March 2001

Chamber Made
Simon Blendis


Chamber Music 2000 is a project initiated by the Schubert Ensemble to commission a large number of works for piano and strings from leading composers, suitable for playing by young and amateur musicians. The aims of the project are to encourage chamber music playing, especially among students, and also to give young musicians and amateur players the opportunity to experience at first hand the works of living composers.

Composers have been asked to write short pieces for piano and strings (i.e. piano trios, quartets or quintets), pitched at the easiest technical level for which they feel able to write, while still preserving the integrity and individuality of their own musical language. Since the start of the project in 1998, over 40 pieces have been written, several hundred students have worked on and performed them, and several thousand more have heard them in performance.

The idea for Chamber Music 2000 came to us back in 1998, when we (The Schubert Ensemble) were looking around for some easy pieces for piano and strings to use in various education projects we were developing. It dawned on us that there was almost nothing available, and since we already spent much of our time working with composers on commissions for the Ensemble itself, it seemed a logical extension to ask them to write something shorter and easier that students might be able to play.

The project quickly snowballed. Everybody who became involved, from composers to teachers to the students themselves, seemed extremely lit up by the whole concept. As is so often the case with new ideas, it seemed amazing that this hadn’t been done before. For us, the biggest thrill was to see and hear young musicians attempting and succeeding to play chamber music for the very first time. Anyone who has never played chamber music cannot imagine how fundamentally difficult it is: aside from having sole responsibility for your own line, there is the challenge of starting together, keeping together as the piece progresses, playing in tune, and putting the piece together without a conductor telling you how. Add to that the challenge of playing contemporary music in an unfamiliar idiom, and you will begin to see what we were asking of these young students.

In some ways, helping students through the process of learning these pieces has seemed like a scaled down version of our own learning processes. As with us, there is often a deep frustration, even resistance, in the early stages, especially with a piece by a composer whose language is unfamiliar. It is the overcoming of this initial learning ‘hump’ that provides some of the greatest satisfaction in learning a new piece. Often the pieces that initially seem most difficult eventually provide the greatest rewards, and many of these young musicians have come away from their first performance with a huge glow of excitement and achievement. As an introduction to the thrill of playing chamber music, we hope that the experience of Chamber Music 2000 will spur them on to greater things.

We were always very keen that the composers writing these pieces should in no way compromise their own individual style and language – we did not want them to ‘write down’ because they were writing for a lower technical standard. In this way, the students playing these pieces have been introduced to the sounds and styles of many of Britain’s leading composers. We have often played the students our own concert pieces by the same composers as the Chamber Music 2000 pieces (such as Judith Weir and Piers Hellawell) and when they can hear the similarities it has been very exciting for them. Perhaps in some small way we are helping to create a generation of young musicians for whom playing or listening to the music of living composers is not unusual. One interesting side effect of the project has been its effect on the composers themselves: for many composers simplifying their music has turned out to be quite a challenge, and several have come back to us saying that it has really influenced how they work.

February 13th saw the official launch of both the Chamber Music 2000 website and CD recording on the NMC label. The CD contains the first 20 pieces to be recorded, all performed by the Schubert Ensemble, including works by Judith Weir, John Woolrich, Colin Matthews, David Matthews and Philip Cashian.

The next step is a public concert at the Wigmore Hall on 23rd March. A Chamber Music 2000 concert at 6pm will include world premieres of pieces by Peter Sculthorpe, Martin Butler, Adam Gorb, Wendy Hiscocks, Nicola LeFanu and Alwynne Pritchard, performed by students from Mill Hill School, Bromley Youth Music Trust and Trinity College Junior Department. This will be followed at 7.30pm by a Schubert Ensemble concert featuring music by Martin Butler, Elgar and Schumann. (Wigmore Hall Box Office: 020 7935 2141)

The website,, will make the Chamber Music 2000 pieces available to a worldwide audience. It will enable people to listen to audio clips of all the recorded pieces, look at examples from the scores, assess which pieces would be most suitable for their level, and order scores and parts online. It will also provide news on the latest developments, including new pieces as they are written, and updates on future projects and performances.

From a small idea hatched over a cup of coffee, a huge national project has been born. All along our intention has been simply to get young musicians to play chamber music, and we are thrilled that this project has generated such enthusiasm.

Long may it last.

Simon Blendis is violinist with the Schubert Ensemble.


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Previous articles:

February 2001
Publishing, Promotion and Profitability

January 2001
From the World to the Warehouse

December 2000
What price new music?

November 2000
Composing for dance
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October 2000
John Lambert remembered

July 2000
Joanna MacGregor

June 2000
Announcing the shortlist

May 2000
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April 2000
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March 2000
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February 2000
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January 2000
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December 1999
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November 1999
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June 1999
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April 1999
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January 1999
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October 1998
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