Chamber Music America Conference 2014

By Barry Kempton

I’m writing this week’s post from New York City.  I am attending the annual Chamber Music America (CMA) conference with colleague Julie Himmelstrup, Artistic Director of Music in the Park Series.  Julie has been coming to this conference for many years – indeed at one time she was on the CMA board of directors.  For me, it’s just my second time here. 

Though located in a hotel right in the heart of bustling midtown Manhattan, the conference has a small and welcoming feel to it.  There’s a mix of presenters, artist managers, sundry music industry colleagues and musicians (sometimes missing at music-related conferences) in attendance.  I’ve had the opportunity to sit in on some interesting breakout sessions addressing a variety of issues, to meet musicians and their managers, to see some old friends and colleagues and to hear a wide variety of performances. 

This latter activity (listening to performances) is one that is particularly worthwhile – both enlightening and enjoyable.  On Friday and Saturday afternoon, chamber music groups and jazz ensembles performed half-hour showcases.  These were performers who had gone th, rough a fairly rigorous (and blind) selection process, reduced down from over 60 applicants to 20 successful performing ensembles.  They do it because they have the opportunity to catch the eyes and ears of presenters and managers alike.  Most (but not all) are relatively young in their careers, and many don’t yet have professional representation.  From duos to string quartets to jazz and contemporary ensembles, I’ve had the privilege of hearing a variety of performers, some of whom will be the Emerson Quartets and Bill Evans Trios of tomorrow.  This year like last year, one particular string quartet stood out for me personally.  Last year’s stand-out ensemble was the Danish Quartet, and you’ll see them on the Music in the Park Series next season!  Julie and I are both excited about that. (We’ll be announcing the full 14-15 season on February 23, so stay tuned.)

We also attended performances at New York’s newest alternative classical music venue Subculture, at Weill Hall (Carnegie Hall’s recital space) and at a church in midtown Manhattan.  Many ensembles arrange to perform all over the city during conference time and we’re spoiled for choice.

An inspiring individual at this year’s conference was the keynote address speaker Eric Booth.  He is an actor, a writer and an arts-learning specialist.  Self-confessed non-musician, he spoke articulately and persuasively about how important it is for musicians, presenters–indeed all of us with an interest in the future of our art form–to develop ways to engage with current and future audiences.  I’ll maybe come back to that in a future blog.

I hope you have a good week.  

Photo above: Danish String Quartet,