by David Meredith
For some reason, the chamber music that appeals to me most are the compositions close to their vernacular sources—dancing, primarily, and singing. Something about them feels so natural. Perhaps it’s because the phrasing and the rhythms trend so strongly toward what we humans do all day, every day: walk and breath. Whatever the reason, these tunes have survived the test of time in being handed down eagerly from one person to another. In the hands of professional musicians, they are like jewels.
My feet tap in anticipation when I’m arriving for a concert featuring a tune rooted in a Hungarian czárdás or an Austrian waltz. Imagine my excitement this March, when we heard the Amici players perform Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A-Major which includes a dumka movement. The word dumka (plural: dumky) came into classical music from the Ukranian language in the 19th century when instrumentalists first mimicked this style of singing.
Another past occasion where Amici featured vernacular styling was the concert when guest violinist Alex Hargreaves selected works to illustrate “The Folk in Classical” including a string quartet with waltz by Mark O’Connor, a pair of fiddle tunes by David Balakrishnan, and an entire suite of Hungarian music from folk songs.
Yet for me the highlight was the concert with klezmer music from 20th-century Europe presented by Semmy Stahlhammer and Isabel Blomme’ visiting from Sweden. They and accordionist Sergei Teleshev performed several traditional tunes during the concert and then, during the reception that followed, patrons convinced them to take their instruments back out of their cases for an encore with dancing! I was one of many that joined in lines snaking around the refreshment tables.