This exercise asks us to listen to some live orchestral or chamber music. I went to a performance by the Fitzwilliam String Quartet which included music by Bach, Beethoven, Glazunov, Shostakovich and Schubert.
I find the experience of live chamber music performances quite different to orchestral concerts – they usually take place in a much smaller venue and have a very intimate feel. I enjoy watching the performers as they play, particularly small groups like string quartets because of the connection they make with each other through the music. I prefer to do this ‘live’ and in person (as opposed to recordings on the television or internet) as I feel closer to the performers and have the sense that they are playing for me; I think the hush and attentiveness of the audience around me also creates an atmosphere that makes me concentrate more on the music and removes any potentially distracting thoughts.
The programme was put together mostly chronologically, starting with an extract from Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge. Shostakovich’s 7th quartet at the end of the first half of the concert also features a fugue, and I’m sure this link was intentional. The programme notes were beautifully written by the quartet’s viola player (and founding member), Alan George. As well as providing the historical context to each piece, they draw insightful parallels with other works and composers, and describe the important or unusual musical features of each one. I also found it refreshing that the author wrote openly about some of the quartet’s experiences of rehearsing the music – this is an aspect of performance that is usually hidden from the audience. The descriptions of the emotions behind the music are particularly fascinating to me. For example the slow movement of Shostakovich’s quartet is described as ‘an encapsulation of loneliness and grief; dignified, objective, without tears.’ This emotion is evident from listening alone, but putting it into words so poetically adds another dimension for me.