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What is chamber music and why is it so special that performers and audiences alike are becoming increasingly devoted to the genre?

Chamber music is instrumental and/or vocal music presented by a small ensemble with one person to a part, and seldom requiring a conductor. The performances usually take place in small concert or recital halls where everyone in the audience can experience a close connection with the performers. The clear texture of the music allows the novice listener to follow the composer’s intertwining paths easily.

The concept of chamber music is very old. It began to define itself as amateur musicians gathered in a living room to enjoy playing together and, as time passed, to invite friends in to listen. Along with reading, sewing, writing letters, and singing, it was a way to provide entertainment before other means such as radio, TV, recordings, and technological devices appeared. Up until Beethoven’s time, professional musicians were supported by wealthy rulers and aristocrats and employed to compose and perform music in special “chambers” in palaces and mansions, hence the name Chamber Music.

Before there were established combinations of instruments such as trios, quartets, and quintets, early sonatas by Bach and others could be performed by various groupings of instruments. This aided in laying the foundation for chamber works of Josef Haydn who further helped the genre to evolve with his enormous output of string quartets and piano trios. At times Haydn enhanced the overall texture by adding other instruments. In that era the study of music was a mark of refinement and elegance, and many of the piano trios of Mozart were dedicated to accomplished young ladies. The impact of great music experienced in an intimate setting was heightened by the passionate compositions of Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and others in the 19th century.

The explosion of popularity for chamber music came in the latter half of the 20th century when more and more young musicians opted for pursuing their careers in chamber music performance, and contemporary composers focused on new and unusual combinations of sounds and styles. In this decade, classical and jazz groups are welcomed equally in concert halls, bars, clubs, and festivals.

What is unique about the chamber music experience? Perhaps it is the privilege of being able to listen to an intimate “conversation” between the performers as each one allows his own distinctive part to flow into the fabric of the music. There is also enjoyment in watching the communications between the participants that are as subtle as a nod, a smile, or a raised eyebrow. Why is chamber music so special? Because it is personal and communal. The essence it exudes is not meant to be explained, but to be felt. Enjoy world-class performances with us at the CCCMS concerts!