On a recent Saturday afternoon, the gentle sound of a chamber quartet drifted out from a group of gray stone buildings on Alexander Drive in Clayton.
The Chapel, which bills itself as a “sanctuary for the arts,” offers a performance space to artists free of charge. It allows artists to keep any admission fees for themselves—and it has become something of a sanctuary for Chamber Project.
“We think of this as our space,” said Dana Hotle, a clarinetist. “We do about four concerts a year here. It's all volunteers, and it's great for the artists and great for the community. They're wonderful.”
Now in its their third season, the quartet began the way many creative groups start: with a casual remark that grew into a serious endeavor.
“It started at my house,” Hotle said. 'We were listening to the Copland Sextet, and I said, 'I don't want to go through life without playing this.' We started talking about forming the quartet and got really excited.”
Laura Reycraft, who plays viola in the group, said: “When we started, we didn't know if it would work, so it was exciting to see people get behind us."
All of the performers are classically trained, professional musicians who play in symphonies and teach. Performing with the chamber quartet offers them an experience they don't get elsewhere.
“From a performance perspective, it's completely different,” said Adrianne Honnold, a saxophonist. “A different experience, a different process.”
“It's more intimate for the performers. The audience is so close, and the musicians tap into that,” she said.
But the difference lies in more than just the process and venue. There's also the performance itself.
“There's more pressure to perform,” Reycraft said.
“In an orchestra there's so much more to catch you, but when you're up there with just a few musicians, you have to really perform,” Hotle said. “Instead of having 80 musicians, you have three.”
A traditional quartet is composed entirely of string instruments, but Chamber Project uses only one stringed instrument and three wind instruments, plus a piano on occasion.
“I love string quartets, but playing in a quartet with the other instruments is really inspiring and challenging,” Reycraft said. “It's very different playing with wind players.”
Chamber Project members also are more casual in their presentation than are members of many symphony orchestras.
“We talk to the audience and introduce the songs,” said Jennifer Gartley, a flautist. “We don't have a program.”
Reycraft agreed. “We're very informal.”
The quartet decides on its program by starting with one piece it wants to play and then building the rest of the show around it. Each performer offers input about which compositions will be chosen.
For that reason, each musician is identified as an artistic director of the group.
“We all have a hand in it,” Reycraft said.
“We decide what to play and how we'll play it,” Nina Ferrigno said, who plays piano as a guest artist for the performance of French Diversions. “What we decide is huge. 'What do we want to explore?'"
But there is one aspect of Chamber Project St. Louis that outshines all of the others: The thing that inspires each of these very talented musicians.
“The reason we do it is we love this music and we want to share it,” Hotle said. “Hearing this music will open people up to classical music.”WHAT Performance of French Diversions by Chamber Project St. Louis WHEN 7:30 to 10 p.m. Jan. 14 WHERE The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Dr. in Clayton. It is located just off of Skinker Boulevard on Alexander Drive, across from Forest Park behind . MORE INFO Tickets will be available at the door. More information about the performers is available by visiting the Chamber Project St. Louis Web site or by visiting the group's Facebook page.