Music News & Reviews

Passionate fans sustain chamber music concert series

The Manhattan Piano Trio was scheduled to play at the Singletary Center for the Arts recital hall at 3 p.m. Sunday. At 1:30 p.m., Charles Thompson was getting something of a private concert.

While he watched, the threesome — pianist Milana Strezeva, violinist Wayne Lee and cellist Dmitry Kouzov — worked through music for the performance, wrestled with a bothersome passage and joked around.

It was exactly where Thompson wanted to be: close to his favorite music.

"I love chamber music," said Thompson, president of the Chamber Music Society of Central Kentucky. "Many composers put their very best efforts into chamber music. It's intimate, exciting and a lot of fun to watch."

Thompson and a small band of people who share his passion have kept the Chamber Society going for more than 50 years, currently presenting a season of five concerts a year on Sunday afternoons or evenings in the 381-seat recital hall in the University of Kentucky's Singletary Center.

"I love it because it's more intimate, and you listen more closely," Marcia Freyman, treasurer and a past president of the society, said of the music.

Chamber music is a classical genre broadly defined as being performed by 20 or fewer musicians. It can include a wide variety of instruments, from percussion to brass to woodwinds, though society officials say string quartets — two violins, a viola and cello — are the most common and popular ensembles.

"With chamber music, you can really hear the parts and see the interaction of the musicians," said Charles Whittington, who was at Sunday afternoon's concert after having invested his entire Saturday in concerts celebrating J.S. Bach.

Chamber music is sort of classical music's answer to the rock band — or maybe that should be the other way around — and society members say they recognized years ago that having a youthful profile was a key to the group's continued success.

"Charles has done a really good job of getting young groups that don't necessarily wear tuxedos and gowns — groups that don't seem stuffy," said Randy Daniel, secretary and another past president.

The Manhattan Piano Trio fits that bill. The men performed in open-collar black shirts, and Strezeva in a turquoise gown. They came forward to talk to the audience about the concert's second piece, Shiraz, by Iranian composer Bezhad Ranjbaran.

Having listed some of the title city's other natural assets, Strezeva said, "What else is it known for?" and cellist Kouzov chirped, "Wine?!" to hearty laughter.

The final act this season, the Enso String Quartet on April 11, has a similarly youthful profile, having formed at Yale University in 1999 and recorded for the budget-minded Naxos label.

Thompson readily volunteers that the Chamber Music Society has to present its series on a budget. It pays $3,000 and one night's lodging. So superstar acts like Emerson String Quartet and Juilliard String Quartet are not in the cards. But Emerson and Juilliard played the series before they were marquee names.

The audiences generally aren't huge. The Manhattan Piano Trio drew 140 Sunday — a good crowd, Thompson says. To him, the satisfaction of putting on the concerts is in the music and feedback from music lovers.

"If groups like us did not exist, Lexington would not be as well-rounded," Thompson said. "From chamber music lovers to basketball fans, there needs to be something for everyone."