If you had been with me the past two weeks, you would have heard two groups each with a different style. But both are successful interpreters of their chosen selections.
Listening to chamber music is no more difficult than reading a novel. (I think the analogy is my creation. But I may have stolen it. Only the Chinese steal more intellectual property than do I.)
Most chamber pieces are divided into several movements with a unifying theme. Let's call each movement a chapter in the novel. The movement has a musical theme just like a novel's first line.
Each movement is written in sections. Think of them as paragraphs. Just as each section consists of notes and musical phrases based on the movement's theme. Just like words and sentences.
It really is that simple. We understand novels because we learned to read early in life and, through our reading, we developed a sense of what to expect from the story form -- how the narrative works.
Appreciating music or painting or poetry is as simple as enjoying a novel. We merely need to learn the form the artist has chosen to create the work.
Because they are accomplished, both the Miro Quartet and the American String Quartet let us clearly hear what the composer wanted us to experience.
The American String Quartet is a very traditional group. The name is far older, but this group of performers just celebrated their 44th year together.
By "traditional," I mean the focus of the players during performances is on one another and the music. There is little, if any, eye contact with the audience. The effect is that the voice of the composer seems unfiltered as it reaches the listener, without the performer's personality getting in the way.
Traditional does not mean a lack of versatility. Each piece the American String Quartet played was appropriate for the style in which the composer wrote.
None of the pieces were fluff. Each required the audience to be engaged. To use Copland's third plane of listening (why san miguel de allende?). Even though the pieces were complex, the listening technique I described earlier gave form and purpose to what the composer intended.
Their two programs included music from the romantic and modern periods:
- Anton Webern, "Five Movements" (1909)
- Johannes Brahms, "String Quartet No. 3 in B-flat major" (1876)
- Ludwig van Beethoven, "String Quartet No. 16 in C-sharp minor" (1826)
- Dmitri Shostakovitch, "String Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp minor" (1960)
- Bela Bartok, "String Quartet No. 3" (1927)
- Maurice Ravel, "String Quartet in F major (1902)
The style of the Miro Quartet is is quite different. They are showmen. And I do not say that disparagingly. By nature, every performer is an actor.
But their style reflects the personalities of the players. Articulate faces. Bow flourishes. Bodies in motion.
That style can be distracting. Too much personality. Too little composer. Too much Edward VIII.
Not so with the Miro Quartet. All of their animation takes its cue from the composer. They are merely reflecting what they play. In effect, they add to the composer's voice.
They also played a program of very demanding pieces, but with the clarity of professional guides leading their audience through new and beautiful worlds from the classical, romantic, and modern periods.
- Robert Schumann, "String Quartet No. 1 in A minor" (1842)
- Kevin Puts, "Credo" (2007)
- Ludwig van Beethoven, "String Quartet No. 16 in F major" (1826) -- Beethoven's last string quartet, which is often called his musical autobiography
- Franz Joseph Haydn, "String Quartet in E-flat major" (1793)
- Anton Dvorak, "Cypresses" (1887)
- Ludwig van Beethoven, "String Quartet No. 15 in A minor (1825)
I am currently sitting in a master class conducted by Amit Peled, the world-class cellist we met yesterday (scaling the barricades). He is instructing one of the 12 young cello students from yesterday's concert in cello technique. And the public has been invited to sit in.
Not only is the student learning new technique, we are learning the variety of sound an accomplished musician can elicit from an instrument -- the cello, in this case. The experience is giving me new things to listen for while enjoying this rich form of expression.
We are now half-way through the festival. For me, this is almost a practically perfect month.