The magic of chamber music comes from experiencing breath-taking musical moments up close and personal, as if you were a part of it.
To appropriate the byline of I FURIOSI, chamber ensembles are like the rock bands of classical music, and the best of them are certainly admired the way rock stars are, just in genre-appropriate ways.
What is described as “chamber” today is not limited to music performed in a private household (often in a “room” of varying sizes), but refers generally to a small ensemble that performs music requiring an intense connection and synergies between the artists.
The magic of chamber music comes from experiencing breath-taking musical moments up close and personal, as if you were a part of it. Its enjoyment comes from active listening on the audiences’ part, and the performing ensemble often primes the audiences with an introduction to the musical and historical context of the works on the program.
We should count our lucky stars that many top performing artists call Toronto home. If you know where to look, there are many different kinds of chamber music to experience, almost whenever the mood strikes you.
For those who are curious but need a little guidance, here are some of the series that we have gotten to know. This is not even close to an exhaustive list, and your contributions in the comments are welcome.
Here are some upcoming events in chronological order:
Westwood Concerts’ Fairy Tales (Sept 13, 2014 • 8pm • Heliconian Hall in Yorkville)
The chamber experience: Clarinetist Michael Westwood and Pianist/Arranger Greg Millar are close friends and musical collaborators. This series marks Westwood’s return to music after a successful detour into the fitness industry. He brings a refreshing “anything goes” attitude for a dose of fun without compromising the musical experience. He curates the performances with emerging performing artists, and easily reaches into jazz and pop for inspiration.
Related post: Westwood marks inaugural season with Big Band Tributes
Ron Davis’ Symphronica (Sept 18, 2014 • 8pm • Lula Lounge on Dundas West)
The chamber experience: Ideas for a symphonic work sometimes first appear in a composer’s classical chamber pieces. Large orchestral works have also been known to be rearranged for chamber performances. Enter classical-trained jazz pianist Ron Davis, with masterful mash-ups performed by his jazz quartet and an improvising classical quartet, in the spirit of his Symphronica recording with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra.
Related post: Symphronica Bridging Musical Differences
Toronto Masque Theatre’s Salon Series (Sept 22, 2014 • 8pm • The Shaftesbury Studio)
The chamber experience: True to the salon experience of the 17th and 18th century, there will be stimulating discussion around Masque as an art form, led by contemporary composers and performers. There will be performances too, but this performance will both whet and satiate mental, spiritual, and physical appetites in equal measure. Their subscription and ticket prices (especially for the under 30 crowd) are probably Toronto’s best kept secret.
Related post: Toronto Masque Reimagines Myth of Europa
Related post: Experience the Delightful and Entertaining Arlecchino Allegro
Pocket Concerts (Sept 28, 2014 • private event hosted by Anita Zafrani)
The chamber experience: Select hosts collaborate with Pocket Concerts to present house concerts featuring some of the best emerging classical musicians the city has to offer. Though this concert is not open to the public, you can enjoy the November 2 performance, featuring violinist Yehonatan Berick, cellist Rachel Mercer and pianist Emily Rho. It is rare to see and hear artists in such an intimate setting, and the food and wine encourage the audiences to get acquainted. Each concert offers an authentic chamber experience driven by the personality of the performers and the intimate setting.
Related post: Pocket Concerts a Musical Gift to Treasure
Adam Sherkin’s noon-hour series (Oct 2, 2014 • 12-1pm • St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts)
The Chamber Experience: Composers loved these intimate concerts where they would give private performances of new works they were developing. There are few professional composers/pianists, but Adam Sherkin is one we can call our own. The St. Lawrence Centre has been home to his works, and this year is hosting a series of free noon-time concerts in the lobby. The series is more accessible and visible, with unique pieces inspired by the keyboard.
WMCT Series: Trio Wanderer (Oct 2, 2014 • 1:30pm • Walter Hall at University of Toronto)
The Chamber Experience: This is by far the most rewarding chamber music experience you can have in Toronto, and the 300 people who fill the auditorium during these daytime concerts are keeping this secret all to themselves. If you can somehow get away during the workday for this concert—and take into account that these are internationally acclaimed chamber artists that are brought in—the $45 tickets really are a steal. Get them early; most of the tickets are already sold to subscribers in their 117th season.
Eybler Quartet: Cello Quintets (Oct 2, 2014 • 7:30pm • Heliconian Hall)
The Chamber Experience: These are exquisite musicians based in Toronto, featuring three powerful female musicians in the Eybler Quartet. The program dives deep into the history of the pieces, exploring the story of the composer and often featuring guest artists as part of the mix. Expect to hear the classics, get introduced to the occasional contemporary work, and to be drawn into the musical synergy that only comes from over a decade of playing together.
Ensemble Polaris: Back to the Future (Oct 3, 2014 • 8pm • 918 Bathurst in the Annex)
The Chamber Experience: A kaleidoscope of instruments, percussion and voice make up the 12-piece Ensemble Polaris. Their first loves are the Nordic folk songs, and since the ensemble’s instrumentation is so unusual, all works have been specifically arranged or written for them. “Nutcracker Nouveau”, their latest recording project, puts the classic Tchaikovsky tunes through the Polaris filter. The result is the type of humorous and whimsical sound that is their signature. Don’t be deceived by their lighthearted banter and singable melodies; to excel at what they do is no easy feat. A very family-friendly experience.
Related post: Ensemble Polaris Takes the Vikings to the Cabaret
g27 Recital Series: Rachel Mercer (Oct 8, 2014 • 8pm • Heliconian Hall)
The Chamber Experience: The group of 27 orchestra consists of many of the musicians that regularly perform for the major orchestras in the city. The group’s willingness to experiment with the orchestra experience is building a dedicated audience following—their DIY Symphony concert had musicians sight-reading parts based on votes from the audience—and is highlighting the rich musical personalities of each performer. The recital series showcases specific members as soloists and chamber musicians, complete with complimentary food and drinks.
The most important part of the chamber music experience is the opportunity to meet the artists that often presents itself. If you find yourself at a concert where there’s a reception for the artists, don’t be shy; they are probably looking forward to meeting you as much as you are to meeting them.
We also suggest you keep an eye on Ton Beau String Quartet, Syrinx Concerts, Spectrum Music, Thin Edge New Music, Reverb Brass, junctQín Keyboard Collective and many other groups who have upcoming events in their 2014-2015 season.
I know some of you will want to include indie opera as a chamber experience, and they would be right, but we’ll save that vibrant community for another blog post.