At the opening night of the International Chamber Music Festival in the Hague in September 2010, I witnessed a format I liked very much. The founder and artistic director, Eva Stegeman, inspired by TED talks, invited conductor Itay Talgam to give a pre-concert talk. Talgam went on to interview Dutch violinist Stegeman and her quartet, interrupting them after the first 10 minutes of Beethoven’s Quartet in F Major (opus 59 no. 1).
Stegeman called it “Chamber Music X-rayed.”
I call it —- thinking outside the box. Talgam asked the string quartet questions such as
- If you don’t have a conductor, how do you know when to begin or end? Who leads?
- Which passage do you like best?
- How do you indicate the right tempo?
These are questions we don’t ask ourselves when we are rehearsing. How musicians communicate with each other in rehearsals is a mystery to most non-musicians. As performers, we don’t dissect the way we get our messages across. We indicate. We interpret. We might discuss. We compromise. It is not a science. We simply take it for granted, as musicians.
I had intended to write a review of that pre-concert talk and opening concert of the string quartet, but I got swept away by the momentum of preparing for our concert tour of the USA. Talgam and Stegeman’s on-stage “quartet discussion panel” brewed on my back burner until I got a chance to re-enact it in Phoenix, Arizona in early November and again in San Francisco.
At the Spirit of the Senses event in a loft apartment in Phoenix, Arizona, we gave a duo performance before the intermission. Afterwards, I invited Tom Houlon, the organiser, and guitarists Robert Bekkers and Matt Gould to sit in front of the audience. I moderated a discussion panel on house concerts.
Two weeks later, something similar happened in another loft apartment. After a chef-catered gourmet dinner, I invited the concert host Dr Chong Kee Tan to talk about his activities as amateur pianist, founder of his piano club, and founder/developer of High Note Live, an online software to manage artists, concerts, and audiences. I contrasted this against the view of the next panellist — composer, software-developer, and artistic manager Marc Parella. Only after the discussion panel did Robert Bekkers and I give our duo concert.
Because of the energy economists in the audience in San Francisco, I deliberately referred to cultural economics. While energy is a commodity, music is anything but. The half-hour discussion allowed the audience to participate. Perhaps this is a possible formula for future house concerts.