Somewhere over the centuries, chamber music got a bad rap. The name is derived from its origins as music performed by a small ensemble in an intimate setting, usually in the home of a music appreciator, for an audience of friends. The space, time and hospitality required of such an event were certainly more accessible to the upper classes of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries—but it just isn’t fair that in modern-day America, this art form has been labeled as music for the rich, the elderly and the elite. Hey, just a minute, some of us aficionados are none of the above!
The challenge for every presenter of chamber music in the US is to re-record the soundtrack people hear in their heads when they think “chamber Muzak,” replacing it with a new brain disc that includes the intelligence of Bach, the poetry of Samuel Barber, the wit of Gershwin and cutting-edge music as is performed by the Kronos Quartet.
In fact chamber music is defined simply as that written for a small group of musicians, each playing a different part. It has often been the venue for a composer’s most innovative work and the expression of new musical ideas.
This Saturday marks the opening concert of the Chamber Music Monterey Bay season. That organization is determined to imprint new musical soundtracks for everyone who attends.
“It’s important to present not only the master works of the classical era and beyond, but also contemporary pieces that show that this music continues to be innovative,” says Amy Anderson, president of the association’s board. “We rarely select works from the Baroque era, as the Baroque Festival and others feature that repertoire so spectacularly, but for each concert we choose works never or rarely performed here, including a contemporary piece—this season these are all by American composers.”
In the opening concert, the nationally acclaimed Trio Solisti performs Brahms Trio Number 1 in B major, Turina’s Trio Number 2 in B Minor and Paul Moravec’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning Tempest Fantasy, featuring Alan Kay on clarinet and Stephen Moorer of the Pacific Repertory Theater reciting the accompanying text from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
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Throughout the US, people who love this artform are wrestling with the issue of attracting young audiences away from the passive pursuits of television, Internet and computer games. A Chamber Music Superhero Spokesperson? No: music camps for local young musicians grades four through 12—for ordinary music students from local schools, who don’t have to audition, with plenty of scholarships, advanced personalized instruction in their instrument and a lot of ensemble playing.
In addition, CMMB takes several ensembles each season into local schools to give young people a chance to meet professional musicians, talk about the music and learn about the instruments and the artform. Sometimes, musicians provide master classes for talented youth. These programs are free to the schools, offering arts-starved students a high-intensity infusion of arts education. Finally, CMMB offers the “Kids Up Front and Free” program, reserving the three front and center rows of each performance for kids to become immersed in the experience.
The 2006-2007 season carves a broad and welcoming path for those who love or are open to loving this music. Following the youthful Trio Solisti in December is the Fine Arts Quartet, one of this country’s treasures, then the Tokyo String Quartet in January, considered one of the finest ensembles in the world.
CHAMBER MUSIC MONTEREY BAY performances are at Sunset Center, Carmel. $27-$41/adults; $15/students. 625-2212 or chambermusicmontereybay.org.