On January 24th, the Don Wright Faculty of Music and the School for Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities came together to bring selections of Contemporary Chamber Music to a public audience at the Weldon Library atrium. For many, chamber music is emblematic of all things antiquated and inaccessible, of music that can’t be appreciated by anyone but the most dedicated of scholars. In the public imagination, chamber music is inextricably linked to its historical context, and is rarely included in discourse about contemporary music and art. These assumptions were all refuted by the Western Performs! concert, which breathed life into chamber music pieces and focused on the contemporary and experimental value of the genre.
One of the distinguishing features of chamber music is its intimacy. With such a small group of performers, each of whom is responsible for a different instrument, the audience can easily pick out the contribution of each individual performer, creating a more direct and intimate connection between listeners and individual performers. Sitting among the small local audience of the Western Performs concert, secluded in a brightly-lit corner of the library, the connection between the performers and the listeners could be clearly felt, and was central to the success of this performance. Of course, the intimate and private nature of chamber music often meant that, like many of the arts, it has through time been primarily performed for a privileged few, a pattern that is subverted by the public and accessible nature of this concert series.
Past accessibility, this concert also refused to subscribe to the idea that chamber music is entrenched immovably in a historical context, and that it has somehow remained static through time and remains unaffected by the evolution and development of the musical genre. These assumptions were challenged by the two groups that performed, each of whom played a piece of contemporary chamber music. The first group, comprised of Kelvin Mun, Luc Vaillancourt, and Amelia Yates, played to selections from the composers Milhaud and Stravinsky. The modernist influences in both 20th century pieces emphasised the vital contemporary energy that can still be channelled through chamber music.
Baptiste Boiron and Joseph Moscheck then played two more pieces that further questioned the prevailing view of chamber music as outmoded and separate from the experimental qualities of modern art and music. They played a recent composition that has rarely been performed in public, which was simultaneously discomforting and impressive, involving listeners and questioning their assumptions about what exactly chamber music is and should be. In one memorable moment, Moscheck used a bow to play a piece of Styrofoam, proving that chamber music is in no way exempt from the avant-garde scene that is popular in current music.
The Western Performs! concert series will continue through the year with monthly performances held in public spaces for free. The next concert will be held in the Weldon Library atrium on February 14th and will feature a selection of pieces centred around the timely theme of love.