Jessica Cottis, Artistic Advisor, explores the value of chamber music for contemporary audiences and orchestras, with Concertmaster Kirsten Williams.
While the pandemic catalysed innovative digital programming, it also reminded us that there is no substitute for live music and the connection it creates between audience and performer.
What characterises that connection in chamber music? How does this differ from a mainstage concert experience?
KIRSTEN WILLIAMS: Chamber music is such an exciting experience for both musicians and audience. The space is normally a lot smaller and more intimate than a concert hall; with single instruments and fewer players, it’s possible to really observe where the music comes from and where it’s going.
Audience members are often sitting close enough to observe how sound is coaxed from the instrument and follow the facial expressions and body language that signal interaction and communication between the musicians.
No two live performances are ever the same, but the subtleties that make each unique are often more pronounced in a chamber setting. A microsecond of time borrowed or spent by one of the players ends a ripple of excitement through the entire composition. This is enhanced by the presence of a live audience, who bear witness and become part of a silent conversation with the players.
JC: Chamber music has been described as the “music of friends” and compared to the art of conversation.
Does this take on new significance in an era of information overload and the pressure to be constantly connected via our digital appendages?
KW: Audiences, I believe, will always crave live music because it is possibly the most tangible way of accessing our inner beings and connecting as part of a community. In turn, we as musicians respond to the energy of the live audience.
I think now, more than ever, we feel the need to get together in person, as a group, as a community. There’s no substitute for being in the same space, creating, sharing and feeling the frequency and vibration of the music.
This is particularly important for chamber music, where the sounds we make from our instruments are pure: there’s no compression, amplification or alteration of any kind.
A microsecond of time borrowed or spent by one of the players ends a ripple of excitement through the entire composition.
JC: Describe the importance of chamber music opportunities for orchestral musicians, for the individual and the collective.
KW: The basis of any orchestra is a chamber group; the skills necessary for a successful orchestra are those we learn as students of chamber music.
Chamber music requires that you know all the parts intimately, not just your own. It hones your ability to blend with other musicians, not just dynamically but in terms of timbre and nuance. It teaches you to lead and to follow and gives you the confidence to play intuitively in the moment and equips you to respond to the unexpected.
Being a chamber musician is also about bringing your interpretation to the rehearsal but being able to respond flexibly to the interpretations of the other players, compromising to achieve a convincing performance outcome.
Practically speaking, chamber music is also highly accessible, requiring only a small group and a small space. And the repertoire is vast and universally adored.
Images: Martin Ollman