Thursday, February 07, 2008

Loving Chamber Music

For an upciming LVCMS concert:
Loving Chamber Music
(Or the Importance of being Ernst!)
John Clare, violinist/broadcaster
Past President and Co-founder, Las Vegas Chamber Music Society

Thank you for attending today’s recital. Live classical music is a wondrous thing that audiences share with the performers. If you enjoyed this event, I hope you’ll attend another, and bring a friend or young person with you next time.
You see, the best things in life are sometimes rare. Exotic metals, perfumes, and wild game fetch high market prices and are highly sought after…and chamber music can be viewed that way as well. Think about the idea of having a glass of fine wine with friends and having the chance to open the bottle, aerating it, observing the color, bouquet and then savoring the flavor – discussing it with the few who share it.
Today’s concert is no different. The audience around you is here to enjoy something that is rare for today’s society. Smile and discuss it with your partner, or with the ushers, or the performer. We’re all fans of music or of the performer or we wouldn’t be here.
Another example is sporting events. Recently you may have enjoyed seeing a team from New York (New Jersey actually) play against a team from Boston in the Super Bowl. It was a close game and had many exciting moments. Music events sometimes have that quality as well – think of the string quartet as the visitors in the “home” hall, and perhaps the pianist performing as the home player. There are half times (intermission), concession stands (a pre concert drink or in the lobby) and even winners (the composer whose work is premiered or played; or the student performers who make it through the piece.) It works on lots of levels.
These are all great topics and ideas to invite someone to a concert. Start a discussion, and see where it leads you and your guest. They may get hooked. Chamber music, and classical music in general needs you.
I go to a lot of concerts. I also give talks, and even perform, On and off stage you will often find me talking about the music, musicians and the halls. Recently, I heard all five string quartets by 99-year-old American composer Elliott Carter. I also met him and will be featuring him in an interview. When I told friends and mentors about the concert, most said, WHY?! You see, Carter’s music is very complex, dissonant even. But I respect Carter and his style – most of all his originality. And truth be told, I was wondering if I would enjoy it, but thought it was important to go and hear them.
I had heard four of the works before, but not the most recent, and knew the musical language was tough, to say the least, even for a new music fan like myself.
It was the single most wonderful concert event I have been to in my life so far (and I go to 70 concerts a year, for the last three!). It was exciting, fresh and invigorating.
I’ve been to concerts where one composer is featured, including the 2004 all Bartok cycle that the LVCMS presented with Teller (also an amazing set of concerts!) so I knew that it could be a wonderful experience. Having the chance to hear Pacifica Quartet play all of the Carter Quartets (they’ve recorded #1 & #5 for Naxos) and the chance to see Carter there (and eventually meeting him) was such a moving experience I now wonder why I ever doubted I would enjoy it.
So even if you wonder about a program, give it a chance.
I’ll end explaining the subtitle of this essay, a little joke referencing Oscar Wilde’s play. Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst is a romantic violinist and composer, whose work is played by a few violinists today. His music is hard to learn and is not always the greatest music. But violinists who do learn his music often put everything they can into their performances of it. One of his most famous works is Variations on the Last Rose of Summer, and you will find his solo violin arrangement of Schubert’s Der Erkonig on programs now and then. They are touching works, and as I believe there can be lots of “inside” lingo with chamber music, I thought I should explain.
So if there is something on a program you don’t get, ask someone: the performer, the composer, the management or google it. Again, we’re all here to enjoy the music and are happy to answer or discuss it.

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