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Verona Quartet Springs Back With BCM

Mon, 03/14/2022 - 15:52
Bridgehampton Chamber Music and its director, Marya Martin, left, who is also a flutist, will return to the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church for a series of concerts this spring.
Michael Lawrence

The Verona Quartet was scheduled to open the Bridgehampton Chamber Music spring series in March 2020, but the program, coming right at the start of the pandemic, had to be cancelled. The quartet will now headline the opening of this year's season, on March 26, in the first of a three-concert series fittingly called Springing Back. It is the first time that the world-renowned ensemble will appear with BCM.

The program presents two of the beloved quartets in the repertoire, Franz Schubert's Quartettsatz in C Minor (D. 703) and Ludwig van Beethoven's String Quartet in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131; and a 2001 work by Gabriela Lena Frank, "Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout." 

Jonathan Dormand, the cellist for the Verona Quartet, said last week that when its members are devising a program, they "try to put together something that not only feels like a good program to listen to and feels balanced," but they also consider "the aspect of what binds these works together. On this particular program, all of these pieces melt together so well, and the more that we play this music, the more it seems to make sense."

There are several threads that tie these works together.

Ms. Frank, the composer-in-residence with the Philadelphia Orchestra, was included in The Washington Post's 2017 list of the 35 most significant women composers in history. The winner of a Latin Grammy, she has been nominated for Grammys as both composer and pianist. She holds a Guggenheim Fellowship and a United States Artists Fellowship, given each year to 50 of the country's finest artists. 

She was born with a profound hearing loss, and has often spoken openly about this, and about her intrigue as a child with Beethoven's own hearing loss, later in life, and how it affected his composing. Ms. Frank was born in California, to a mother of Peruvian and Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian Jewish descent, and explores her multicultural heritage through her musical compositions.

Her "Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout‚" draws inspiration from the Peruvian writer Jose Maria Arguedas, who wrote about cultures co-existing without the subjugation of one by another. It combines facets of western classical and Andean folk music traditions with influences from Incan instruments and civilization, as well as from Catholic Peru. Mr. Dormand called the work "a real melting pot, and she has done a phenomenal job; it is so virtuosic and so fun to listen to, with great humor and a great range of emotion."

Besides the connection between Ms. Frank and Beethoven, there are also poignant stories about Schubert and Beethoven. When Schubert heard the same Beethoven quartet that will be played at this concert -- the last one he was to compose -- he was so impressed and moved that he remarked, "What is left for us to write?" And so this is the name the quartet has given to this program.

Schubert looked up to Beethoven greatly, "but he didn't quite have the confidence to go and talk to Beethoven when he saw him in his favorite coffeehouse," Mr. Dormand said.  "Beethoven passed away in 1827 and Schubert was a pallbearer at Beethoven's state funeral; and Schubert passed away a year later, at the age of 31." 

The Schubert Quartettsatz that is to be performed on the program also leaves us wanting for something more to be written, as it is the first movement of a quartet that he did not complete.

The name of the Verona Quartet refers to Shakespeare. "Shakespeare is obviously one of the greatest storytellers of all time, and the idea of naming ourselves the Verona Quartet was a reference to one of his favorite cities and where many of his most exciting stories take place," Mr. Dormand said, "and it is an homage to music as storytelling." 

Along with Mr. Dormand, the artists in the Verona Quartet are Jonathan Ong, violin, Dorothy Ro, violin, and Abigail Rojansky, viola.

The second concert of the series, on April 23, is called "Baroque Spring." The instrumentalists are Marya Martin, flute; James Austin Smith, oboe; Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu, violin; Inbal Segev, cello; Kenneth Weiss, harpsichord, and Shane Shanahan, percussion. 

It may be surprising to hear of a percussionist for a Baroque ensemble program, as we usually don't experience these works performed in this way. Ms. Martin, who in addition to being a flutist is the founder and artistic director of BCM, said last week that "many of these pieces would have had percussion with them, whether it was someone stamping his foot or banging on the side of a viola da gamba" or someone playing a drum with natural skins, with his hands, while it is held between his legs, as Mr. Shanahan will do. "So, it is a really interesting program." 

While Vivaldi is a well-known composer, "some of the composers on this program are earlier, bordering on the Renaissance rather than the Baroque." The use of percussion "isn't always mentioned in these pieces, but it is part of the style and taste of the of the period."

The third and last concert, "French Flourishes," will be held on May 14, with music by Philippe Gaubert ("Medailles Antiques" for flute, violin and piano); Maurice Ravel (Duo for Violin and Cello), and Gabriel Faure (Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 120). The artists are Ms. Martin, flute; Paul Huang, violin; Brook Speltz, cello, and Gloria Chien, piano.

"Faure and Ravel are better-known masters," Ms. Martin said. "Gaubert was a flutist who taught at the Paris Conservatory. He wrote quite a bit of music for flute. His 'Medailles Antiques' is delightful, just a little piece, but it has all the sounds of the impressionist composers." 

Speaking of the whole program, she said the music is "almost too ethereal for you to grab on to -- but it grabs on to you!"

While most of the performers' names on the Baroque and French programs may be familiar to BCM audiences, two are making their first appearances with the festival: Ms. Segev, an Israeli-American artist who has appeared on such stages as Lincoln Center, the Shanghai Concert Hall, and the Jerusalem Theatre, and Mr. Speltz, whose varied credits include being a member of the Escher String Quartet as well as the cello rock band Break of Reality.

All three concerts will take place on Saturdays, at 5 p.m. at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church, and each program will last about 75 minutes without intermission. 

As for pandemic protocols, Ms. Martin said that "we are keeping, for now, with distancing, proof of vaccination, and mask-wearing, until we feel really safe."

Tickets begin at $54, and subscriptions at $110. Tickets and more information are at bcmf.org or 212-741-9403; there are also many free videos of past performances on the website. 

There is more about Ms. Frank and the multifaceted Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music at glfcam.com, and the Verona Quartet at veronaquartet.com. Last year, the summer season was somewhat scaled down in number of concerts, but for this summer there are plans for the same number of events as before the pandemic.
 

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