September 02, 2008

Chamber music society opens season Sept. 14

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Southern Illinois Chamber Music Society, affiliated with the School of Music at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, opens the 2008-2009 season with “Chamber Poetry” on Sept. 14.

The performance begins at 3 p.m. at the Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship on North Parrish Lane. It is the first of four performances in the regular season of the chamber society. This performance features three selections with accompanying vocal and one for instruments alone.

The core musicians in the chamber society ensemble are School of Music faculty members Michael Barta, who plays violin, Meng-Chug Chi, viola, and Eric Lenz, cello. For this performance, and also from the School of Music faculty, special guests Paul Transue on piano, Ed Benyas on oboe, and David Dillard, baritone, join them.

In addition, several SIUC students who have earned scholarships from the chamber society will join the ensemble on violin. They are: Metiney Suwona-Wongse from Cobden, Benjamin Schantz from Sterling, Laura Dorkota from Carbondale along with former student and current board member Shaina Graff.

The program includes a short work for oboe and strings by Classical composer, Luigi Gatti (1740-1817), and selections from J. S. Bach (1685-1750), Samuel Barber (1910-1981) and Lori Laitman (b. 1955).

The Bach selection is the Cantata No 82, “Ich habe genug.” Bach wrote it for a church festival, in 1727. The Barber selection is the critically acclaimed composition for voice and string quartet based on the poem “Dover Beach” by Victorian poet Matthew Arnold. The Laitman selection is a piece that debuted in 2005 called “Seed of Dream” with words by Yiddish poet and Holocaust survivor Abraham Sutzkever.

But what is chamber music? Musician Eric Lenz said that in its broadest definition, chamber music is instrumental art music for two or more people. The name “chamber” refers to the classical venue of choice for this music -- a small room with an intimate atmosphere. It differs from music performed by a symphony in a way similar to the difference between “arena rock” and an “unplugged” performance.

Leslie Curtis, president of the board of directors, explained that the Southern Illinois Chamber Music Society got its start when Jack and the late Muriel Hayward hosted performances in their home -- true to the original purpose for chamber music. Now the performance home base is the Unitarian Fellowship, favored by musicians for the acoustics and listeners for the friendly atmosphere. The SICMS also holds performances at the Sesser Opera House.

Curtis said coming out of the private home and expanding to another venue in Southern Illinois is true to the society’s mission of promoting chamber music in this area and using the music to provide SIUC scholarships to aspiring musicians.

“One of the challenges we face is attracting younger people -- students and young families,” she said, noting that the concert series offers a discount for student tickets and is U-card eligible. “These concerts offer quite a lovely thing to do on a Sunday afternoon.”

The scholarship money, she noted, comes from at-the-door ticket sales, but also from the Allegro Group of supporters. Other ways to support the chamber music society include concert underwriting or corporate sponsorship.

The scholarships are just one more factor in the increasingly strong reputation of the SIUC School of Music, Curtis said. She noted the University’s residency affiliation with the Cavani String Quartet and the partnership with them that brings violin instruction to Carbondale’s Thomas School, are examples of how the chamber music society support the School of Music.

Tickets for this performance are $15 for general admission. Student tickets are just $3 – a further indication that the Southern Illinois Chamber Music Society is serious about trying to recruit students to give chamber music a listen. Season tickets are $45 for general admission and season tickets for students are just $9.

The remainder of the season includes performances on Nov. 9, Feb. 15 and April 26. Additional performances not included in the series tickets are at the Sesser Opera House on Nov. 8 and April 25. A 25th anniversary celebration with the Cavani String Quartet is in the works for April 2009. For more information, call 618/453-2870.