By Richard Scheinin
The Bay Area is such a fertile oasis for classical music that squeezing the year’s concerts down to the 10 best was almost a joke of an exercise. But here they are.
I wish everyone who avoids or just hasn’t experienced this type of music could have heard what I heard: music that is surprising, beautiful, strange, tense, wild, challenging, emotionally evocative, entertaining and, at its best, transcendent. I’ve dipped back into my 2005 reviews for these highlights:
January: Christian Tetzlaff plays Schoenberg at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. The violinist, performing with the San Francisco Symphony and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, .. A steely and utterly authoritative performance.
April: Matt Haimovitz at Espresso Garden & Cafe, San Jose. The Peninsula-bred cellist, who made his Carnegie Hall debut at age 13 with Isaac Stern, .
May: musical rescue by Jason Klein and the Saratoga Symphony at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Saratoga. .
May: Ives Quartet and clarinetist Dmitri Ashkenazy at Le Petit Trianon, San Jose. A genuine Event: This outstanding string quartet was joined by Ashkenazy for the U.S. premiere of British composer Peter Maxwell Davies’ “Hymn to Artemis Locheia.” Inspired by a trip to a fertility clinic, the music gurgled and whistled, growing thick, then dissolving, struggling, occasionally spurting melody. A sensitive and virtuosic performance of a strangely mystical piece. Then the Ives — which is based in Santa Clara County and should be better-known — turned to works by Beethoven and Mendelssohn. Wow! The music sounded almost alarmingly alive and new: songful, surging, very special.
August: Gilbert Kalish at the Music@Menlo chamber music festival, the Menlo School, Atherton. The pianist was a picture of dogged concentration, .
October: “Doctor Atomic,” San Francisco Opera. John Adams’ eagerly awaited new opera about J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the A-bomb, fell flat. .
October: Symphony Silicon Valley at the California Theatre, San Jose. Now in its fourth season, the South Bay’s orchestra is willing to take risks. .
November: Peter Serkin at the Montalvo Arts Center, Saratoga. The tiny Carriage House Theatre was, unbelievably, only half-full for this brilliant recital by the pianist who, at 58, retains the rare ability to make listeners experience music in new ways, .
November: So Percussion at the University of California-Santa Cruz Recital Hall. .
November: “Un Ballo in Maschera” (“A Masked Ball”), Opera San José at the California Theatre. A winning production of Verdi’s masterpiece .
Contact Richard Scheinin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 920-5069.
By Keith Kreitman, Contributor
I once wrote that the Ives Quartet had the most beautifully rich sound of any string quartet I had ever heard. Its performance last weekend at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto seems to have improved upon that.
With new first violinist Bettina Mussumeli, I wondered whether there would be a change in the quartet’s wonderful sonority, but she fits right into that family of Susan Freier, second violin; Scott Woolweaver, viola and Stephen Harrison, cello, as if they were all musical siblings.
Harrison in 1983 was one of the founders of the Ives Quartet as the quartet in residence at Stanford University. There it remained until 1998, when it declared artistic independence and moved on to the national and international stages with growing reputation and recognition.
Resting upon the base of Harrison’s cello – and he is unsurpassed by any cellist I have ever heard in richness of tone – it is the group’s control of dynamics and timbre shadings and impeccable phrasing that is so engaging to
In fact, I sat in a location where I couldn’t see them bowing, just to be able to float, without visual distraction, upon that magical carpet of sound.
Even among the most celebrated of string quartets, one is conscious of four individual artists performing together. But with Ives it seems as if there is only one multi-instrumented performer.
And its choice of Franz Schubert’s 1824 romantic Quartet in D Minor, D.810, was just the right vehicle for its sonorous strength.
And as if to prove it could even render dissonances beautifully to the Romantically trained ear, it opened the program with Arnold Schoenberg’s Quartet No. 2 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 10 and made me realize how this composer’s music, shocking to the musical sensibilities of many of us, has entered the mainstream.
