Sunday, October 10, 2004

The sounds of chamber music

Small groups gaining support from fans who like to get up close to classical

By Janelle Gelfand
Enquirer staff writer

CCM Chamber Player
(The Enquirer/Brandi Stafford)
You can see the sweat on players' brows, hear them breathe as they draw their bows, and see their eyes flit between one another in silent communication. You hear subtle changes in color and mood - so subtle you'd never hear them in a 3,000-seat concert hall.

Chamber music is up close and personal, refined and often played by friends for friends - kust for the joy of it. It's meant to be enjoyed in living rooms or small halls, and it's flourishing in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. But what is it, exactly?

Chamber music

Instrumental music, usually for two or more players, one player to a part, played without a conductor.

Chamber orchestra

A small orchestra of 25 to 35 musicians, often led by a conductor.

String quartet

Chamber music for four strings: two violins, viola and cello. Considered the main or most popular form of chamber music.

Piano trio

Chamber music for piano, violin and cello, the most popular trio combination.

Trio sonata

Baroque chamber music, written in three parts but usually performed on four instruments: two violins, cello and harpsichord.

Janelle Gelfand

"It's very intimate music between a few people," says violinist Christian Teztlaff, 38, who will perform all of Bach's solo violin music today for the 75th anniversary of the Cincinnati Chamber Music Society. "I think Paganini (who wrote virtuoso showpieces) wants to impress thousands and be fantastic. But Bach wants to open his heart."

A bare-bones definition: a small instrumental ensemble for more than two players, one player to a part, usually without a conductor. But that can vary greatly - numbers can swell, and even a solo violinist like Teztlaff can fit the definition.

An important part of its meaning is the social pleasure of coming together to make music. The musicians become like a "family," says Annalisa Pappano, founder of the early instrument group Catacoustic Consort, performing today in Dayton.

"Much of this music was composed for the enjoyment of performers in homes or private chambers," she says. "When you had a family playing music together, everyone had to share."

"I find when people come to chamber music concerts, they feel very included in the performances," says Christina Merblum, violinist in the Azmari Quartet, Corbett string quartet-in-residence at Northern Kentucky University. "The music, as well as what we do, is conversational."

"People can see faces, expressions and the interaction between the players," says Richard Waller, former principal clarinetist of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, who founded the Linton Music Series 26 years ago. "The smallness of the environment is so important."

The teamwork experienced by chamber ensembles is so unique, musicians believe it helps them in other walks of life.

"The responsibility is clearly upon your shoulders to do your part for the team," says Norman Johns, assistant principal cellist of the Cincinnati Symphony.

"For you to be heard as an individual, and to be heard as another team player, the give and take - it's invaluable," he says. "It's like guiding a young set of ears through an epiphany. The pleasure is in seeing the light bulbs. It's the same for me, when I play chamber music. It's a new set of give-and-take every time."

Chamber music is not just for string quartets. Rodney Winther, director of the CCM Chamber Players at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music combines his students into brass quintets, woodwind octets, string quartets or ensembles with harp, percussion and piano.

"The musical decisions that often are taken over by a conductor fall on their shoulders," Winther says. "More and more people realize that a viable professional option for them is in chamber music."

Chamber music is booming around the country. There are 10,000 members in Chamber Music America, a service organization.

Above all, chamber music can touch both listener and player.

"For me, it's the closest to what religion can be about," Teztlaff says. "You feel as a group that you belong together for some reason. It is because we all have burdens and we all feel joy. And we do it in the same room, and that's sometimes really spectacular."


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