Posted by Andrew Messenger
Wednesday 15th January, 2014
Chamber Music at AYO National Music Camp

Chamber Music isn’t a solid river of sound like an orchestra; it is a constantly swirling stream of sound, sometimes strong, often gentle. It is concentrated music, music reduced to only the essentials, stripped back and laid bare. It is far more intimate and a totally different sort of experience. 

So it’s a real treat to have roughly every musician in the country crammed into Canberra to play some of the best chamber music there is, on a daily basis.

Chamber music is small-scale music. A symphony might have one hundred players, but a string quartet involves exactly four. ‘Chamber’ music is music played in a chamber, like your living room. Instead of watching (non-existent) television or listening to (imaginary) radio, pre-industrial humanity tended to make their own fun – an insane idea, I know, but there you are. 

Why is chamber music so great? It’s a bit pretentious to quote German romantic poets in a blog post, but one of them put it best so you’ll have to put up with it. Goethe described the string quartet as ‘four rational people conversing’. He was dead right: often the different players are given musical lines that operate almost like a dinner party. The first violin makes a statement, the second violin responds, with the cello rudely interjecting and the viola asking everyone if they wouldn’t like a neat drink to calm down.

So far we’ve only heard tutors perform. I say ‘only’, though of course they are some of the best musicians in the country. But when the campers perform, what do they have up their sleeves? I asked a couple of them to find out. Owen Jackson, oboe: 

‘Personally I think it’s a fantastic idea simply because, like, especially in close chamber music situations it’s basically like a small orchestra and the communication allows a lot more. Hearing the tutor concerts was really good – for those of us who actually want to hear what the people teaching us can actually do, it’s a great opportunity to kind of see everything that they’re trying to share with us in practice.’ 

Alison Wammel, contrabassoon: ‘I find it really, really fun. There is this intimacy to it that you lack in an orchestral setting. In an orchestral setting, if you think of the wind section as a chamber group, it’s relevant, but you have the rest of the orchestra.’

This is one of the truly special things about AYO National Music Camp; the program builds to a logical climax. There is music happening all the time, not simply at the end of the process. People are constantly preparing, listening to and thinking about music. The chamber music concerts are a big part of that, keeping the music going while the orchestras aren’t in performance mode.


Words About Music participants will be blogging daily.


– Andrew Messenger

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