Chamber music is music written for friends to play together: two, or three, or four instruments talking to each other. It is intimate music, not meant for big concert halls that perform symphonies. It is that contented feeling of being with friends, expressed in music.
So when the Russian Chamber Music Federation of Seattle put on a summer concert in the park a few weeks ago, they extended this familiar and intimate feeling to the community. There was a palpable welcoming: an inviting aroma of seasoned hot dogs stirred happy feelings of food-sharing, and a face-painter was hard at work at the periphery of the seated crowd. In the audience, the eager (decorated) faces of young children made it clear that this was a concert for them, too.
The music choices were varied and winsome: a tango, waltzes (three young siblings sitting together at the piano), a world-class performance of Beethoven’s 11th string quartet, the theme song from Schindler’s List, Rachmaninoff art songs in his native Russian tongue, Liszt and Rachmaninoff piano works – and at the evening’s end, a delightful surprise cello duet with two players, two bows, and one cello. Bows crossed during the playing, and the two tangled players traded positions on the fingerboard. This finale was a surprise full of delight, and another boost to the warm community outreach of this chamber group.
All of the performances were excellent, and many of the pieces were virtuosic. It was so right for whole family to get to experience the exuberant, outstanding Beethoven quartet together.
Mikhail Shmidt’s presentation of the theme song from Schindler’s List was expressive, but with a dignified restraint that upheld the somber beauty of the music. I often imagine the story music might be telling, and Mikhail’s playing encouraged this; it was as though he was telling a story with his bow. The deliberate emphasis of his bowing gave the impression that he was sharing an important message, one that was beautiful in spite of its dark historical context.
And as I listened to the young, accomplished pianists perform beautifully prepared and polished works by Rachmaninoff and Liszt, I imagined their parents’ pride and sense of accomplishment.
It was impossible not to smile often at everyone around me throughout the hour-long concert. This was, indeed, intimate music shared warmly and inclusively by and for our community.
Guest contributor Roberta Kanive performs with the Ravenna String Orchestra. This RCMFS community concert took place at Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island on August 15, 2015 (see full program details).
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