Chamber Symphony

  • Title Chamber Symphony
  • Year 2009
  • Instr fl/picc, cl, bsn/cbn, hn, tpt, tbn, 2vlns, vc, cb, pf, 2perc, hp
  • Duration 22 min
  • Categories Chamber Orchestra
  • Publisher CF Peters

“My Chamber Symphony, composed in 2009, is in three movements, following a moderate-slow-fast format. In the longer first movement, the music ranges over a particularly wide spectrum of harmonic tendencies; part of the fun was to try to create seamless connections between disparate regions. Exploring the various color combinations of an ensemble with just about one of every instrument was another preoccupation. A third one was writing a movement that gradually “gathered steam” as it progressed, but in a way that the listener would find unobtrusive. The second movement is a simple song (for a reduced instrumentation), with the first violinist as soloist. In the third movement, a rambunctious finale has something of a “rondo” flavor to it, with a fanfare-like finish showcasing the three brass instruments. The work lasts about 22 minutes.” LK

First performance:
The Washington Square Ensemble, Louis Karchin, conductor
Merkin Concert Hall, New York City April 7, 2010


In Louis Karchin's Chamber Symphony.... continuously reconfigured textures, dynamics and timbres wove spells so magical that debates about harmonic language were beside the point.

Allan Kozinn, The New York Times (08/2011)

While composing his three-movement Chamber Symphony, Louis Karchin was preoccupied with exploring the range of sonorities possible with a small ensemble that included a piano and most orchestral instruments. His efforts paid off with a kaleidoscopic work that received its world premiere on Wednesday at Merkin Concert Hall, with Mr. Karchin conducting the Washington Square Ensemble. Rippling waves of sound punctuated the first movement of the symphony, rich with intriguing timbres. The textures thinned for the sparer slow movement, followed by a riotous explosion of color in the exuberant finale.

Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times (04/2010)

Premièred by the Washington Square Ensemble but also taken up by numerous other ensembles, the Chamber Symphony is the main attraction here, and it doesn’t disappoint. Reveling in “the discovery of new sounds and instrumental combinations”, this work has the kind of sounds one suspects the ever innovative Haydn might have explored if he were alive today. There is a luminosity and translucency to the sonorities here which hint at the Frenchness of Dutilleux. This is aided by percussion both tuned and not, and including piano along with light string lines and single winds. This is not to say that all the music is gentle and soft, but even where a head of steam is built up in the first movement you always have the sense of power in reserve. Cast in a fairly conventional three movements, the first both contrasts and integrates “diaphanous arpeggiations” with more hefty but still playful martial effects. The second is described as “a song without words”, with the singing voice expressed in the lines of a solo violin, the orchestra reduced yet further to create a nocturnal atmosphere with piano, percussion and tremolo strings. The third movement is a modified rondo described by the composer as “rambunctious”, the virtuosity of the orchestra tested in quicksilver changes and sometimes almost cartoonish wit. The Chamber Symphony is certainly a masterpiece...

Dominy Clents, MusicWeb International (02/2021)

Karchin conducts the Washington Square Ensemble in his three-movement Chamber Symphony (2009). Sparkling opening arpeggiated tonal flourishes and tempo and instrumental contrasts lead to a march-like section with intermittent horn lines building tension. The slower second movement, scored for smaller ensemble, has calming tonally diverse pitches and piano-pedalled note vibrations. Karchin’s accurately self-described “rambunctious” third movement is in a modified rondo form with energetic instrumental chordal interplays, flourishes and dramatic low-pitch held notes. Karchin is a fabulous contemporary composer with thorough instrumental knowledge.”

Tina Kiik, (03/2021)

…..full of wonderful cascades of inventive sound on a larger scale. It is recorded here by the commissioning Washington Square Ensemble – 14 strong, with no viola, plus conductor for the occasion—in a performance that demonstrates why….it has been played at Indiana University, the University of Iowa and the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood.

Laurence Vittes, Gramophone (02/2021)


At indiana University after performance of Chamber Symphony (L to R) Karchin, pianist Yael Weiss, theorist Severine Neff, composer Dcn Freund, and second from right, composer Joel Feigen.