The Sheffield Chamber Players Perform in Wellesley

by Rama K. Ramaswamy

February 9, 2016

Below is the full article. To see the edited version as it appeared in Hometown Weekly please go to

photo by Rama K. Ramaswamy

Chamber music, since its introduction to society in the 18th century, by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven during the so-called Viennese Classic Era, continues to be as much an enriching social experience as it is a deep and meaningful musical extravaganza for fans. At the heart of it is instrumental music played by a small ensemble, with one player to a part, the most important form being the string quartet; it’s also increasingly more complex and challenging, making greater demands on the individual players while still requiring them to work as a cohesive, constantly inter-responsive unit. The Sheffield Chamber Players embody this art; over 50 people gathered in Jennifer and Ansley Martin’s home recently to garner a listen, followed by rave reviews. Many attendees, stood, as if in a queue long after the concert, to personally congratulate the Sheffield Chamber Players’ inspired rendering of Glass, Mozart and Beethoven.


Dr. Marsha Tracy, for example said, “your concert was the most moving one I have ever attended in 6 decades. It was enhanced (for me, at least) by your lovely presentation. It was especially meaningful to have the imagery of death coming for the maiden almost as a comforting/ embracing force- what a novel idea for me and at times also to hear the struggle and resistance against it. Your playing was, though it seems faint praise, truly awesome”. The group took their name from the address of their first host in Winchester. According to Alexander Vaviov (viola), “it is important to us that the idea of making an impact in a local community is reflected in our name since we are a group that is dedicated to exploring the setting of a house concert”. The Sheffield Chamber Players are Alexander Vaviov, Sasha Callahan (violin), Ethan Wood (violin), Leo Eguchi (cello) and Ying-Jun Wei (cello).


Vaviov said the following about chamber music and as it relates to his Sheffield Chamber Players, “from the very beginning it became apparent to me that what we are doing is incredibly important for our audience. All of us have played plenty of chamber music concerts before but never have I seen people being touched so profoundly by music as they were during our house concerts. It seems that this setting gives music a very unique power to resonate with people emotionally on an entirely different level, which makes a lot of sense since this is how chamber music began. Up until the end of the 19th century it was almost exclusively heard in a setting of a house concert or a salon, not so much on stage. What we are doing is simply returning it to its origins and our audiences love it! We have started with a single host and by the beginning of our first season we already had 3. We are in the middle of our second season now and we are up to 9 hosts! As performers we received some of the most heart warming feedback we ever heard in our careers at these concerts with many people expressing the opinion that this is the future of chamber music performance; an opinion which I wholeheartedly support”.


Eguchi spoke of how he met his fellow Sheffield Chamber Players and how he feels about the significance and history of each piece of music as well as the resulting collective harmony of the group, “Sasha and I met in Graduate school; Ethan and I play together in an orchestra in New Bedford as well, Alex and I had known each other from the freelancer world for years and Ying-Jun and I met for the first time playing in Sheffield! We {SCP} are the executors of another artists’ ideas... in a sense, we are the medium; some pieces and composers need more context than others to create a coherent interpretation, but the more you learn the better; this is something we {SCP} do well- a coherent, harmonious interpretation.” Callahan also spoke about the significance/ history of a particular score of music and whether or not that is something she considers, she said, “there are different levels that each piece reaches me on. There's a visceral reaction to hearing and exploring a piece that operates on a purely emotional level. Some of my earliest memories from childhood are of the feelings I would have while hearing a piece of music- indescribable really; almost physical sensations from hearing a piece, or even a particular passage of a piece. This still happens to me, and I love the power in this! Each person can have a completely unique response and experience, and they're all completely valid! I also love learning about the history of each piece- what was going on in the composer's life, and in the world that informed their work. This definitely shapes how you approach a piece. More than anything else though, I think we try to understand what the composer was trying to leave on the page for us. We put a lot of energy into understanding every little dot and line on the page as though we're mining for clues and information; what was the composer trying to communicate and how can we be faithful to their intent while bringing ourselves and experiences to the mix as well. You also add the intangible reciprocity between audience and performer, and in my opinion, this is how these pieces stay alive and relevant, sometimes hundreds of years after they were composed. The underlying human emotions are the same, and explorations of these emotions and themes as important now as ever before. I think we are at a moment in time when people are hungry for sincere shared experiences- moments in time that are meaningful. We are all running around like crazy with so many commitments and demands on our time and the tether of technology always nearby, that we need these moments together...”


