Ignace "Iggy" Jang

Chamber music remains
vibrant after 4 centuries

Who's afraid of chamber music? "Chamber music," you may ask, "doesn't it involve confined spaces and uncomfortable chairs?"

Chamber Music Hawaii

With Lea Woods Friedman

In concert: 7:30 p.m. today

Place: Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Academy of Arts

Admission: $25

Call: 524-0815, Ext. 245

Online information:

It's time to dispel some myths about this beautiful art form. Chamber music is performed in large and small rooms, indoors and outdoors, and just about anywhere musicians can hold a jam session. Rest assured that no one is going to frown as you sit back in a comfy chair and enjoy the music.

My co-writer for this column is Claire Hazzard, Honolulu Symphony associate concertmaster and a violinist with Chamber Music Hawaii and the Galliard String Quartet. For a deeper look into chamber music, I'll turn it over to Claire:

Let's get back to that definition. Throw out any images you have of powdered wigs, royalty and the lives of the rich and famous. Chamber music may have originated in the 16th century, but it's a living art form that has thrived. The repertoire spans four centuries, beginning with early Baroque composers such as Bach and Telemann, as well as Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Shostakovich, among others.

Chamber music is generally written for an ensemble of three to nine musicians, for instruments such as violin, cello, piano and viola, which is the tenor of the string family. Often, it's performed without a conductor. As a result, chamber music has always been an intimate experience, with the audience sitting closer to the musicians, enjoying the drama and excitement that a perfect view affords.

Chamber music developed at a time when live music performances were a luxury. Imagine a life without cell phones, CDs or Internet, let alone radio or television. Think of life with no music in your home, car or place of work, and then imagine that none of your friends could play an instrument or hum a tune. Then, imagine the thrill of arriving at a live music gathering. That's where chamber music's reputation for luxury comes in -- people seldom had the chance to enjoy it.

THE TERM "chamber" refers to the venue in which it was first performed: In rooms or chambers, which is another way of saying a suite of rooms. From the 16th century on, chamber music became an indispensable part of social gatherings. Small groups of musicians, professionals and amateurs would gather to entertain friends or patrons in their homes, salons and dining rooms. As it gained popularity, chamber music moved to concert halls, churches and larger venues where more people could enjoy the musical experience.

One of the most familiar chamber music ensemble combinations is the string quartet, which comprises two violins, a viola and a cello. For example, the Galliard String Quartet performs the diverse repertoire written by the masters for this particular combination. Galliard's repertoire includes works by Schubert and Haydn, but you might be surprised to learn that we also perform contemporary Hawaiian music. We've recorded a compact disc called "Songs of Queen Liliuokalani."

Other ensemble combinations include the string trio, comprising a violin, viola and cello; and the string sextet, which includes two violins, two violas and two cellos. Look for these combinations at Chamber Music Hawaii's spring concerts. Chamber music also involves various combinations of instruments such as the harp and members of the woodwind, brass and percussion families. It's not just for strings!

Today, chamber music is performed worldwide at social gatherings such as weddings and business functions. A thriving industry has grown to furnish restaurants and businesses with chamber music recordings. Locally, there are many ways to experience the intimacy of chamber music. Chamber Music Hawaii musicians are full-time members of the Honolulu Symphony and perform with the chamber group islandwide, from Windward Community College's Paliku Theatre to the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Academy of the Arts.

You may also want to begin your chamber music experience by listening to Maurice Ravel's String Quartet in F Major -- one of my favorites.

Today, you'll have the rare opportunity to experience a vocal chamber event as we perform with soprano Lea Woods Friedman. The program includes Schubert's "Shepherd on the Rock" and Samuel Barber's "Knoxville: Summer of 1915." We hope to see you there!

Ignace "Iggy" Jang is the Honolulu Symphony's concertmaster. His column will appear on the Monday prior to each concert of the season to illuminate works to be performed. E-mail comments and questions to Jang at


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