ROCHESTER, NY With the creation of a chamber music department, the Eastman School of Music is renewing its longstanding commitment to a historically important form of music that holds significant potential for the future.
Creation of the chamber music department builds on the "Eastman Initiatives" developed by the School over the past several years as a response to the changing culture and marketplace for classical music. One major ¾ and highly successful ¾ component is community outreach through Eastmans small ensembles participating in a program called "Music for All."
"The desire on the part of musicians to make music in small ensembles has never been stronger, and theyre coming together in extremely exciting combinations," says James Undercofler, director of the Eastman School. "Likewise, audiences are tremendously interested in hearing this kind of music.
"Training in chamber music always has been a key component of the Eastman education," Undercofler continues, "but the faculty and administration felt it was time to recognize the importance of chamber music by giving it departmental status."
"We want to make it clear that chamber music is every bit as important as large-group ensembles at the Eastman School of Music," says Douglas Dempster, dean of academic affairs.
The chamber music discipline as taught at Eastman involves much more than developing instrumental technique and learning standard repertoire. Chamber ensembles are championing new music and exploring non-traditional programming. Group dynamics, interpersonal relations, communication skills and leadership qualities all come into play.
At a time when large symphony orchestras are redefining their roles, chamber ensembles offer additional opportunities to musicians. Small groups have the ability to reach new audiences by taking music out of traditional concert halls and into rural communities, schools, clubs, even shopping malls.
"I think of symphony orchestras as being like the big, established corporations, while the chamber ensemble is more like the small, innovative start-up company," says Tim Ying, co-chair of Eastmans new department and violinist in the renowned Ying Quartet. "As a member of a chamber group, you can communicate with people on a closer level."
Jean Barr, co-chair of the new department and director of Eastmans graduate-level piano accompanying and chamber music program, notes that more young musicians are building multi-faceted careers as ensemble performer.
"More and more, you see musicians designing careers for themselves, creating their own job descriptions," Barr says. "The face of the profession is changing."
At Eastman, more than 50 ensembles are formed each semester, including string, piano, woodwind, brass, percussion and mixed groups. All undergraduate performance majors are required to complete a minimum of two semesters of chamber music, and some instrumental concentrations call for additional chamber music experience.
Each ensemble performs at least four times per year, including presentations in the Rochester community through Music For All, the Schools innovative outreach program that arranges performances in schools, businesses, hospitals, civic organizations and elsewhere.
The new chamber music department will be home to the Advanced Chamber Music Seminar offered to competitively selected ensembles. These highly accomplished groups receive intensive preparation from the chamber music faculty.
Faculty for the new department come from all of Eastmans performance disciplines and will hold dual appointments in chamber music and other departments. At this time, no new degrees in chamber music are offered, but they may be developed. For more than a decade, Eastman has awarded masters and doctoral degrees in piano accompanying and chamber music.
Notably, two esteemed Eastman emeritus professors, John Celantano and Abram Loft, are assuming senior advisory status in the new department as distinguished professors emeriti.
"These two long have been shining stars of chamber music at Eastman," notes Undercofler. "They will help us tie the whole tradition together."
Celentano joined the Eastman violin faculty in 1946. He was founder of the Modern Art String Quartet and of the Festivals of Modern American Chamber Music at Woodstock, N.Y.
Loft, a violinist and violist, was a member of the Fine Arts Quartet from 1954 to 1979 and has performed worldwide. He is author of Violin and Keyboard: The Duo Repertoire, and Ensemble!A Rehearsal Guide to Thirty Great Works of Chamber Music.