by Victoria Aschheim
A Harvard composer's contemporary voice and time-honored jewels of the string quartet repertoire combined to make a glorious Friday evening, October 30, at the Chiara Quartet concert at Paine Hall, part of the Blodgett Chamber Music Series. A large and enthusiastic audience gathered to hear the Chiara Quartet, Harvard's String Quartet-in-Residence perform Prokofiev's String Quartet No. 1, Webern's Funf Satze fur Streichquartett, Harvard graduate student Ulrich Kreppein's Second String Quartet, winner of the Blodgett Composition Competition, and the Brahms Viola Quintet in G Major, No. 111, with acclaimed violist, Roger Tapping, a former member of the Takacz Quartet and New England Conservatory faculty member. Rebecca Fischer, Julie Yoon, Jonah Sirota, and Gregory Beaver comprise the Chiara Quartet, whose playing has been described by the New York Times as "luminous," and "searing," and by the Washington Post as "truly breathtaking." Harvard students and faculty alike rejoice in having such a progressive and distinguished, young quartet-in-residence.
Kreppein's tightly hewn work combined the metallic luster of extended string techniques with fluid pizzicato and arco passages. The first movement featured a muted first violin over a slow, sustained bed of second violin, viola, and cello. The second movement began with quiet bow strokes, and an arclike trajectory of dynamics unfolded; the sonorous climax was punctuated by dance-like pizzicato. Undulating bow work with rich string outbursts characterized the third movement. The Brahms was memorable for the Chiara's performance of profound weight yet buoyant exuberance, and for the fourth movement's ornate viola solo by Jonah Sirota, then echoed and declaimed by the rest of the ensemble. Throughout the concert I was struck by Gregory Beaver's eye contact with his fellow quartet members, at once incisive and joyous, as well as Jonah Sirota's leadership and physical vigor. Violinists Rebecca Fischer and Julie Yoon endowed their soprano and mezzo string lines with warmth and sensitive interpretation.
On my way to the concert, walking toward North Yard, I spotted Adam Roberts, a PhD candidate in composition at Harvard.
Adam commented that it is great for the Music Department to hold the Blodgett Competition, which selects a piece for the Chiara Quartet to premiere. This initiative allows the Quartet to play new music alongside traditional repertoire. Adam told me he had seen the Quartet perform Steve Reich's Different Trains last year, and that they always sound wonderful and are generous with their time within the Music Department. When Adam was a teaching fellow for the music theory class, Music 51, the Quartet performed Mozart in class to augment the curriculum. Adam noted the strong contribution the Quartet makes to Harvard's Music Department, which has few performance teachers; Chiara thus gives students a valuable taste of a professional string quartet. As Artistic Administrator for the Boston new music ensemble, Callithumpian Consort (with Artistic Director, Stephen Drury '77), Adam is interested in Chiara's technique of programming their concerts. Adam was happy to see that the Quartet programs new music, but in combination with "old music," which he feels is the best approach for audiences, rather than that the ensemble create a subculture of only new music.
I found myself sitting behind Emily Pierce '10, a member of the Radcliffe Choral Society who just joined the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra for Debussy's Nocturnes in its October 24 concert. Emily told me that she was attending the concert for her class, Music 2, and that it was great to see the quartet in this context, outside the classroom.
At intermission I met Anne Shreffler, James Edward Ditson Professor of Music and Chair of the Music Department. I asked her what the Chiara Quartet means to Harvard's Music Department. She said, "It is a wonderful thing and an opportunity for the Department. The Chiara is a superb quartet that spends four weeks out of the year with us at Harvard." Professor Shreffler told me that the Quartet recently performed in her seminar, Music Since 1945, and praised the Quartet, which "works with students, gives public concerts, and is of great musical and intellectual benefit to the department."
Making my way through the audience of friends and teachers in the Music Department, I was thrilled to meet Nicholas Vines, a prolific composer and Lecturer on Music at Harvard, and Anthony Cheung, '04, Artistic Director of the Talea Ensemble, which will be performing as part of the Harvard Group for New Music's season on February 27, 2010.
Dr. Vines immediately explained the Beethovenian structure of Kreppein's 2nd String Quartet, which featured "a blob of the third movement in the second and a blob of the second movement in the third." Dr. Vines also said the piece harkens back to late Beethoven string quartets, and as a German composer, Kreppein is keenly aware of that lineage. Anthony Cheung told me he so much enjoyed Kreppein's quartet and that he has played some of Kreppein's music in New York. In chatting with me Anthony commended Kreppein's "lyrical, consistent voice, and brave use of melody in a unique way."
I made sure to ask Ulrich Kreppein's own reaction to the performance of his piece, and he told me it was great, indeed "perfect."
For the second half of the concert I joined some of my Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra colleagues, one of whom, Ariel Mitnick '13, reflected on her experience studying with the Chiara Quartet at Greenwood Music Camp, where they are artists-in-residence and coached Ariel's chamber group. First violinist, Rebecca Fischer, was Ariel's private teacher, and was a major part of why Ariel is considering a career as a musician. Ariel told me that the Quartet are great musicians and equally great people.
After the concert, I made a beeline for the Chiara Quartet, and spoke with each of the members as well as guest artist Roger Tapping. It is always a special joy to meet performers hot off the press, so to speak, from the stage, in the glow of a brilliant performance. Violist Jonah Sirota remarked that performing with Roger Tapping was a great pleasure and tremendously inspirational, a sentiment that second violinist Julie Yoon affirmed.
Cellist Gregory Beaver said, "This was a blast - but that doesn't even begin to describe playing with Roger Tapping." I asked Gregory what he enjoys about being a musician-in-residence at Harvard. He told me that not only is it great to teach and play in Music Department classes, but Harvard students understand the music on such a high level.
Guest violist Roger Tapping said that it was so enjoyable to perform with the Chiara and that he also likes them personally, having performed with them at the Aspen and Yellow Barn Music Festivals. Mr. Tapping said, "I have played this Brahms Viola Quintet a lot, and this was one of the most enjoyable times."
First violinist Rebecca Fischer noted the great variety on Friday night's concert. When I asked her how she likes Harvard, she responded, "We perform a variety of tasks in the Music Department, and I love it; Harvard has a vibrant, wonderful music community."
[Caption: Chiara Quartet]
[Caption: Chiara Quartet joined by Roger Tapping]
[Caption: Adam Roberts]
[Caption: Chiara Quartet bows to an appreciative audience]
[Caption: Anthony Cheung and Dr. Nicholas Vines]
[Caption: Ulrich Kreppein]
[Caption: Jonah Sirota]
[Caption: Gregory Beaver ]
[Caption: Roger Tapping]
[Caption: Rebecca Fischer]