Why I Play Chamber Music - Neil Thompson

Why I Play Chamber Music - Neil Thompson

Why do I play Chamber Music?

Welcome to our latest Omega blog series featuring the musicians of Omega Ensemble. Each week one musician will be featured. Get to know more about their thoughts on music, performing and what they love most about music.

In this new series we asked the musicians of Omega Ensemble one simple question : why do you play chamber music? They were allowed to answer as freely as possible.

Our first featured musician is our resident viola player, Neil Thompson. Neil is a charismatic and energetic performer, conductor and artistic director. Having begun on viola in his hometown Whyalla, Neil's career has taken him all around the world, including Europe as touring soloist whilst at Marryatville High School, a ‘Special Interest Music Centre’ school (Adelaide). Neil has also performed and toured with the Adelaide, Melbourne, Tasmanian and Sydney Symphony Orchestras (upon holding an SSO fellowship in 2012), as well as with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and its sister orchestra ACO2 (currently ACO Collective) with whom he was an ‘Emerging Artist’. He enjoyed two years of touring with ‘The Cat Empire’ and features as soloist and guest artist on their DVD ‘Live at the Bowl’. Neil regularly performs at the Sydney Opera House with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra for Opera Australia and the Australian Ballet.

 In 2015  he co-founded Nano Symphony a few years ago. The Nano Symphony is a chamber group comprised of Viola, Clarinet, and Piano. They are currently working on a project with composer Peggy Polias called The Keeper and a CD of this music is soon to be released. Neil also is a member of the Caro String Quartet and regularly appears as a guest conductor with local orchestras around Sydney.

 Why do I play Chamber Music?

From a performer's perspective, surely, it must the pinnacle of fulfillment when it comes to music making.. Surely.... "The great equaliser". "Musicianship distilled". "The celebration of strongly unique voices". "A composer's most intimate thoughts …”

You hear these and many more mentioned during the innumerable discussions regarding chamber music. But there is another side to chamber music too, and quite the dark side it is.

Picture the quintessential colossal conductor-figure berating his orchestral-minions beneath the podium with the sort of fiery disdain we would normally associate with a villainous antagonist from a Ridley Scott film (preferably from 1979). Any musician in a chamber group can easily become as akin to such a character as they could to the role of 'considerate, level headed protagonist' from a Steven Spielberg film (say from 1993 for example).

 Yes, chamber ensembles generally are democratic with every member having equal standing (in theory); but that implies each musician in the group has the capacity to (and probably will inevitably) exercise their conductor-level-powers (sans Hogwarts wand) for both good and (musical) evil. And what if some members decide they are perhaps a bit more 'equal' than the other members?

ABBA, Oasis and the Budapest and Audubon String Quartets come to mind when posing the question—what went wrong? The answer is of course never that simple, and maybe, going 'wrong' is sometimes really 'right’—keeping their group alive would just prolong a torturous existence.

People inevitably hear me compare chamber groups with bands, but I guess I'm trying to iterate that they are actually both the same thing, only bands generally write their own music and also tend to be amplified, heavily. On that note, I think that is possibly why I'm drawn to chamber music (and bands) so much: the fact that it explores and amplifies every square millimetre of the 'human experience', intangible as that may be, its gravity is quantifiable at the deepest level for me. Every aspect of chamber music (bands included) I think is the epitome of human existence amplified, personified and bottled (performance-package-sized) into a pure, concentrated globule of raw emotion and heart.

Long after that 'bubbly/catchy' track has passed into annoying 'ear worm' territory, other things are effortlessly timeless. My copy of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet is virtually worn to dust, so is John Adams' Harmonielehre (a very large chamber work) and Muse's Origin of Symmetry just to name a few.

Even now, I never ever know how my next music adventure (as a performer or listener) will affect me ... if at all. Invariable it always does. Check out Neil performing with Omega Ensemble from our latest On Demand video:

 You can also catch Neil in our next concert, Schubert’ Trout on 27 July at City Recital Hall.