Mozart in a new light: Chamber Musicians of Cambridge exploratory new concert series

Published: 9 February 2007 at 10:04

A new series of concerts by the Chamber Musicians of Cambridge will see these relative newcomers to the Cambridge musical scene staging concerts each built around a Mozart piano concerto, performed not with a full orchestra but as a chamber work. The first concert will take place at West Road Concert Hall on 25 February. It will include three undoubted masterpieces: Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.23 in A major, K488, Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings in E flat, Op.20, and Schubert’s Quartettsatz in C minor, D703, as well as a short wind trio by Ibert, Cinq Pièces en Trio (1935).

The idea of the new series was the inspiration of Nicholas Toller, the Chamber Musicians’ pianist and a senior music lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University. Nicholas explains:

“In most cases treating a concerto as a chamber work will not involve any arrangement of the music Mozart wrote, which will be played exactly as he wrote it. The difference will be that each orchestral part will be played by just one performer, and there will be no conductor, so the ensemble will be held together simply by the players listening intensely to each other and responding to what they hear – which is to say, that it will be performed as chamber music.”

Nicholas believes that this treatment of some of Mozart’s piano concertos, which are a very strong interest of his, will shed new light on the music by revealing its essential structure with a clarity which is not possible with the body of sound produced by a full orchestra. He has identified a number of the concertos which particularly lend themselves to this treatment; and a series of four or five of these chamber concerts is planned, probably as an annual event over five years. The whole series will be highly exploratory but the music being explored in new ways will be a series of Mozart’s accepted masterpieces, so doing anything unconventional with them is likely to be controversial.

The Chamber Musicians of Cambridge began with a project initiated at Anglia Ruskin University, and while they have become an independent organisation, they gratefully acknowledge the support which they continue to receive from the University. They gave their first concerts (at Kloster Benediktbeuern and at the Richard-Strauss-Institut in Bavaria) in April 2003.  The group thus began with a short concert tour to Germany, where their concerts were enthusiastically received, and favourably reviewed in the local press. There was another German tour the following year as well as a number of concerts nearer to home, but since 2005 the Chamber Musicians have mainly been giving concerts in Cambridge.

Nicholas Toller, a founder of the Chamber Musicians, their pianist, chairman and artistic director, has been the one constant member of the group, which has up to now had a changing membership, including both mature musicians and talented young performers setting out on a musical career, as well as some gifted players who have chosen to be amateur musicians and to have another career, but are nonetheless highly dedicated performers. 

The group, drawing talent from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge University, The City of Cambridge, the Royal College of Music, the Royal Academy of Music, and elsewhere, aims to perform at a professional level while also retaining the freshness and enthusiasm which players have who perform for love of music and music making. They are working towards the establishment of a core ensemble, including piano and strings, who will be long term members of the group, with a looser relationship to a wider circle of talented players willing to perform for the Chamber Musicians on occasion, when additional players are required for particular programmes.