This is interesting. Groupmuse, a social and musical phenomenon based in
New, exciting, and innovative. Well, maybe, but Groupmuse is doing something that chamber music always used to, since it's creating social and musical situations that would look completely familiar to the composers of the 18th and 19th centuries, most of whose chamber music masterpieces were premiered in living rooms pretty like those where Groupmuse events (over 75 and counting since last year) have so far taken place. Compare the image of an early 19th century Schubertiade and a Groupmuse gathering and you're comparing like-with-like much more than, say, a song recital in Carnegie Hall or the Wigmore Hall with the way Schubert actually heard and performed his lieder.
Groupmuse's founders rightly say that their events are doing something that matters for musical culture, but another reason that Groupmuse is a good thing is because it's small-scale, local, and based on the simplest possible dynamic of having people turn up in your living room to play music. And anyone who's had the privilege of hearing really good musicians play string quartets or piano quintets at close quarters knows that musical experiences don't come any better: there's a symbiotic connection between the listeners and the performers when you're close enough to touch each other, there's a real spirit of collective joy, play, and pleasure, and you have an insight into the way the music feels, moves, and works in a way that a gig in a concert hall just can't come close to. Plus you can drink as much as you want, party as hard as you like before and after, and you can talk to the musicians, too. Providing of course, that you abide by the only cardinal rule the Groupmuse rightly insists on, that you give the music and musicians the respect they're due during the performance.
As their thoughtful blog points out, Groupmuse is now at a fragile moment in its life, transitioning from single-city trail run to rolling out in other US centres, and internationally (surely British cities could support a Groupmuse initiative too?); so how to preserve its essential intimacy at the same time as trying to make a big splash? It's a tricky question, but I hope they solve it. There ain't nothing so radical as an old idea.
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