Twenty Years of Chamber Music at Second Presbyterian
Ivan Stefanović, Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director, Chamber Music by Candlelight
Many of you know that most BSO musicians, in addition to teaching at various fine institutions in and around Baltimore, also play in a number of concert series and ensembles. One such series is Chamber Music by Candlelight, which features exclusively BSO members, regular substitutes, as well as a few guest musicians. Here is an insider’s look at how a season of this series gets created.
Chamber music is often cited as a favorite outlet for musicians. In a beautiful way, it combines our love of collective music making with an opportunity to show our musical individuality, an opportunity which is stronger than the one offered to us in a symphonic setting. One often doesn’t realize that playing in an orchestra is really playing chamber music on a larger scale. Therefore, playing in these smaller ensembles lets us get to know each other as individuals, both personally and musically, at a level which will then allow us to make the minute and numerous adjustments required for the high level of music making present at the BSO. In this way chamber music simply makes us much better symphonic musicians. In addition, the repertoire is as vast as it is beautiful and varied, and audiences are presented with a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with the wonders of live music making. They can observe every gesture, body movement and facial expression that are used to create a moving and entertaining performance.
Chamber Music by Candlelight (CMC) is a branch of Community Concerts at Second (CCS), a series of concerts that takes place in the visually and acoustically beautiful Second Presbyterian Church, just north of the Johns Hopkins’ Homewoood Campus. It was started over twenty years ago, when the church’s then-organist and music director, Margaret Budd, wisely and generously suggested to BSO violinist Ellen Pendleton Troyer that BSO members might like to have a place to play chamber music in town. BSO violist and fellow Co-Founder Peter Minkler and I started the wheels moving soon thereafter, and the series quickly established itself as a premier chamber music venue in the Baltimore and Washington region, lauded for the high quality of playing and diverse programming. Clarinetist Eddie Palanker took over for Peter after a while, and since his retirement I have been joined by BSO flutist Marcia Kämper in my duties as Co-Artistic Director of the series.
Even as Co-Artistic Directors of the series, Marcia and I don’t, in essence, “create” the programs. The pieces that end up on the eight yearly concerts are basically wish lists of our colleagues who submitted them. We don’t choose the personnel for the groups either, as it is created by the musicians who submit the pieces. This ensures that nobody ever plays a piece they don’t want to play, with people they may not want to play it with. Everyone is allowed to submit as many forms as they wish, so we end up with a very large pile, and we often have trouble finding a table on which we can spread them all. (See photo)
The pieces submitted are sorted out based on many factors, including length, available budget, repertoire, balancing the musicians’ workloads, avoiding repeats of recently-performed pieces and so on. It is a daunting, headache-inducing task. Inevitably there will be a number of forms we had to reject in order to maintain variety in the programs and personnel. These submissions will get preference next year.
Once we have come up with eight varied and well-composed (pun intended) programs, we get them confirmed by the Board of the series (Community Concerts at Second, of which Candlelight is a part), and it all goes to the publisher. Our main work is then done, but there are always unexpected factors to deal with. We have had to adjust due to debilitating snowstorms, musicians’ injuries and sicknesses, attractive gigs out of town that can’t be passed up, music not available for purchase, musicians being surprised to see their name on a program in print (we are also human), instrument rentals not coming through, organizing loading and unloading of larger instruments with the church schedule, etc.- you get the picture.
In addition, we are lucky enough to have a Composer-in-residence, BSO percussionist Brian Prechtl, who regularly comes up with wonderful and well-received new works, which might mean that we get the titles of compositions fresh off the press, not long before performances of these great works – how exciting!
But in the end, any challenges are forgotten the moment we hear and see the reaction of our ever growing audience to the sounds filling out the sanctuary of Second Presbyterian Church on those beautiful Sunday evenings.
I hope you enjoyed this insider’s view on how the Candlelight series is created, and what it means to us. We are ever so grateful to the Board of CCS, every volunteer that helps us run this smoothly, and the BSO for their support in sponsoring receptions after some of these concerts. And we are, of course, most grateful to you, our audience and our biggest fans, especially those of you whom we sometimes see more often on some Sundays than our own families, when we greet each other in the afternoon at the Meyerhoff, and then again at Second Presbyterian in the evening. Your dedication and love for what we do means the world to us, so please keep coming, stop by afterward to chat, greet us and ask questions, and help us spread the word about this free (yes, this series is free!) gem in the cultural offerings of Baltimore and Washington.
You can find more information about the series at , and we ask you to please like us and follow us on Facebook as well.