Stolid. Academic. Boring. Turgid. Some composers attract certain adjectives that stick. Compared to the flashy careers of his peers--like that perpetually touring piano virtuoso Franz Liszt and the titanic Richard Wagner--German composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) did not live a glamorous life. Music journalists (or scribblers like myself) are always on the hunt for a good story, and when the glitz won't materialize, it's easy to throw a few adjectives on the page and leave it at that. Brahms deserves better. Not everything that the German master touched explodes with excitement--I suspect the bad rap comes from a few of the sleepier moments in his symphonies--but Brahms is at his best in his chamber music: tempestuous, smoldering, lyrical, and triumphant.
The Olympic Music Festival has enlisted some fine musicians (Paul Hersh, Stefan Hersh, Alan Iglitzin, and Julian Hersh) to play a passel of Brahms' chamber music, including the Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano, op. 100, no. 2; the Trio in C Major for Piano and Strings, op. 87; and the Quartet in G Minor for Piano and Strings, op. 25, no. 1. Although quite tonal, these pieces are not easy listening and demand great concentration, or what I call "the long ear." No magic or great intelligence is required to be moved by great, complex music; having the long ear means refusing to be intimidated by extended and/or intricate musical forms. It requires willingness to journey with the music though multiple, sustained listens at concerts and at home with a recording. There's no crime in listening to the CD beforehand; sometimes you just gotta practice, practice, practice. CHRISTOPHER DeLAURENTI
The Olympic Music Festival features the chamber music of Brahms Sat July 27 and Sun July 28 at 2 pm. The Barn, Center Road, Quilcene, 527-8839, $12-$24.