would be hard pressed to find more contrasting pieces of music than the Brahms Quintet and Beethoven Septet. Composed one hundred years apart these two works are opposites in style, emotional reach and require very different approaches. The Beethoven Septet was the most popular Beethoven composition of his time. In fact Beethoven was reputedly disgruntled that such a light hearted piece should garner so much attention when he felt he had composed many more profound works. The Septet, an early youthful work, is an uplifting, positive piece that at times reminds one of a Mozart Opera (at the beginning) or one of the Divertimentos. It has great energy and is very tuneful. It is not possible to play or listen to this piece without it elevating your mood. In fact there was some discussion about placing it last on the program so the audience would depart on an uplifting note, after all the piece ends with a great flourish. However the musicians decided to stay with chronological order and end the program with the Brahms Quintet. A mature work, this is a truly profound piece of music and some have said that if Brahms had written only this one piece it would have established his position as a superior composer. A composition of great introspection, with profound spirituality, the Brahms ends on a dark note as a heartbeat (cello) slowly fades away and the clarinet and strings give their last breaths.
One final acknowledgment must be made. Without the vision and support of arts enthusiasts like Sara Jo Manning, who enable the communing of performers with audience in the Manning Chamber Music Series, the experience of the unique spontaneity of live performance would be rare. It is that realtime communication with our audience that ultimately makes the whole process worthwhile. It is during that moment of live performance that we experience artistic creation and that is a definite reflection of our audience.