Spotlight: Classical twist



by Elizabeth Lincicome

photograph by Brad Habeeb Photography

For Triangle area music lovers, one of Raleigh’s oldest cultural attractions is getting ready to celebrate a landmark birthday and just got a facelift to boot. Chamber Music Raleigh (CMR), formerly known as the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild, kicks off its official season on September 27th, but celebrates its 75th anniversary next summer. The group’s mission is “to enrich and connect individuals in the greater Raleigh community through intimate and exceptional chamber music experiences.” The organization is committed to presenting world-class artists who perform music of the highest standards, providing performance showcases for local artists, creating learning opportunities, and encouraging a love of chamber music.

“It’s been described as the music of friends because of its intimate nature,” says CMR’s fairly new executive director Marianne Breneman as she explains what chamber music is.

Chamber music is classical music composed for a small group of musicians, usually with one player on a given part.  This can range from about three to 12 players, who perform without a conductor. “They play off each other and must communicate very closely with each other,” Breneman says. “Performances are done in smaller more intimate venues versus big concert halls. It started out as just using string quartets but now it has expanded over the years to woodwinds and brass with strings and piano.” It was traditionally played in homes, salons, or other small venues.  Many people think of string quartets when they talk about  “chamber music,” but really it includes any classical music that is played by a small number of musicians.

The Guild was founded in 1941 by a group of roughly 20 local professional musicians as well as music fans. In April of that year, they hosted their first concert at the Raleigh Little Theatre. A sign of the times: A season subscription, which included three concerts, would have cost you $2.00. Similarly, the expenses associated with putting on six concerts were under $500. Contrast this with today, where Chamber Music Raleigh presented 10 concerts this past season and tickets cost between $60 – $135, depending on the series. Single tickets are $28 for adults, $15 for young professionals up to age 40, $10 for students with ID, and kids 18 and under are free. Producing these concerts now costs as much as $47,000.

The guild started out as a member organization where members paid yearly dues. “Over time this changed,” explains Breneman. “We are now supported by individual and corporate donations, some ticket sales, but largely by grant funding from the City of Raleigh and also the state. The difference is, today we are solely a presenting organization, which means we find ensembles we like and we make arrangements for them to perform in the triangle. Our concerts are open to all.”

CMR presents ensembles from all over the country. In the upcoming 2015-2016 season The Guild Series as it is called, will bring ensembles of national prominence to Raleigh and the Greater Triangle. These groups include the Dover Quartet (out of Philadelphia), the Pacifica Quartet (out of Indiana) with clarinetist Anthony McGill, who is the principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic, and Spectrum Brass (out of Michigan).

Raleigh Chamber Music Guild was renamed on May 4th, 2015 to Chamber Music Raleigh. The board of directors and executive director deemed the rebranding important as it sought to update and modernize the organization after 73 years. The group hosted a donor appreciation house concert to announce the rebranding. Not only do they have a new name, they also have a new logo, a new website, and a renewed commitment to community outreach.

Chamber Music Raleigh presents concerts of great variety that appeal to a broad spectrum of residents. “It was time to be sure that our name and our look reflected inclusiveness and that people were excited about what we do,” Breneman notes.

There is a real community outreach element involved, as well. CMR’s education and community outreach events include master classes for student musicians and free concerts for students, senior citizens, and underserved communities. They plan to add a youth chamber music competition in the near future, and next year they will provide complimentary tickets to student organizations such as The Community Music School and KidzNotes.

Chamber Music Raleigh also has a series done in partnership with the North Carolina Museum of Art called “Sights and Sounds on Sundays.” This features musicians from North Carolina and offers a connection between the music and the visual art on display at the museum. Free guided tours are offered just before the concerts, which are held six times throughout the year.

A key component of the group’s mission is to make chamber music widely accessible and to the largest audiences possible. With this inspirational spirit of inclusiveness, a huge anniversary just months away, and a fresh new look – Chamber Music Raleigh is sure to be around for many years to come.

Breneman says this has been her number one goal in overseeing the rebranding and anniversary celebration efforts, “I’m doing my best to help revitalize an organization that is worth keeping around.”