BEAUTY of music | “rational people conversing”

APA Artistic Administrator Milner Fuller takes a moment to reflect upon chamber music.

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2017 American Pianists Awards finalist Sam Hong is a dedicated chamber musician.

What is chamber music?

Often in a pianist’s bio, you will see a pianist refer to him or herself as an “avid chamber musician.” So what constitutes chamber music, and what is a chamber orchestra?

Chamber music is generally defined as classical music that is written for an ensemble where each part is performed by one instrument. This contrasts with an orchestra where many players, particularly string players, perform the same part. Several chamber ensembles became standardized in the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly the string quartet (2 violins, viola and cello), the piano trio (piano, violin, and cello), piano quartet (piano, violin, viola, and cello), and piano quintet (piano plus string quartet). Composers over the years have written vast repertoire for each of these ensembles, and while nearly every major composer wrote chamber music at some point, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Haydn, and Schubert are particularly known for their catalogs of chamber music.

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2009 American Pianists Awards winner Grace Fong focuses on the music of her group.

For a pianist to be a skilled chamber musician, he or she must be able to interact well with other musicians. Many artistic decisions must be made as a group in chamber music, either in rehearsal or even during a performance. While chamber musicians make most artistic decisions in rehearsal, they also “speak” to each other during performances with visual cues. Goethe, in fact, once described the chamber music as “rational people conversing.” These skills are important for any pianist, which is why chamber music is an important part of the American Pianists Awards. Each Finalist will perform a piano quintet next April with our resident string quartet, the Pacifica Quartet.

If chamber music means each musician plays his or her own part, then what is a chamber orchestra?

This can be a little confusing because a chamber orchestra does not generally play chamber music. A chamber orchestra is just another term for a small orchestra, usually 25-50 musicians, as opposed to a symphony or philharmonic orchestra, which can range from 40-120 musicians. Today’s chamber orchestras are closer to the size of an 18th- or early 19th-century orchestra, and most chamber orchestras specialize in music from this period, though contemporary music is also written for chamber orchestra.

The typical symphony orchestra grew throughout the 19th century for two reasons:

  1. Orchestration became a valued aesthetic in orchestral music and composers sought new instruments to expand the sound palette.
  2. The growing, concert-going middle class led to larger concert halls and a need for a louder orchestra.

The 2017 American Pianists Awards will feature our finalists with both the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra (Premiere Series) and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (Finals).

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2009 American Pianists Awards winner Adam Golka with Pacifica String Quartet.


For more on the beauty of music and to learn about opportunities to experience chamber music live, sign up for our newsletter and follow the conversation on social media using #AmericanPianistsAwards.


Author: americanpianistsassociation

The mission of the American Pianists Association is to discover, promote and advance the careers of young, American jazz and classical pianists.

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