When asked how he got started, Eguchi said, “it's funny- many of our careers don't have a 'start'... It's something you do from early on (Sasha Callahan started at age 3) and the line between performing student to professional is pretty blurry. I was a 'latecomer' to classical music. I started at age 12, got serious about it at age 16 and felt for years like I was playing catch up. That being said, by that point I was the one driving myself, which was a real blessing”. According to Callahan, “we all knew each other from various ensembles, and had played together in various combinations prior to coming together with Sheffield Chamber Players. In truth though, there is a little crazy alchemy that seems to happen when it comes to playing chamber music. You never really know whether you're going to work well together until you're in the trenches digging into a piece. In terms of SCP, we're actually quite different, in terms of playing styles and musical approaches, but there's a wonderful undercurrent of respect and eagerness to share ideas and learn from each other that's really exciting. Also this approach to presenting chamber music feels so personal and is so deeply rewarding and I think each of us if really fueled by the sense that we are creating a unique experience for the audience and ourselves. Chamber music is a realm where many composers seem to express their most intimate and personal thoughts and feelings, and to perform these works in an extremely intimate setting requires a different level of trust. Part of the magic of these house concerts is that everyone comes to the party with their guard down- the walls between audience and performer are gone (there have been performances where audience members were close enough to keep a page from slipping off a stand) and I think this encourages us to truly live in that moment”. Wei said that she started playing the cello “relatively late” at the age of 10 and since she was 12, she’s been a soloist. Wei remarked, “I've always showed strong interest in music at an early age and was very quick on anything music related. We were living in the rural suburbs, which had very limited resources, but as soon as I heard the sound of cello, I fell in love and knew it was the instrument for me. My parents made countless of sacrifices to provide me the opportunity to study music, which I'm forever grateful for. When Alex (who's a dear friend since college) invited me to be a part of the SCP, I was very excited”. 


When asked to point to a particular piece, that appealed to them above all others, the Sheffield Chamber Players agreed with fellow member, Vaviov, who said, “I had to think about this question a little bit since the answer wasn't quite apparent to me right away. As we work on each piece I cannot help but get involved and excited about it. It is as if my favorite composer becomes the one we are currently playing! That being said I have to say I particularly enjoyed playing the ‘Beethoven duo for viola and cello’ at the Martin’s home as well as Mendelssohn Quartet op.13 that we did last April”. According to Callahan, “this is such a hard question! I agree with Alex that I almost always fall in love with the works I am performing- occasionally there's a turbulent love affair with a piece that I don't fully understand or am grappling with, but we have an incredibly rich repertoire to choose from, and the luxury to choose pieces that one or more of us is really passionate about. I love both the Glass and the Mozart quartets that we're performing right now (Glass String Quartet N2 ‘Company’ and Mozart String Quartet N22)- both are deeply expressive and moving pieces with completely unique and distinctive musical languages. And all the Beethoven quartets just get me- I haven't yet performed all 16 but I absolutely love each one. The first concert I played as part of SCP included the Schumann Piano Quartet, which is another favorite of mine, and I'm really looking forward to the Schubert cello quintet we're performing in May, 2016!”


Eguchi said that he doesn’t have a specific piece he loves above all others but, “I truly believe that it is impossible NOT be compelled by a close-up performance of a Beethoven string quartet. I don't care who you are or what you think that you know about music, those pieces speak to our fundamental humanity in a way that cannot be denied. Me personally, I am typically performing around 100-150 concerts per year. I have been lucky enough to have my performance schedule pretty full all year round- though Oct-Dec and March-May are usually the most hectic”.


As Victor Hugo once said, “music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent”. The Sheffield Chamber Players bring this sentiment to bear with every composition they study and bring to life.

by Rama K. Ramaswamy

February 9, 2016

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Sheffield Chamber Players

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Boston, MA 02130

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