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Secrets Shared, the Magic of Chamber Music 101

By Paula Peace

The Festival Internacional de Música San Miguel de Allende has shared with us the impressive lineup of world-class musicians and the exciting programming for this year’s Festival, which opens August 4, and ticket sales have begun … but so what? The majority of the classical music being performed is something they’re calling “chamber music.” What the heck is that, and why should I take notice?

The idea of chamber music sometimes sounds intimidating to those who aren’t familiar with the repertoire. But audiences—and musicians alike—often vote that chamber music is their favorite classical music experience, especially to experience live. Why? Perhaps it’s the intimacy of chamber music—with its small ensemble of three or four or five musicians—which draws listeners in so deeply. Perhaps it’s because composers yesterday and today have turned to chamber music to express their most poetic and soulful thoughts.

And with no conductor to separate the audience from the performers, one can look directly into the music-making of the small group of performers. It’s fascinating to watch the players taking turns leading and following by giving secret signals to each other through their body language, by a slight lean of the body or the way a finger or eyebrow lifts. An audience member watching a chamber music performance can almost see inside the music-making, almost as if one is witnessing family secrets being exchanged. It can be fascinating to witness a group’s internal communication, but it’s only possible in a unique, live concert, all happening in real time.

Or perhaps it’s the passionate virtuosity of chamber music—with its extreme demands on the individual musicians—which makes this art form so exciting to experience. Chamber music is music for only the best of the best performers. With no “doubling,” with no other musicians playing the same part with you (as is typical in a large ensemble such as an orchestra), chamber musicians are each soloists navigating their technically-challenging individual parts, all the while melding precisely together, in tune, and with a carefully discussed and agreed-upon concept of sound and vibrato. It’s as exciting as a family of high-wire walkers performing without a net!

And remember—all the challenges of simply starting and staying together must be solved without a conductor guiding. But that is also what chamber musicians love about performing together! Without a conductor functioning as the musical boss (or sometimes more like a dictator), a trio or quartet can enjoy spontaneity unmatched in a large ensembles. One night a musician might play her solo more broadly or linger on one note as never before, as never so beautifully before; a colleague hears this, is inspired, and plays his next phrase in a never-before manner as well. Sometimes a chamber musician can feel special electricity and opt to take a brilliant tempo on stage, too, resulting in a dizzying swiftness and precision the group has not before achieved together.

This is the magic of chamber music, when musicians at the top of their careers can take chances together, can be spontaneous and free together, and can create something which every listener personally experiences, even if completely new to this dynamic art form. As impressive as recordings can be, nothing can replace the poetic intimacy and riveting dynamism of a live chamber performance by expert classical musicians at the top of their careers.

Make plans now to join us for this year’s Festival! And let the magic begin….

Purchase tickets online at festivalsanmiguel.com; at Consejo Turístico on the Jardín, Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm; or at Ángela Peralta Theater on concert days.

 

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