From 1907, this was one of Schoenberg’s earlier, more traditional works, before he ventured much deeper into atonality. But it still caused some
It was revolutionary, not only by beginning to break away from centuries of
tonal music but, with the addition of a female voice in the last two movements singing poems by German Stefan George, it became in effect a vocal quintet.
Singing in Saturday’s performance, Elza van den Heever blended in as if a fifth member of the family. This native of Johannesburg, South Africa, ranks among the best. She filled the church with power, but with never a loss of intonation, throughout her entire vocal range; her German diction in verse was perfect.
The German translation of Schoenberg’s name is “beautiful mountain” and he certainly did develop a new and beautiful peak in serious music. The Ives Quintet with van den Heever climbed it with ease to show us the beautiful view.
Keith Kreitman is a freelance writer. You can reach him by calling (650) 348-4327 or by email at email@example.com.
By Richard Scheinin
The road to Le Petit Trianon, the cozy concert hall in downtown San Jose, was blocked Sunday. It was a challenge to get there on time for one of the music season’s big events: an American premiere performance of Peter Maxwell Davies’ “Hymn to Artemis Locheia.”
It’s not often that Trianon plays host to new music by one of the world’s most famous composers — and it’s not often that police shut down half the neighborhood, as they did Sunday evening to control Cinco de Mayo traffic.
Not only that, but Trianon’s stretch of North Fifth Street — torn apart for construction related to the new City Hall up the block — looked like a war zone, devoid of on-street parking. “You have to suffer for your art around here,” Trianon’s owner, Keith Watt, joked to loyal patrons in the lobby.
But Sunday night’s program was worth suffering for — big time.
The Ives Quartet gave startlingly vivid performances of works by Beethoven and Mendelssohn. Joined by clarinetist Dimitri Ashkenazy (son of pianist-conductor Vladimir), the group also gave one of its three weekend performances of Maxwell Davies’ new clarinet quintet, an engrossing, protean piece named for an ancient Greek fertility goddess.
The five musicians seemed to have climbed into an isolation tank to bond around “Artemis”; the performance was that in tune with the music’s mysterious processes.
The piece was composed last year when a music-loving geneticist in London, Ian Craft, commissioned Maxwell Davies. The composer toured Craft’s fertility clinic, observing embryo implantations and talking to prospective parents — and out popped “Artemis.”
In August, Ashkenazy and the Brodsky Quartet gave the piece its world premiere at Switzerland’s Lucerne Festival. When the clarinetist, who lives in Lucerne, discussed an American premiere with the composer, he recommended bringing aboard his friends in the Santa Clara County-based Ives Quartet, with whom he played and recorded the Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet two years ago.
Before Sunday’s performance, Ashkenazy told the audience that certain motifs recur and are reworked throughout “Artemis.” Then he asked the string quartet to demonstrate these musical “cells.”
The clarinetist also told fertility jokes — the group refers to long rests in the score as “pregnant pauses” — and explained that “Artemis,” which consists of one 30-minute movement, actually contains four hidden movements that unfold along quasi-classical lines.
Listening was almost like “watching” all sorts of secret goings-on: The music seemed pregnant, growing, bubbling. Something was in the oven and the musicians were acting as surrogates for Artemis’ mysterious ways.
Let’s take a stab at unraveling some hidden symbolism.
Near the start of the piece, there were deep, rasping sounds from cello and viola; forgive the stereotyping, but it sounded “masculine.”
Then came the two violins, with stern but lilting, high-flying lines — “feminine” sounds, perhaps?
I couldn’t help thinking that a musical meeting of sperm and egg had just occurred. Because now, after all four strings entwined in low bracing chords, the murmuring, slightly growly sound of the clarinet emerged from down under — new life?
Who knows what Maxwell Davies intended? Many of his works are composed through a process of “constant transformation,” his term for the organic building of little musical units into larger ones, or the devolving of big units into smaller cells.
Perhaps “Artemis” is simply one more working-out by Maxwell Davies of this compositional technique — and the work’s title, conjuring creation and birth, is only an excuse for another experiment.
But it sure sounded like fertility music: gurgling and whistling, growing thick, then dissolving, struggling, occasionally spurting melody.
