Small is beautiful

11th December 2009 | Concerts, Daily Life, Musings, Reviews | 0 comments

Still feeling cross that the Guardian, in its review of classical music in the past decade, did not say a single word about chamber music. Guardian writer Tom Service devoted almost his whole summary to opera and orchestral music. This happens year after year, no matter who the writer is. Each Christmas I have to grind my teeth as I read summaries of ‘what happened’ in classical music that year.

Of course opera and symphony orchestras are large-scale, colourful and well-supported forms of music, and there was plenty to write about, most notably – as Tom said – the heartwarming appearances here of Dudamel with his Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra.

But what about chamber music, music of equal quality and interest? Solo instrumentalists were not mentioned in the summary either, by the way, though in general such individuals are not lacking in praise or attention. But chamber music, a more intimate kind of music, is often ignored despite the fact that it often elicits performances of memorable artistry from its exponents, many of whom keep going against the odds, and with no public funding.

In the past week The Guardian has published similar reviews of the decade in theatre, film, dance, TV, comedy and art. Experts in those other fields often mentioned performances by small groups. Dance and theatre have both had small-scale shows which have been critical and popular successes. In TV, the ‘small ensemble cast’ continues to be beloved. And in comedy, the one-man stand-up show is currently the highest-profile route a comic can take. Not so in classical music, alas, where the achievements of  small groups – and the remarkable increase in the number of good young string quartets in this country – were passed over entirely.  Yet this is supposed to be the age of Small is Beautiful – and I believe that applies to classical music just as much as to other art-forms.


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