Chamber music — a small group of unamplified musicians — to my mind is the purest way to experience the gifts the Western classical tradition has to offer. Granted, the theater of opera, ballet and the visual stimulation of a conductor leading a vast orchestra are largely missing in the chamber music experience.
Instead we are confronted, in an intimate, very direct way, with the personalities of the few performers and the raw musical experience. We experience the sweat, the muscle dexterity, the vibration of each string, the nuances of interplay between the musicians, the way a performer’s physique moves beneath the dress or jacket.
The experience approximates an embrace. We watch an opera or a symphony concert behind a kind of screen of spectacle; in chamber music we become part of the action.
The craft of music — all music, in fact, not just Western classical repertoire — is designed to engage us, intellectually and emotionally, and yes, even physically. We’re in tune with the composer and the performers across ages and gulfs of time and space. Because we’re closer to the players in a chamber setting, the opportunities for that engagement in chamber music are simply more frequent and more profound.
Violinist Isabelle Faust and pianist Alexander Melnikov will perform a program of passionate 19th and early-20th century duos at Princeton University’s Richardson Auditorium at 8 p.m. on Feb. 5.