The musicians of the Nashville Chamber Music Series have spent the past few years rubbing the patina of formality off the classical concert. Instead of playing in staid concert halls, where audiences sit in God-fearing silence, these musicians perform in living rooms, businesses and nontraditional venues across the city. Stuffiness doesn’t stand a chance at a Nashville Chamber Music Series concert, since beer flows freely at all its shows.
Sunday, the composers and performers of this chamber music collective will be at it again, performing in the comfy confines of a house on Music Row. The program will feature the world premiere of a new string quartet by concert series founder Benjamin Jones. A quartet of top-notch Nashville string players will also present excerpts from Dvořák’s New World Symphony and Copland’s Appalachian Spring, both in intimate chamber arrangements.
Jones, who spends most of the year playing bass and touring with the folk-rock band Humming House, started the series in 2014 with friends Patrick Dunnevant and Michael Quintana. These musicians, all graduates of Belmont University’s music school, were frustrated with the lack of opportunities in Nashville for young classical and jazz musicians.
“We thought Nashville’s classical and jazz players deserved the same chance to succeed as the city’s country, rock and gospel musicians,” Jones tells the Scene. So Jones & Co. decided to launch a new series that would draw inspiration from both the past and the future. Using the social media platform Groupmuse as a model, Jones and his friends created an organization that connected classical and jazz musicians with audiences through concert house parties. The idea was rooted in the centuries-old tradition of classical musicians performing in drawing rooms and other informal domestic spaces.
“At first we were very cautious in asking to perform in people’s homes, because we didn’t want to put anyone out,” says Jones. “But finding places to play ended up being the easiest thing we do, since people loved hosting music parties and loved having that kind of energy in their homes.”
The series looks to the future in the heavy emphasis it places on contemporary music. Such distinguished composers as Nico Muhly, Mark Volker and Daniel Elder, to name just a few, have contributed music to the series. Groups such as the experimental string quartet The Happy Maladies and soloists like electric violin phenom Tracy Silverman have made appearances. For this weekend’s concert, Jones will present one of his latest compositions, a piece titled Family Quartet. The work had its genesis in October 2014, following the death of Jones’ father. Gene Jones died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack, leaving his family grief-stricken. The younger Jones dealt with the pain by turning to music.
“I was always attracted to classical music because of its ability express emotions that cannot be put in words,” says Jones. “After my father died, I felt compelled to write something that would express the pain I was feeling.”
Jones came up with a four-and-a-half-minute piece filled with harmonic tension. This sonic stress was resolved in the end, just as grief lessens over time. Jones played the piece at his father’s funeral and then put the music aside, figuring it had served its cathartic purpose. Two years later, Jones found himself writing another piece, this one a happy celebration of his marriage to Jessica Chapman. After writing the second work, it suddenly dawned on Jones that he had the makings of a four-movement piece inspired by his family.
So he added a third movement for his mother, a work that emulates the lyrical and impassioned sounds of Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet. He dedicated the finale to his brother, Luke, writing in a style that called to mind the impressionism of Claude Debussy.