Often brooding and night-flight quiet, it had its moments of elation, too. About 23 minutes into the piece, Ashkenazy played wild, squiggly, wiggly lines — he is a remarkable player, and not a grandstander — and then coiling notes upwardly through the almost-viscous textures of the strings.
Moments later, as the music concluded, the clarinet snuck up to skyscraper-high notes — off the charts — and cried out with the other four instruments. Was this birth?
It was fascinating hearing “Artemis,” which Ashkenazy will record this summer with the Brodsky Quartet. (The recording will be available for purchase on Maxwell Davies’ Web site: http://music.maxopus.com).
It also was fascinating, and deeply moving, to hear the Ives Quartet perform Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Major, Opus 135, and Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor, Opus 13. These four musicians are really in touch with the music, which sounded almost alarmingly alive: songful, surging, very special. One of the Bay Area’s outstanding string quartets, the Ives Quartet should be heard by more famous ensembles who might learn a trick or two about playing music with precision, soul, and a sense of newness.
By the way, it is possible to navigate the traffic situation around Trianon, and if you call (408) 995-5400 and press “0”, people at the hall can advise you where to park. Attendants usually are on hand to provide further assistance.
Contact Richard Scheinin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 920-5069.
By Richard Scheinin
Five musicians are sitting in a sunny Palo Alto back yard, lunching on fresh strawberries and spinach pie while discussing the new piece they are about to premiere in America, by the esteemed British composer Peter Maxwell Davies. It’s a big deal — Sir Peter was appointed Master of the Queen’s Music a year ago — and this piece is not only absurdly hard to play but also intriguing in its derivation.
Titled “Hymn to Artemis Locheia,” after the ancient Greek fertility goddess, it was inspired by Maxwell Davies’ visit last year to a fertility clinic in London. There, he observed embryo implantations and talked to prospective parents about the frustrations and elations of in vitro fertilization. Not surprisingly, the musicians are amused by the back story to this composition, which they must bring to life and deliver in performances this weekend.
“The jokes are running rampant,” says Robin Sharp, first violinist of the Ives Quartet, the Santa Clara County-based ensemble that will perform the work three times — in San Jose, Palo Alto and San Francisco — with clarinetist Dimitri Ashkenazy, an Icelander who has flown in from his home in Switzerland.
Ashkenazy, a waif-like 35-year-old virtuoso whose father is the famous pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy, says he has grown fond of “a heartbeat kind of place” somewhere in the middle of Maxwell Davies’ opus. The passage has a quiet, pulsing feel to it, he says, trying to describe exactly when in the 30-minute journey through “Artemis” the “heartbeat” appears.
“It’s about 24 weeks into the piece,” says violist Scott Woolweaver.
A few minutes later, they clear their plates and move into the living room to rehearse, setting up in a tight semicircle. The house belongs to cellist Stephen Harrison and second violinist Susan Freier; married, the parents of three children, they played for years in the old Stanford String Quartet, out of which the Ives evolved. As the group prepares to play, the dryer in an adjoining room hums away: the sounds of everyday life as backdrop to fertility music.
“All right, kids,” says Harrison, who grew up in the Haight in the ’60s and believes classical music should be a bit subversive, music for the gut. “Let’s give it a try.”
The music starts with quiet strings and ghostly, growling clarinet from Ashkenazy, who plays barefoot, a cashmere scarf tossed around his neck. Little by little, all sorts of transformations happen: Textures thicken and dissolve as instruments whistle and pop, then climb to piercing unisons layered with overtones that indeed do create a beating sensation. Odd groupings of notes rise out of strange, shifting time signatures: The score at one point dictates a tempo of 7/8 (2/4 + 6/16).
The resulting sounds are eerie: thick clusters of notes, out of which escape traces of murmuring melody; the hymn of the title, perhaps? Maxwell Davies seems to have conjured the sounds of internal processes: mysterious growth, cell division.
