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The Chamber Music Repertoire—Whither CMSFW?

Patrons of chamber music societies all prefer that the repertory played for the concerts should be balanced. Agreed, but in what way? Classic versus modern? Strings versus winds? Diatonic versus twelve tone? Contemporary versus all else?

And what about genres in ensemble? Piano-based versus instrumental? Instrumental sonata with piano? Piano and string trios, quartets, quintets? Or pure string ensembles of two to six players? And recently, duo piano pieces are being added to the mix. Among genres, we cannot forget national styles: Central European core classical? French? Spanish? Russian? American? The list is endless.

The job of balance among all these options is left to the Artistic Director, and we are indeed fortunate with the mix that Gary Levinson has chosen over four years of concerts. Measured by the suggestions (and very few criticisms) from the audience, our various preferences appear to be well served. Our founder, Leon Brachman, felt that Fort Worth was a piano town, and most of the programs for the first twenty-five years featured piano soloists with “ad hoc” ensembles. The quality of the music was quite good under the artistic direction of Robert Davidovici. But how balanced were the programs in reflecting the broad chamber music repertory? A short review of chamber music history will point out a major problem.

When “Chamber Music” first appeared in the musical world, the trio sonata (two violins, cello, and harpsichord) became quite popular. But with the evolution of the fortepiano in the late Eighteenth Century, and the addition of the viola to reinforce the middle range of the ensemble, the most common genres in Chamber Music were the piano trio (violin, cello, and piano) and the string quartet (two violins, viola, and cello). The professionalization of small ensemble performance, with the rise of the “named” string quartets after 1800, made the string quartet the leading genre in the chamber repertory, a position which it still holds to this day. But few string quartets were played at the early CMSFW concerts, an unfortunate neglect of the basic core chamber music repertory.

Restoring the string quartet to the programs of CMSFW was a major goal for our Artistic Director as he assumed his duties, and from the very first, we have presented visiting string quartets in our concerts. The Vermeer, Miro and Amernet Quartets have been regular visitors on our programs, and this season, we will feature the Arianna, Dover, and Borromeo Quartets on their first visits to CMSFW. But please do not interpret this shift in repertory as a bias against piano-based chamber music. We are presenting three excellent pianists on our schedule this season, to support a balanced program for our audience. By the programs chosen by the Artistic Director, the core of the chamber music repertory, the string quartet, has been restored to its proper place in the CMSFW concerts. Much to his credit, and to our benefit.

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