It is usually difficult for performers in a group to play their own parts while every other member plays different notes. Chamber music concerts, consisting mainly of small-sized performance groups, emphasize the balance of sounds and dialogues between performers while allowing each performer to maintain his or her individuality. Last Friday evening at Lang Concert Hall, eleven students, in three different groups, performed five pieces from five different composers.
“I chose three pieces which would let us explore very different styles,” Professor Andrew Hauze, a music professor at Swarthmore and the coach of the concert’s third group, said. The third group with five cellists performed “Lacrimae Antiquae” by John Dowland, an English Renaissance composer, “Agnus Dei” by Krzysztof Penderecki, a Polish composer who was born in 1933 and is still alive, and “Veronika, der Lenz ist da” by Walter Jurmann, an Austrian composer.
The first piece, whose English name is “Ancient Tears,” “is mournful, but has incredible elegance and a sense of dance to it,” according to Hauze. The idea depicted in this piece, “stylized grief,” is seldom a topic that people talk about culturally in the 21st century. Through this music, one should come away with a feeling of transcending grief itself. Hauze believes it is important for people in today’s society to try to understand this different type of music, which brings a sense of poise to grief that people don’t often get in its expression.
Following “Lacrimae Antiquae,” “Agnus Dei” is a sad piece as well. The composition contains many contrasts: “light and dark” or “consonance and dissonance,” Hauze described. If one was to pass by the performance and heard only a few isolated bars, they would not be able to appreciate the beauty of this piece in its entirety. Its beauty comes largely from Penderecki’s balance of these contrary elements. “This piece travels really far, from sort of inner sadness to immense anger and finally back to our world,” Hauze said.
The last piece, however, greatly challenged the mournful atmosphere established by the preceding pieces: “Veronika” is extremely joyful and carefree. Professor Hauze enjoys the flexibility of rhythm the piece provides.
Musicians will always incorporate their own thoughts and emotions into their performances. Alejandro Sills ’13, a cellist in the third group to perform, spoke about the history behind each piece. Understanding the stories behind the piece, such as the life of the composer or the time of its writing, can be a valuable way to interpret the music. Sills mentioned that “the use of pieces contrasting vividly is a way to help the listener understand the times and contexts in which they were written.” He gave an example of the last piece, “Veronika,” the melody of which he believes to be happy at first, but contains in it “a striving for optimism in the midst of personal or societal crisis,” a manifestation of the context of post-WWI Europe entering a worldwide Depression. Sills believes, quoting American composer Leonard Bernstein, “A work of art does not answer questions: it provokes them,” which indicates that a piece has a meaning beyond the concert hall.
The special part of the chamber music concert is not how composers inject their own feelings into the piece, but how performers communicate with each other and interact with the audience through music. “The audience participation adds to the communication among the players,” Hauze said.
Andrew Dorrance ’15 attended the concert and said that “it is very cool to just have a different feel with just a couple players, instead of a giant orchestra. It’s more intimate.”
This characteristic intimacy is one of the most essential elements of chamber music. David Wilikovsky ’12, one of the concert violinists, mentioned that playing chamber music differs from playing in larger ensembles because, in the former, players are solely responsible for their own parts. “Because there are fewer instruments and no conductor to lead the group, it also requires that the group really communicate with one another,” he said.
That each performer plays differently makes the performance more challenging. Cellist Sofia Gabriel ’15 mentioned that players are not allowed to make any mistakes; in a larger ensemble where each instrument is part of a large section, “little mistakes and fumbles by individuals are not as noticeable in the context of the entire piece.”
The experience of performing chamber music provides an exploration of music for the performers, as well as an escape from the stress of college life. For cellist Ariel Hwang ’15, the performance helped her to learn different styles of music because the pieces she performed “are not ‘standard’ classical fare, and at least I (and I think most of us) had minimal to little experience with any of the genres we played,” she said. Violinist Thera Naiman ’14 believes “engaging with music in a small, intimate setting with talented and good-humoured peers is a great way to escape from the daily stresses and concerns of Swarthmore life.”
The study and performance of chamber music is greatly encouraged by the college’s Music and Dance Department. The Elizabeth Pollard Fetter Fund provides funding for coaching for these concerts, which provide students a platform to pursue their passion toward music, no matter if the student is a music major or not. Jeremy Rapaport-Stein ’14, a cellist, said music means everything to him. “As a music major, it often consumes my academic and intellectual energies. On a more visceral level, I love music because of the incredible emotional impact and connection that I get from composing, performing, studying and listening.”
Although Ted Goh ’14, another cellist, doesn’t plan to pursue music as a career, he considers music performance a way to express his thoughts, emotions, and ideas. “Like a poetry slam,” he said, “the ‘poem’s words’ are written on the sheet music. The cello is my second voice. I enjoy formulating my own interpretation of the pieces I play, and I hope that my performance may be thought-provoking to the audience so that they may understand my ideas that I try to express.”
There are three additional upcoming Fetter Chamber Music Program Concerts. Tomorrow’s performance at 8:00 pm will be a showcase of music by Dvorak, Mozart and Shostakovich. Saturday boasts two concerts, first with a presentation of works by Beethoven, Ligeti, Walckiers, Villa-Lobos, Ben Kapilow ’13 and Ravel at 3:00 p.m.; at 8:00 pm, attendees can enjoy the works by Brahms, Mendelssohn, Kodaly and Verosky.
For those who go to the Saturday afternoon, they can hear a piece named “Patience”, composed by Kapilow. “I wanted to write this piece because I feel that contemporary classical music today has become completely irrelevant to the rest of the world, kind of existing in a bubble,” he explained. With a feeling that most listeners may feel a lack of connection between the contemporary classical music and daily life, Kapilow wanted to write a piece in which he could use sounds that would be familiar to everyone.
Kapilow wrote this piece specifically for this concert and says that writing for the chamber music concert is different from writing a piece for large ensembles. Kapilow mentioned that for big ensembles, composers usually tend to “write thick walls of sounds for many instruments with a lot of octave doublings.” However, in a piece for a small ensemble, “I am much more free to write virtuosic, stylized parts for each instrument,” he said.
Kapilow’s piece was also written to be performed by a rapper, Gabriel “Gabe” Starky, who gave the piece its title and lyrics. Starky is a senior at Haverford and an emerging Philadelphia-based rapper. “Though I wrote for a rapper, the musical content is entirely classical with only a small amount of influence of actual rap music,” Kapilow said. He wants the audience to feel that a given sound does not necessarily go with a certain type of music. “I want the audience to sense that in a classical context, the sounds of a rapper can also work.”
The Chamber music concerts, a platform for students to show their musical skills and their passion for music, welcome the audience to walk in a diverse music world filled with all the performers.