Coaxing those sounds from the score so that they actually coalesce as music — this also is a creative and mysterious act, requiring persistence and close listening by the players. Harrison remembers seeing the music for the first time: “I went, `Oh, my God,’ ” he says, calling it an “incredibly virtuosic piece, especially for clarinet. . . . But Dimka” — Ashkenazy’s nickname — “is a uniquely musical musician.”
The collaboration between Ashkenazy and the Ives Quartet (named after maverick composer Charles Ives, one of the group’s heroes) began in 2001 when Sharp met the clarinetist at a German music festival. They performed together and sensed a chemistry. Ashkenazy later visited Sharp, who lives in San Francisco, and attended an Ives performance. That led to the collaborations: performances two years ago of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet (a DVD is upcoming) and, now, “Artemis.”
For more than a decade, Ashkenazy has performed music by Maxwell Davies — known as “Max,” especially in England where he enjoys a semi-pop-star status — and has become a friend of the composer’s. He often has performed Sir Peter’s Strathclyde Concerto No. 4, a clarinet concerto with a “diabolically difficult” solo part, Ashkenazy says.
In August, when “Artemis” received its world premiere at Switzerland’s Lucerne Festival, it was Ashkenazy who played it with the high-profile Brodsky Quartet. When he and Maxwell Davies discussed the possibility of a U.S. premiere, Ashkenazy suggested bringing in the Ives: Its members are musical collaborators in the truest sense, he says, giving him “a feeling that no matter what happens in a performance, you’ve got people listening.”
In London, where a two-week festival of Maxwell Davies’ music is under way, the 70 year-old composer — who is intensely prolific — is curious to hear how things are going with “Artemis.” Speaking by phone, he cackles at Ashkenazy’s observation of a heartbeat section: “He’s quite right,” Sir Peter says. “When you’re in the clinic, watching these procedures, there’s a lot of blood pumping.”
He describes his visit to the clinic, which is operated by a geneticist named Ian Craft, a music lover who commissioned the piece from Maxwell Davies, asking the composer to write something along a fertility theme.
“I put on the scrubs that you wear when you go into a medical operating theater,” the composer says, “and I saw the women having eggs implanted and some were actually donating eggs for other women who couldn’t have children. I just watched these procedures. I talked to a couple of the ladies who were going through this treatment, and one lady in particular who had a boy a few years ago and said this procedure had changed her life. I found it to be quite amazing and wonderful, and I came out with a notebook full of notes.”
This is when Maxwell Davies’ classical education reared its head: “I remembered there was this cult in ancient Greece, around 500 or 600 BC,” he says, “and I thought, `Well, this was a fertility cult for women who were barren and they would meet the goddess at the shrine and some as a result bore children.’ And so I thought, `Why not do something for Artemis Locheia?’ ”
The piece isn’t meant as a programmatic depiction of his clinic tour: “No, I abstracted from the experience and condensed it and wrote what I think of as an upbeat piece. I set a seed at the beginning, if you like, and the idea just grows and grows. There’s a continuous musical argument, developing that little seed which is implanted, transforming it with various procedures — operative, putting on more phrases and sentences, so it expands.”
And challenges: “Artemis” includes the highest note that Ashkenazy has ever seen: a stratospheric E, four octaves above middle C, “a note,” he says, “that really shouldn’t exist. When he first received the score last year, he consulted Web sites and finger charts, trying to figure out how to play it. Finally, he concocted his own fingering method which worked “some of the time,” he says, joking.
Now, back in the Palo Alto living room, “Artemis” moves along. The musicians talk to one another while playing; they exchange quiet apologies for small miscues, along with bits of encouragement as the music starts to flow. Now they are actually swaying in their seats as they decode Maxwell Davies’ cell divisions. The five players merge, separate, and merge some more, and somewhere along the line, barely noticeably, Ashkenazy climbs up and grabs that screaming E, then moves ahead. It’s just one moment in this growing, expanding creation, this new body of music being born.
And what does that impossible note represent? The pain of childbirth, perhaps, or maybe the elation? Or both.
