What particular skills or abilities does one need in order to be a stellar chamber music player (vs. a soloist or orchestral player), and how can one hone them outside of the context of playing chamber music?
The meat and potatoes of chamber music -- from Haydn and Mendelssohn to Shostakovitch and beyond -- is, quite honestly, very hard music. At least that is my impression as an amateur. The people you see in the best quartets are *stellar* instrumentalists. Chamber music is maybe not quite as demanding for insane stuff like fingered tenths and other "Paganini parlor tricks" kind of stuff. But there is an additional layer of difficulty for intonation because the intervals with the other players must be exact.
I suppose there are a variety of skills that are useful or necessary for chamber musicians.
Ensemble skills and musical leadership skills (both useful in orchestra) are best developed by playing chamber music. Arguably this is one of the places where only experience can teach you want you need to know, though doing so under the instruction of a good coach is useful.
As usual lydia has made astute observations, and I only reiterate or add to them.
Bruce, when I wrote "decent technique" I was not thinking about "stellar" players. I neglected that part of the original question on purpose. Frankly, you should want to play chamber music as well as you can and if you end up "stellar", good for you! I don't think it is healthy in any profession (or any endeavor) to aim at "stellar" before you are even adequate.
My son's pre-college program is known for producing great chamber musicians and they have a whole guidebook which I really wish they would publish on how to become a great chamber musician. In any case, I will share some of the things I have picked up from both that guide and watching them learn.
I love and was amused by Bruce's point about the silent manipulation. I think it can be put another, more collaborative way, that in your playing, you essentially offer gambits, which other people can pick up or not, and you try to make those gambits as attractive as possible that other people will instinctively react.
I could hardly add to what Lydia and Bruce have written, though I might suggest reading some of the (auto)biographies of chamber musicians like Arnold Steinhardt, the Amadeus, David Blum, as well as Cobbett’s. There is wealth of inside perspective on the roles of the players in quartets, trios, and quintets.
Playing quartets is a whole different animal from solos or orchestra. Many of the students I see on a weekly basis who can put out a decent solo work at their ability level and function fairly effectively in their youth orchestras are absolutely flummoxed when they have to sit in with professional players in a quartet setting. The amount of listening, adjusting, and communicating they have to do in the ensembles comes at them at a rate that seems ridiculous initially. I've had college students who can bang out a halfway decent Tchaikovsky or Sibelius rage-quit rehearsals because they keep getting their butts handed to them by the slow movements of Haydn or Mozart.
Beautifully played Bruce!
@Lydia, thanks for mentioning chemistry (*grin*). I play with a youth orchestra because otherwise they would have only one violist. It's really interesting to see, among the stronger players on the first stands, which ones are more intrinsically collaborative and which ones struggle with that. I correlate it roughly with their overall maturity, which, as we all know, is not the same thing as age.
"Knowing the score is power" to quote the late David Angel (Maggini Quartet). When we have trouble getting a tricky ensemble passage together it alway helps to have every one of us look at the score for a couple of minutes.
Regarding this part of Anita’s question:
Also, don't forget that most of the time, when violinists are playing solo recital music, like sonatas, you are playing collaborative chamber music with a pianist. You are
I think Lydia and Frieda have provided very insightful comments here. I like Frieda's comment about "dance moves" because soloists have them too -- but they're very different. And I agree with Lydia about piano "accompaniments." Even orchestral reductions -- students should be taught to respect and embrace the piano part.