The ‘Flute Concert with Frederick the Great in Sanssouci’, an oil on canvas, hanging in the halls of the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin is one the more famous works of the German master Adolph von Menzel. The work depicts the intimate circle of Frederick the Great of Prussia, gathered in one of the halls of the palace Sanssouci, listening to a flute concert performed by the Prussian King. Sanssouci was built by Frederick as a getaway from the pressures and crowds at court, and this work captures that spirit of Sanssouci perfectly,embracing the small audience (of ten persons) and its six performers tightly within the aura of light generated by a couple of candles and a single chandelier above.
Though the audience was somewhat larger than that the audience depicted in Flute Concert, there was something of this sense of intimacy at a concert of three young sopranos trained by Dona Juliana De Sa. Perhaps numbering not more than a hundred odd, the audience was gathered in the handsomely proportioned hall, which operates sometimes as music room, sometimes as art gallery, in CasteloVermelho, the home of the artiste couple Rudolf Kammermeier and Yolanda De Souza.
As with the Flute Concert what marked this special concert was the intimacy of the gathering, of artistes within breathing distance of their audience, reaching out to each other in the course of performance, and the blessed absence of amplified sound. What this concert, and other concerts that have been held at Castelo Vermelho, do, is to draw our attention to the possibilities of chamber music. A fledgling group of Carnatic musicians in Madras, the ‘Oli Chamber Concerts’ team, has recently taken up the cause of chamber concerts for Carnatic music in that city, arguing that “We do not use any kind of amplification…. A mike is used only to record the concerts. With a smaller and serious audience we hope to explore themes that cannot be explored in a sabha concert”.
If the flow of emotion between performer and audience is one of the benefits of the chamber concert then there was one event, held in the Dinanath Mangueshkar Auditorium in the Kala Academy, that may have benefited tremendously from the ambience of a chamber concert. The memorial concert to Lea Rangel-Ribeiro held on the 22 of February 2012 seemed to have been done a great disservice by the choice of its location. The concert featured works that were especially dear to the departed Lea Rangel-Ribeiro, and were played (and conducted) with great emotion by her husband and daughter. However a good amount of this feeling was lost thanks to the distance between performers and audience, a loss amplified by the unfortunately small turnout at the concert. Perhaps a smaller location, not necessarily more exclusive, as the Oli team suggests, but more intimate may have been a better location for this event?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to that touchy question of size. Less is more, and, More is More. The chamber concert, it would appear, would definitely tilt on the side of less is more. Without resolving that grand debate therefore, let us cross our fingers, and request, more, chamber concerts, in our blessed land!
(A version of this post was first published in the Gomantak Times 21 March 2012)