The Ives Quartet with guest artist Dimitri Ashkenazy, clarinet
The program: U.S. premiere of “Hymn to Artemis Locheia” by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies; String Quartet, Op. 13, by Mendelssohn; String Quartet, Op. 135, by Beethoven
Friday: 8 p.m. at Old First Church, 1751 Sacramento St., San Francisco; $15, $12 seniors and students, free for 12 and under; call (415) 474-1608 or go to www.oldfirstconcerts.org
Saturday: 8 p.m. at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto; $25, $20 seniors, $15 students, free for 12 and under; call (650) 328-0990
Sunday: 7 p.m. at Le Petit Trianon, 72 N. Fifth St., San Jose; $25, $20 seniors, $15 students; free for ages 12 and under; call (650) 328-0990
By Michelle Dulak
The way of the typical string quartet is to stick to the core 18th and 19th-century repertoire, varying it once in a while with either a newly-commissioned work or a well-known piece form the last century. It’s an unusual ensemble that takes the trouble to root around and unearth something both genuinely unknown and interesting, as the Ives Quartet did Friday night at Berkeley’s St. John’s Presbyterian Church.
Albert Sammons is known (to those of us who have heard of him at all) mainly as the violinist who first recorded Elgar’s Violin Concerto and several of Elgar’s chamber works. I think I had heard him referred to once or twice as “the English Kreisler,” and had a dim idea that he’d written some little character pieces for violin and piano in the Kreisler manner. Certainly I had no idea that he’d written anything as ambitious as the B-major “Phantasy Quartet” the Ives Quartet played. (The title has to do with the occasion for the composition: W. W. Cobbett established a competition, early in the 20th century, for pieces to be modeled loosely on the 17th-century English “phantasy” which is why there are so many “phantasies” in English chamber music in the first couple decades of the 20th century. Sammons’ quartet won the prize in 1915.)
It’s eight minutes of fascinating, bewildering music. There are hints of the Ravel and Debussy quartets in the opening (the Ravel for design, the Debussy for texture), but the harmony is more advanced than either – more like early Webern or, especially, early Schoenberg. In fact, once the piece gets going it sounds like nothing so much as a scaled-down, abbreviated Schoenberg Pelleas. It starts in B major (sort of), and ends in B major (most definitely), but in between it wanders far and freely, going to all sorts of unexpected places, including even the odd unadulterated major triad. I wouldn’t call it exactly a lovable piece, but it was intensely interesting.
The rest of the program highlighted the Ives’ balancing of the comfortable and the unfamiliar. It opened with Beethoven’s Op. 18/5, in a lithe and witty performance in which first violinist Robin Sharp’s deft playing seemed to set the tone. And it ended with Borodin’s beautiful and neglected First Quartet. I have never understood why this quartet is hardly played while the Second is everywhere. (Well, of course I know why – the reasons include some luscious cello tunes, and Kismet – but I still think it’s unfair). The Ives performance was brilliant and accomplished; the many effects involving harmonics (especially in the Scherzo’s astonishing trio section, but also at the end of the first movement, the beginning of the last, and elsewhere) were eerily perfect. But above all it was an affectionateperformance, of an affectionate piece. Sharp’s graceful, leisurely, playful account of the first movement’s main theme – the one Borodin borrowed from the “second” finale of Beethoven’s Op. 130 Quartet – made me reflect again on how different the things were that Borodin and Beethoven had made of the same sequence of notes.
The quartet titled this concert “Les Vendredis,” after the Friday soirees at which the “Mighty Handful” of Russian composers (and some less “mighty” as well) gathered to play and hear pieces for string quartets. Maybe we hope for more of their music from the Ives? Maybe the Glazunov Vovelettes, or Borodin’s wonderful 5/8 Scherzo?
(Michelle Dulak, editor of San Francisco Classical Voice, is a violinist and violist who has written about music for Strings, Stagebill, Early Music American, and the New York Times.)
Copyright 2004 Michelle Dulak, all rights reserved.
By Keith Kreitman
It is difficult to find words that fully convey the beauty of the sounds of the Ives Quartet, which recently presented a concert at the First Congregational Church in Palo Alto.
