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The exhilaration of good chamber music

I have just come back from the most extraordinary concert and series of concerts at the Oxford Chamber Music Festival. Tonight was Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, Beethoven piano and violin sonata Op 10 in G major and Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht amongst others, each performance totally stunning – wonderful listening, phenomenal technical ability from all the players, sophisticated understanding of the music and magical performances. I rarely come back from a concert raving about a performance being the best of that piece I have ever heard, but over the last few days I can seriously say that the performances of the Debussy Cello/Piano sonata, Prokofiev 5 melodies (vln and piano), Beethoven Ghost trio, Beethoven Piano/violin sonata Op 10, Gaspard de la Nuit, and Verklarte Nacht are in that category. And that’s a lot. What a privilege to hear music and playing of this calibre.

Violinists playing

The concert at the Holywell Music Room was sold out tonight, packed to the rafters and rightly so. International players of this callibre deserve nothing less than a full house. But at a quick glance around the hall, I would say that there were probably only about 10, maximum 15, members of the audience under 40. Why is this? Why aren’t all the schools in Oxford sending their keen, musical pupils to these concerts to be inspired? What about music students at the University? They are back in town for the beginning of term, but none came – to my knowledge, even with the enticement of free tickets for under 25′s. Does classical music still have a rather stuffy, class-ist image? Is it just for the over-40′s or 50′s? How sad if that is the case.

I would love to pick a handful of people from the street, randomly, and sit them in one of those concerts. Even better if the people picked had never been to a concert of classical music before. Then I would put them a maximum of three feet away from the players and see what they thought. I sat next to an Indian woman tonight who has never experienced western classical music, live, aside from the piano and the guitar – her musical understanding is firmly rooted in Indian classical music. She was blown away, uplifted and inspired, particularly by Verklarte Nacht. She said that she had never had an experience like it.

Surely music performed with this passion, vitality and colour needs to be shared with more people? But how?


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