Tuesday, November 28, 2017

EYSO Chamber Music: Strength in Small Numbers

The CAJÉ quartet performs a movement from Mozart at the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra's Chamber Music Institute Concerts on November 19, 2017 in the Spartan Auditorium. 
One sixty minute concert by seven ensembles of the Elgin Youth Symphony’s Chamber Music Institute displays how effective a musician can become by playing regularly within a small group.

Spending time together with a shared objective — preparing a piece of music for performance — exposes each individual’s style of reasoning and communicating, and advancement toward the group’s goal requires everyone’s participation.

It was visible in the faces of the Sul Tasto Quartet, as one player smiled knowingly at the efforts of another in negotiating a particularly tricky passage. For these young musicians, the technical accuracy may be less important than the experience of being valued for one’s individual contribution.

Any casual listener can recognize performance jitters and musical imperfections in student group recitals, but a more sensitive observation reveals an unspoken dialogue that takes place among players. A glance asks, “Are you ready?” and a deep breath says, “Yes.” As the music unfolds, their body language signals that they are using the part of the mind that controls communication, not just movement.

The work may not be equally subdivided in a chamber ensemble, but it is certainly shared. As one violinist started to outpace the Gershwin Quartet during an especially busy few bars, cellist Emily Gallagher’s tapping toe reset the tempo to keep the group in sync.

All musicians rely on their printed parts or scores in order to keep the group effort literally “on the same page.” Following the notes (like words) carefully during a performance is a comfort, if not a necessity, but over time the music will be understood in units of larger scale (like sentences and paragraphs). The Really Fast Quartet demonstrated the effect of music that is more felt than timed, in their original rendition of “found music” borrowed from Mozart.

A small group of mature musicians perform like the cast of a play, exchanging cues, directing the audience’s attention, and shaping episodes with each different combination of players to create a musical narrative. The similarity is not lost on the Earl Clemens Wind Quintet, one of the EYSO’s Honors Chamber Ensembles. Their skillful individual performances were enhanced by clear interactions that drew upon trust, mutual understanding and the unspoken language that develops among friends. — JP

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