A recent article in The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/24/arts/music/24midg.html) suggests that things don’t look good for chamber music, at least as we’re used to thinking about it. One young composer recently found the Emerson String Quartet’s performances of Beethoven “expensive and suffocating,” and Gil Morgenstern recalls a friend describing “chamber music” as “the two most boring words in the English language.” Seems that there’s a loyal but diminishing audience for the traditional chamber music experience: a small group of very intense musicians on stage playing for an audience that sits on its hands, presumably while rapture flows within. Everybody else is outta there.
The nub of the problem, Anne Midgette suggests, is not the music but the institutions that present it, which are stifling and conformist. You can go to a bar and hear chamber music; they just don’t call it that. It seems, though, that classical chamber performers have been hitting the bar scene, and with some success.
I have always loved chamber music, which has yielded most of my most intense and formative musical experiences (see my post from two weeks ago on IT). As a music historian, though, I wonder if there isn’t another problem as well. Let’s face it: a lot of this music wasn’t really written for an audience. It’s the ultimate performer’s music, and the experience of playing chamber music, ideally at home (which is where the “chambers” are) is the greatest musical thrill of all for those who love to do it. There just aren’t as many of us as there used to be. I remember my mother getting together regularly with friends to play through Brahms and Schubert. They never reached performance quality, but that wasn’t the point. It was the original garage band.
How many people who are reading this love chamber music, and how many still play it? I would be glad to read some anecdotal evidence about this. It might even help convince me that a real chamber music revival is possible.