I love chamber music. It's as simple as that. I enjoy performing solo music, but sometimes the stage can feel lonely. I enjoy performing orchestral music, but sometimes I feel lost in a crowd. Chamber playing takes the virtuosity found in solo playing and combines it with the communal music-making of an orchestra; it's the best of both worlds, really.

When I think back on my favorite musical experiences, most of them are performing chamber music—either percussion chamber music or mixed chamber music. A few favorites have been John Cage's Third Construction (probably the first truly great chamber piece I was fortunate to perform), Daniel Levitan's Marimba Quartet, Paul Lansky's Threads, and Kevin Puts's And Legions Will Rise (which is in my top 5 pieces of music for any medium, and I think is entirely underplayed by percussionists!). I have also had the privilege of performing two concerti for chamber groups: Karel Husa's Concerto for Percussion and Wind Ensemble and Russell Peck's The Glory and the Grandeur.

Perhaps my favorite chamber music experience, though, has been performing Béla Bartók's epic Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion.

I was lucky to see Pamela Mia Paul, Türev Berki, Christopher Deane, and Paul Rennick perform the Bartók Sonata as an undergraduate student at the University of North Texas. I remember being so blown away by the performance that I couldn't sleep that night. I then somehow managed to almost completely forget about the piece for years.

Then, while doing graduate work at the University of Miami, I was again fortunate to see Svet Stoyanov perform the Bartók with his two piano/two percussion group Hammer/Klavier (with Gwendolyn Dease, Thomas Rosenkranz, and Michael Sheppard). Svet mentioned that this is a piece everyone should perform at some point.

As I was in the process of planning a chamber recital anyway, I took Svet up on the challenge. Having seen the brilliant Maria Sumareva perform a solo piece by Bartók, I asked her if she and Masahumi Nakatani would be interested in performing with my good friend Karlyn Mason. Fortunately Maria and Masahumi agreed, and I'm so glad they did!

I am always hesitant to share full live recordings. In fact, I never do. I am of the persuasion that music is meant to be heard in the context it was originally intended—a live performance should be heard in a hall, not through computer speakers. It allows players to perform without the fear of making mistakes, which is a beautiful thing. It is not freedom to make mistakes, which should never enter a musician's mind, but rather forgiveness in case something does happen.

I usually only upload recital "highlight reels" for this very reason. I find sections that I am completely comfortable with presenting as recordings. This doesn't mean I am not satisfied with my performances, but rather that I wish to leave them as live performances.

This probably explains why I have kept this recording to myself for almost two years. Upon reviewing the recording, though, it seems like a crime to not share. It is an extremely tight performance; sure, I would have done a second take of a couple of things, but in the context of a 25-minute piece of music, these things become microscopic.

As always, I don't like putting these things out there without the express permission of all of the performers (and the composer when possible—Mr. Bartók was not available for comment), and all three of my colleagues graciously granted me permission to share.


AuthorBenjamin Charles