Musical Couples

One of the summer cultural delights here in Seattle is the Chamber Music Festival, which brings musicians from all over the country to perform twelve concerts and twelve free half hour recitals [before the main concert] over a period of three weeks.

Chamber music, for those of you new to the form, is classical music played by a small group, one musician to a part — usually two, three or at the most five players, and mostly string instruments. Usually chamber music is performed in much smaller venues than a symphony; the music was originally designed to be played in a chamber, or parlor, or other setting modest in size. The feeling is much more intimate — you get to see each musician’s face and body language as he/she works through a part. You also get to see how the musicians work together, how they time what they are doing in harmony with the rest of the group.

The Seattle Chamber Music Festival has been going on for some years. There seems to be a core group who come back every year; intermingled are new performers to the festival. That has led, interestingly, to the formation of “musical couples” — professional musicians who have met here in Seattle during their intense three week sojourn, fallen in love, married, and who sometimes now perform together. Ana Polonsky and Orion Weiss are both pianists. Jeewon Park is a pianist; her husband Edward Arron is a cellist. Erin Keefe is a violinist, and husband Osmo Vanska is a clarinetist.

I can imagine there are lots of plusses to being a two-musician couple: you both understand the practice and travel and performance requirements of a professional music career. I can also imagine some negatives, or at least challenges: tension might about if one partner’s career took off while the other one’s stalled.

Watching Erin Keefe and Osmo Vanska play together, though, I can say that it looks pretty great to be with a partner in performance and in life with whom you have deep harmony. The formation of musical couples is certainly an unintended consequence of the Chamber Music Festival, but it’s a delightful one nonetheless.

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