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Cover Story - Posted August 25, 2017 10:25 a.m.
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Photos courtesy of Chamber Music Amarillo

Chamber Music Amarillo

While many culturally attuned locals are aware of the Amarillo Little Theatre or the Amarillo Symphony, they may be less familiar with a lower-profile arts organization like Chamber Music Amarillo. In fact, some may wonder what “chamber music” is in the first place.

Artistic director David Palmer, who founded the organization 19 years ago, recognizes this and is quick to explain exactly what makes chamber music special. “By definition, ‘chamber music’ is a few musicians coming together to play a piece of music in a small setting,” he says.

That small setting is the Fibonacci Space (3306 SW Sixth Ave.), where most of Chamber Music Amarillo’s events take place. It seats around 125 people in a unique setting in Amarillo’s historic Sixth Street district. “They’re in relatively close proximity to the musicians,” Palmer says of audience members. This allows them more than the opportunity to hear great music, but also “to really see it and to feel the vibrations from the instruments.” He says patrons have remarked about how much depth is added to a familiar piece of music when you can watch it being played so closely, watching a string or saxophone quartet interact with each other, with their instruments, and with the music just a few feet away.

Chamber Music board member Jessica Mallard says that’s what she loves about the medium. Even though both feature classical music, there’s a profound difference between hearing a symphony orchestra in a concert hall and listening to music in a chamber setting. “I would compare it to watching a movie with 500 people versus watching it with four people,” says Mallard, a communications professor and the Dean of the Sybil B. Harrington College of Fine Arts and Humanities at WTAMU. “It’s a different experience. You’re experiencing it more with [the musicians] rather than just viewing it from a distance.”

The smaller venue allows non-musical interaction between the audience and musicians as well. Most concerts include catered hors d’oeuvres and a pre-concert question-and-answer session with the musicians. Typically led by Jenny Inzerillo of High Plains Public Radio, these conversations are often as entertaining as they are educational, as musicians share insights about their careers, the composers, and the musical works they’re about to perform. “The people that do participate begin to see and learn about the human elements of composers and music in general,” says Palmer.

The coming 2017-2018 season begins with a Beethoven Violin Cycle on Sept. 9, featuring Palmer on piano with the Harrington String Quartet’s Rossitza Jekova-Goza on violin. This will be followed a week later (Sept. 16) with a performance by the Caelus Piano Quartet, which is led by accomplished local pianist J.T. Hassell, who began gaining national recognition a few years ago as a student at Ascension Academy. Since graduating, Hassell has studied at the celebrated Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. “He is a really, really tremendous young, talented pianist,” Palmer says.

Other musicians with local ties will be featured on Oct. 14, with several WTAMU faculty members performing in addition to the award-winning Marisol Saxophone Quartet, a nationally acclaimed group formed in 2013 by Texas Tech students. The new year will bring a larger concert on Jan. 6, featuring The Amarillo Virtuosi, a chamber orchestra that will perform Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” and a reduction of Mahler’s “Symphony No. 4 in G Major”. “This is more of a ‘chamber orchestra’ style of genre,” says Palmer. “It’s not the Amarillo Symphony in terms of size. It’s fewer musicians. But we try to make sure the audience can be very close to the experience.” This larger event takes place at the Amarillo Botanical Gardens (1400 Streit Drive) in a space that accommodates around 200. “I think it will be a very special evening,” says Palmer.

But Chamber Music Amarillo is known for more than just its classical concerts. The organization’s Jazz on 6th series kicks off on Sept. 29 with the Jim Laughlin Jazz Trio. Laughlin is a tenured music professor at Amarillo College and president of the Amarillo Jazz Society. Additional performers include The Martinis on Feb. 16 and the nuevo tango music of the Texas-based Austin Piazolla Quintet on April 13.

Palmer says Chamber Music Amarillo tries to balance its concerts with nationally recognized musicians while also drawing from the deep well of West Texas talent – including the robust music programs at Amarillo College and West Texas A&M University. “There is a strong, well-developed resource of fine musicians in our region,” he says. “We’re very fortunate to have that in a smaller community compared to what you see nationally. Across all the mediums – whether visual or performance – it’s remarkable to see how the arts are so well developed in our region. It is an important part of our mission and the reason we do partner with several of the artists and the community.”

At WT, Jessica Mallard says one reason she got involved with Chamber Music Amarillo was because so many of her fellow faculty members had been performing in its various concerts. “We have a lot of talent here,” she says. “Many of our musicians are as talented as the guest artists that come in.” She says local musicians bring structure and consistency to Chamber Music Amarillo, while the national performers bring variety and opportunity. “We mix in guest artists so the musicians themselves get to work with these new artists, and our patrons get to hear amazing people that they may not otherwise get to hear play,” she says.

Learn more about Chamber Music Amarillo and purchase tickets for this season’s performances at cmama.org.

Amarillo Little Theatre and the ALT Academy

Amarillo Museum of Art

Saint Ann of Amarillo

Chamber Music Amarillo

Friends of Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1024

Lone Star Ballet

Amarillo Opera

Amarillo Symphony

by Jason Boyett

Jason has written more than a dozen books and is the host and creator of “Hey Amarillo”, a local interview podcast. Visit heyamarillo.com and jasonboyett.com.
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