How the Chamber Music Society Got Its Groove Back

March 31, 2022

Chamber Music Society Returns premieres in two episodes, Friday, April 8 and Friday, April 15 at 10 p.m. (see Schedule).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, classical musicians could not participate in two of the most critical aspects of their profession: in-person collaboration and performance, which usually takes place in formal concert halls. Imagine the audio experience for isolated musicians whose notes normally combine with others’ to create the swells and rhythms, syncopations, tempos, and harmonies of ensemble music compositions. We all know that sound on video calls can be fuzzy, lag in real time, or simply be interrupted by anything from street traffic to co-habitants, human or not. Zoom and other video conferencing that did provide some connection could still be tough going for a highly trained ear.

Chamber Music Society Returns captures the exciting yet daunting process of musicians returning to live performances for the first time after a year and a half of isolation. As musicians adapt to a changed performance landscape, we witness in thrilling all-access documentary footage the process of revisiting familiar concert halls – both at home in New York and on the road. While the world is opening but not back to pre-pandemic conditions, logistics and tour planning come with new challenges. But there’s also the amplified appreciation for the ability to play together and to bring the joy of live music back into audiences’ lives. This two-part program is full of energy, humor and beauty.

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Setting the Stage: Episode 1

A man in white shirt and black bowtie and mask adjustes the tie of a man in suit across from him, also wearing a black mask

Arnaud Sussmann adjusts Alexander Sitkovetsky’s bow tie prior to the CMS performance at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, FL.

The journey of preparing for this new season begins in Setting the Stage. Violinist Arnaud Sussmann, bassist Joseph Conyers, cellist David Finckel, and pianist Wu Han all reflect on the solace and healing comfort that playing music brought to them during the shocking early stages of the pandemic shutdown. They specifically turned to the music of J.S. Bach, whose solo works were a staple in the repertoire of classical musicians everywhere during that time.

Inspired by this fervent belief in the essential role that music plays in life and society, in this episode both artists and staff of the Chamber Music Society must come to a decision to return to their stage amidst the uncertainty of an ongoing pandemic. “Setting the Stage” features performances from Chamber Music Society artists, including the meditative and noble Adagio con espressione from Beethoven’s C minor String Trio, Op. 9 no. 1, the intimate yet playful Rondo in A major by Schubert, and the exuberantly virtuosic Allegro vivace from Mendelssohn’s D major Sextet.

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Bringing Down the House: Episode 2

A group of musicians stand on stage playing instruments in semi-circle arrangement. A woman in long red dress plays flute in center.

Musicians of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center perform Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. From Episode 2, Bringing Down the House.

The episode “Bringing Down the House” documents the 2021 fall season in concert halls. “Bringing Down the House” picks up the excitement from opening night and quickly moves through the remaining fall season at a breakneck pace. From clarinetist Anthony McGill describing the challenges of performing in a world where wind instruments had become taboo, to the Chamber Music Society’s ambitious plan to launch an Odyssey-like tour of Bach’s indelible Brandenburg Concertos (combining 20 musicians, six cities, and an entire host of travel delays, inclement weather, and cataclysmic malfunctions), “Bringing Down the House” is a story of why people share music, both on the road and at home, no matter the cost. Featuring Mozart’s poetic ‘Gran Partita’ and Bach’s joyous Brandenburg Concertos 3 and 4.

Episodes of the two-part special Chamber Music Society Returns will begin streaming on PBS and THIRTEEN apps as well as on program page on the night they premiere, starting Friday, April 8 and Friday, 15 at 10 p.m. Classical music lovers should note that on these dates, the prior 9 p.m. hour features the new season of Great Performances: Now Hear This. Learn more about the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, an organization based in New York City.