Chamber, Without the Secrets
The Florida Orchestra’s Jeff Multer says chamber music is a great way to get classical music into the community — but more than that, it’s an art form that’s vital to the tradition.
“A rock band is a chamber music group. That’s where it comes from. Small combos, jazz combos, that’s chamber music.”
If that sounds like an unconventional take on music history, it’s not so surprising given the source – Jeff Multer. The violinist has been concertmaster at the Florida Orchestra since 2005, but before that, he was a full-time performer in string quartets and other chamber groups, mostly in New York City. In 2013, Multer reconnected with his old flame, recruiting longtime collaborators to launch the Palladium Chamber Players, which offer an annual winter season of ensemble music at St. Petersburg’s Palladium Theater.
A chamber group can be almost anything – from two people to twenty, a string quartet or a group of mixed instruments. Multer’s passion for the genre hinges not on anything that defines it, but on something it lacks – a conductor.
“The whole notion is that you communicate with your colleagues through the music, and it’s very much a heightened sense of awareness that you have . . . so [audiences] get to experience the magic of that.”
Now, Multer is getting the chance to connect his chamber music background to his work with the Florida Orchestra, which is launching a slew of new efforts to put small groups out into the community. It started with a blitz in late September when groups performed 15 concerts in four days at airports, breweries, hospitals and parks around Tampa Bay.
Then, starting in mid-October, TFO’s Family Concerts will bring interactive chamber performances to young children at venues like the Dunedin Fine Art Center and the Hillsborough Community College – Ybor campus. The chamber-palooza continues in 2017 with a series of Sunday performances at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum in St. Petersburg.
“Musicians love to play chamber music,” says Multer. But this new push outward by the Orchestra has a bigger mission. “It gives us the ability to be mobile, get out into the community, go to a place that can’t house a 65-piece orchestra. It gives us a chance to increase our presence, get in front of more people and often get in front of people who can’t come to us.”
It also tones down some of the formality that can make classical music intimidating to new audiences. “It doesn’t come with all the trappings of having to go into a big concert hall,” says Multer, “with everyone wearing tails.”
But, while it can be more convenient and inviting for audiences, that doesn’t mean chamber music is any less ambitious than what you’d hear in an orchestra hall. “Most of the great composers wrote quite a bit more chamber music than they did symphonic music,” says Multer. “They knew that chamber music was [a] true format for great artistic output.”
But where does one start exploring the unique aesthetics of chamber music? When pressed to name favorite pieces, Multer hems a bit – not surprising, since he has spent decades exploring a catalog that spans four or five centuries. For those interested in the cutting edge of contemporary music, he points to ensembles like Eighth Blackbird, who play a huge role in promoting new composers, and even creating new works.
But more generally, he thinks that true genius shines in the sitting room as brightly as in the concert hall.
“Every great composer spends a lot of time writing chamber music. I would just say that any great composer is really likely to have some great chamber music.”
The Woodson Chamber Concerts will be at 3 p.m. on January 22nd, February 26th, March 26th, and April 23rd, 2017, at the Carter G. Woodson Museum. Check floridaorchestra.org for updates on this and other TFO programs.