Some more thoughts on the “art of ensemble”:
After hearing an absolutely flawless and inspiring violin/piano duo concert last night, I had some more thoughts on the “art of ensemble”:
The husband and wife duo that I heard were phenomenal. They played sonatas by Debussy, Saint-Saëns, and the Sonatensatz by Brahms. I expected the performance to be good given their educational background, but they far exceeded my expectations. Besides their depth of expression, there was not a split second where they were not completely together the entire evening.
Besides the obvious reason that they are both exceptional individual players, in my opinion it is the time spent learning and discovering the pieces together that makes the duo so enjoyable to listen to. I think you can take any “all-star” chamber group of famous musicians, put them together, and you will get a pretty good performance. But there is something deeper and more meaningful in performances when the group rehearses pieces for long periods of time. “Living” with a piece, the ensemble becomes “in tune” with each other. Rather than two or three different interpretations, you get a completely uniformity of purpose in the musical expression.
Of course, this goal is not always possible, given our varying situations of gigs, short term accompanying jobs, etc. However, I think if we are looking for the most satisfying musical experience, we should strive to form consistent ensembles that we can work with on a regular basis. In this way, we can learn pieces together, come back and revisit pieces we’ve done before, and in so doing, improve our “ensemble” playing!