This is a string quartet for those who don’t think they would like string quartets. It is truly a feast for the ears.
With the addition of violinist Robin Sharp’s exquisite tone, the members are so attuned to each other that I have joked they must have been born quadruplets.
From its luscious opening sounds to the last notes in the program, the quartet never loses that remarkable warmth of timbre, even in the most rapid of passages, and never fails to respect every nuance of dynamics embedded in the scores by the composers.
The rich cello tone of Stephen Harris lays down a firm bass line that supports first violinist Sharp’s explorations into the musical stratosphere and the inner voices of excellent second violinist Susan Freie! r and violist Scott Woolweaver.
Woolweaver successfully overcomes the viola’s second banana status with solo passages that recall Stradivarius’ violin elegance.
First they wheeled out an antique, one of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s most beautiful and popular chamber works, the Quartet in D minor, K. 421, in order to establish their classical music credentials. This work must have been custom ordered for their remarkable sonority.
Then they brought out a surprise, a String Quartet in E minor, written by one of the past century’s greatest violin virtuosos, Efrem Zimbalist.
It is a real find, Russian at the core from the opening phrases, but with some startling harmonic passages possibly never heard before. Jaded ears perked up and drowsiness vanished.
If anyone thought this bunch was only a pack of pretty sounds and faces, the fiery last movement should put an end to that. Led by Sharp at warp speed, the group never gave away one iota of its ri! ch sound to the technical effort.
The main course of the evenin g was the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B minor by Johannes Brahms.
Of all the other instruments that join string quartets in chamber music, the flowing liquid timbre of the clarinet undoubtedly blends best with strings. Like Mozart before him, Brahms appreciated this, and the great works for the clarinet were among the very last creations of their lives.
The highly talented young clarinetist, Dimitri Ashkenazy, won a standing ovation for his consciously controlled dynamics and timbre, as he blended seamlessly into the flow of the strings in this complex and lyrical masterwork.
(c) 2003 San Mateo County Times. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.
By L. PIERCE CARSON
Register Staff Writer
The Bay Area-based Ives Quartet comprises four chamber music lovers who enjoy what they do and convey their delight to fortunate audiences.
Last Monday night, violinists Robin Sharp and Susan Freier, violist Scott Woolweaver and cellist Stephen Harrison turned on the musical charm at Copia, delighting a small but spellbound audience with an imaginative program that included Haydn, Britten and a seductive salute to jazz.
Formerly in residence as the Stanford String Quartet since 1983, this ensemble departed Stanford University in the fall of 1998 to seek greater artistic independence. The re-named Ives Quartet performs a home season concert series in the Bay Area and also tours throughout the United States.
For their wine country debut, members of the Ives Quartet chose to begin the performance with one of the best of Haydn’s mid-period quartets, “No. 32 in C Major (Op. 20, No. 2).”
The rich textured opening of the work proved immediately inviting, especially in this intimate space — a 270-seat auditorium with lively acoustics, yet not overly so. This is an ideal venue for acoustic instruments, hence perfect for chamber music ensembles.
A unique Haydn capriccio blended baroque and classical styles in the same movement, done most sensitively by the performers. The light, insightful articulation in the fugal finale proved a real joy.
The ensemble playing allowed for enjoyment in Haydn’s inspiration. The Ives Quartet is fully worthy of the composer’s inexhaustible invention.
Thomas Oboe Lee is a jazz flutist and music teacher at Boston College. If Lee’s 10-year-old work, “Seven Jazz Studies,” is the yardstick by which we measure his talents, then he’s a first-rate composer as well.
“Seven Jazz Studies” incorporates tributes to four remarkable musicians — a pair of jazz pianists, Horace Silver and Bill Evans, composer/performer Antonio Carlos Jobim and one of the world’s greatest bassists, Jaco Pastorius, whose manic depression led to his death at 35 in 1987.
