At Your Service

Fiat Lux Chamber Players can perform as a duo, trio, quartet, quintet or octet.

By:Susan Van Dongen
   It’s the amazing expanding and contracting chamber ensemble!
   Formed in Princeton in the summer of 2005, Fiat Lux Chamber Players are unusual in several ways, but violinist and co-founder Patrick Wood thinks the group truly stands out for its flexibility. The ensemble can be as small as a violin and piano duo or as large as a string octet, or more — whatever the music calls for.
   Instead of itinerant musicians coming and going, however, the members are all colleagues who have played together for years, which creates real musical rapport.
   Fiat Lux’s pliability is a bonus for audiences too. The group has a stated goal to program music that doesn’t usually get performed, or to play it in a way that people aren’t used to hearing, "but they will want to hear more," Mr. Wood says. "For example, the Mozart string quintets, which are in the pipeline for later in the year. They’re fantastic pieces of music, but they don’t get played all that much because you need a string quartet with a violist who is able to work with a quartet spontaneously. That doesn’t happen very often. And there are few, if any, permanently formed string quintets. So the quintet would need to get a guest violist, someone they like.
   "But in our circumstances, we have a core of instrumentalists who we all know, and we can pull them together — we have a history already," he continues. "It’s not like inviting a guest in, where we need to start from scratch. Knowing people well and playing with them over a period is helpful in terms of how successful the concerts are."
   Mr. Wood, along with violist Michael Nicholas and cellist Adam Grabois, will perform Bach’s "Goldberg Variations" at Trinity Church in Princeton Jan. 21. Co-founded by Mr. Wood and keyboardist Holly Chatham, Fiat Lux — which means "let there be light" in Latin — debuted at the Princeton Theological Seminary in September, but Mr. Wood feels like this is the group’s official unveiling.
   "That concert was successful but this one is the real beginning for us because this is the first concert we’re doing at Trinity Church, which is our permanent home," he says. "The program is unusual because it’s a single work — the ‘Goldberg Variations’ transcribed for string trio by Dmitri Sitkovetsky. It’s usually played on harpsichord, but in the 1950s it came into its own when it was popularized by Glenn Gould, who played and recorded it on the piano. There’s also an arrangement for orchestra.
   "Then there is this string transcription," he continues. "It’s lovely because it has a special kind of intimacy. But the trio also allows for different voices to be heard within the piece. It’s a great combination of a small group, while at the same time having three individuals who can have their say musically within the structure of the piece."
   Ms. Chatham and Mr. Wood are well-known in central and northern New Jersey and their current home base of New York City. They’ve performed with and have been mentored by such distinguished artists as the Amadeus Quartet, Takacs Quartet, Kenneth Cooper, members of the Emerson String Quartet and Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, as well as conductors Christopher Hogwood, Stanley Ritchie, Paul Hillier and Simon Standage.
   Ms. Chatham is a founding member of the critically acclaimed ensemble reconstruction and was harpsichordist for the groundbreaking group Bimbetta from 1998-2003. Mr. Wood was a member of the English Mozart Players for eight years, and served as soloist with the group as well as concertmaster for their tour of Spain.
   Fiat Lux’s repertoire ranges from works by Bach to newly commissioned pieces, from the music of Latin America to traditional classical standards. In addition, they champion works that are usually only heard on recordings because of unusual instrumental combinations. This is where the flexibility comes in handy.
   "We can play a string trio, then follow it with a Beethoven quintet, or have Holly join us on piano," Mr. Wood says. "It’s something that doesn’t happen too often. And there’s room to let the imagination run, as far as what we program. We can program things that go well together as pieces of music but aren’t usually put in that context because of the logistical problems — putting a quintet next to a piano trio, for example."
   The personal connection and level of interaction between Fiat Lux’s players translates clearly and directly to the audience. Mr. Wood agrees that having a history of playing together makes an enormous difference to musicians and music lovers.
   "I find that when I go to a concert, there’s nothing more enjoyable than watching a real conversation between instrumentalists," he says. "It has to do with the way music is. There’s something about it being like an unspoken language. You learn to communicate with each other as instrumentalists over time, and that communication also translates to a better or clearer communication with the audience. I think that’s why we all play music."
Fiat Lux Chamber Players will perform Bach’s "Goldberg Variations" at Trinity Church, 33 Mercer St., Princeton, Jan. 21, 6 p.m. Tickets cost $10 and may be purchased at the door. For information, call (609) 924-2277, ext. 112. On the Web: