Le Salon de Musiques innovates intimate live concert experience
A sharp intake of breath at the start of a measure, the soft brush as a bow hits the strings –â these intimate details happen countless times during any orchestra performance, but they are often overlooked because of the distance that typically exists between the audience and the stage.
Enter Le Salon de Musiques, an innovative chamber music series that brings much-needed intimacy to the musical experience. Held on the third Sunday of every month at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County, the series features internationally renowned chamber musicians who perform in close proximity to the audience, creating a completely one-of-a-kind viewing experience.
Le Salon de Musiques founder and director FranĂ§ois Chouchan, a distinguished French pianist who studied at the Conservatoire National SupĂ©rieur de Musique de Paris and performs in the concert series himself, drew inspiration from Marie Antoinetteâs own Salon de Musiques. The Salon was an intimate place erected at the queenâs Petit Trianon domain in Versailles in the late 18th century.
âI always wanted to create a concert series which could be more intimate and closer to the people,â Chouchan said. âItâs really important to feel the instruments and to feel the vibrations of the instruments themselves.â
In this day and age, where YouTube stars and mainstream music reign supreme, people often stereotype classical music as too bourgeois. To combat this and create accessibility, the Salon series fosters communication between the musicians and the audience. Each performance features an introduction to the pieceâs period and composer, and the audience directly interacts with the musicians to discuss their ideas, impressions and thoughts on the music after the performance.
By promoting an intimate yet educational viewing experience, the Salon series makes chamber music accessible for anyone to enjoy.
âTo be close to the artists and instruments themselves â it will help people discover music differently,â Chouchan said. âI wanted people to be able to meet the musicians after the performance to talk, to exchange their feeling and emotions.â
The Salon seriesâ programming is a classical music loverâs dream, featuring beloved works from the masters, such as Mozart, Schumann and Brahms, while also highlighting lesser-known composers like Arensky. For guestsÂ experiencing chamber music for the first time, the program features pieces that holistically demonstrate different chamber music instruments and styles.
âI want people to discover different spaces of chamber music,â Chouchan said. âThis can be strings, piano and strings, winds and strings â the chamber music repertoire is so wide. I also wanted to feature a big diversity of beautiful, big season composers and choose melodic pieces which can touch people.â
Concert 7 of the Salon de Musiques series, which took place April 22 and featured works by classical Russian composers Arensky and Tchaikovsky, was a complete revelation for the eyes and ears and truly epitomized the Salonâs vision.
At the start of the program, the audience was told the context behind Arenskyâs âVariations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky, Op. 35â and Tchaikovskyâs âSouvenir de Florence.â The musicians performing included violinists Phillip Levy and Julie Gigante, violists Andrew Duckles and Alma Fernandez and cellists Timothy Landauer and David Low.
From the first measure of Arenskyâs variations, the richness and immediacy of the instruments instantly hit the audience. The ethereal, thin sound of Arenskyâs work was exemplified by the quartet and enhanced by the use of two cellos rather than one. The four musicians moved swiftly and elegantly in unison between Arenskyâs lighter, brighter variations to the deeper, moodier variations.
Following the Arensky piece, violinist Gigante and violist Fernandez joined in on Tchaikovskyâs âSouvenir de Florence,â a robust, lively masterpiece from the Russian composer that features a full sextet of two violins, two violas and two cellos.
The true intimacy of the performance setup creates a joyful musical experience that cannot be overemphasized. The musiciansâ overall tone quality is also amazing â long bow strokes fill the room with rich, warm sounds and crisp, pure pizzicati resonate sharply off the walls. Being so close to the performers also allows the audience to hone in on each recurring theme and melody, which each musician expertly picks up from the other performers.
In the conversation that followed the performance, one woman commented that the Tchaikovsky made her feel like she was in Florence again. Another guest asked the musicians how they felt playing with one another, to which violinist Fernandez replied that they feel love and support within the group. Other topics of discussion included the musiciansâ perspective on playing so close to the audience, how they maintained their concentration while playing and even the role of music in their own families.
Though only one more performance looms ahead in this seasonâs series, the future holds intriguing developments. Next season, the Salon will feature works by Russian, German and French composers, some which have never even be printed or shared with an audience before.
Promises Chouchan: âIt will be the crĂšme de la crĂšme.â
The Salon de Musiques series can be defined by the word revelation â for newcomers to chamber music, itâs an eye-opening introduction to the classical realm and for classical music regulars, itâs a realization that nothing compares to the exhilarating experience of watching musical masterpieces performed up close.