The work begins with a prelude reminiscent of a tuning exercise and slips easily into a sound that is uniquely Silver, the hardbop grandpop, whose “Doodlin'” and “Sister Sadie” come to mind. An melancholic interlude precedes a witty waltz in the Evans vein, and the salute to Jobim — a cello pizzicato providing the rhythm while remaining strings trot out a beautiful melody that Jobim would have loved. The assertive punk funk groove that was Pastorius is represented before the ensemble chimes in with a foreboding postlude that, perhaps, speaks to a musical style yet to come. The musicians’ insights brought an ideal combination of authority and warmth to this creative piece.
The musical voice of Benjamin Britten is a highly original one. One never feels his music is derivative. This voice is that of a sophisticated man of culture — his texts derive from Henry James, Herman Melville, Wilfred Owen, even medieval poetry. His music is imaginative, melodic and charged with taut emotion. He is probably the greatest English composer since Henry Purcell.
Britten’s valedictory “Quartet No. 3 (Op. 94),” with its rarefied atmosphere and ethereal slow movement, is simply brilliant — a classic work in the repertoire. With a nod to his friend Shostakovich, the Burlesque is splendidly robust. And the long final Passacaglia — which incorporates themes from his opera, “Death in Venice,” and concludes with a musical question — was sustained by the ensemble with deep concentration and reverence. This strongly characterized reading was both warm and polished, and certainly deeply expressive.
The Ives Quartet is a most impressive ensemble. I, for one, hope to hear more of them.
In light of the sold-out performances of Chamber Music in Napa Valley, I can’t believe so few chamber music fans turned out for the Ives Quartet at Copia. Do this audience disappear when fair weather sets in? Despite the low turnout, Copia officials will continue to offer chamber music events, hoping to build an audience for these programs. And, yes, the Ives ensemble will return, thank goodness.
By David Strickland
On Friday evening at the Ross School in East Hampton, music lovers of all stripes were offered a delightful selection of forward — and backward — looking string quartets, admirably performed by the Ives quartet.
The concert was another in a continuing series of lectures, concerts, master classes, and the like being offered to the community by the school, which make a fine contribution to our late-winter intellectual and musical life.
The Ives Quartet, which for 14 years was the ensemble in residence at Stanford University, has named itself well. I cannot imagine a better emissary for bringing the (still undervalued) works of Charles Ives to light. Attractive, intelligent, and energetic, the quartet is up to the challenge of making the works of this presumably inaccessible American genius accessible to the average concertgoer.
Forward or Back
The performance opened with short talk by the cellist, Stephen Harrison, who explained that the works chosen could be characterized as either a forward-looking work of mature artist (Beethoven) or as backwards-looking works of young composers (Mendelssohn and Ives).
Indeed, in the quartets performances of the Beethoven F minor Quartet, Op. 95, which opened the program, it pointed toward the complex and profound late quartets, especially, to my ears, the Op. 131 Quartet in C sharp minor.
Aside from some infelicities of intonation in the first movement and a lack of energy in the second, the performance was otherwise magical.
The two Ives works on the program, a youthful “Chorale” that looks back to Brahms and the “Intermezzo” from the cantata “The Celestial Country, ” were impeccably executed. Mr. Harrison’s cello was especially moving in the moody opening of the “Chorale,” while the dynamic interaction of Roy Malan, first violin, and Susan Freier, second violin, in the “Intermezzo” brought out the coiled tension and turbulent emotion that infuses the middle section of what otherwise might appear to be a derivative late-Romantic exercise.
However, in the Mendelssohn E flat major Quartet (Op. 12), which completed the evening, all of the formidable forces of the ensemble were perfectly aligned to give us an incomparably magnificent performance.
Edge of Great
In their hands, the first movement allegro non troppo was sweet and innocently well-rounded, while the funny little gypsy-like melody of the canzonetta was exuberant and simultaneously compact.
In the finale, molto allegro e vivace, underscored by the intensity of Scottt Woolweaver’s fine viola playing, the quartet realized perfectly a dramatic exposition of the explosive power of the young Mendelssohn’s love of life and repressed sexual energy.
And in the coda, playfully reminding us of Beethoven’s tricks and surprises, I heard the radiant playing of a quartet confident and relaxed, on the edge of becoming one of the greats of the next generation.