Feldman Chamber Music Society: Lark String Quartet


Tidewater Classical Guitar Orchestra
Hermitage Museum and Gardens
October 12, 2014
Review by M.D. Ridge

At the opening of the Bruce Munro: Light at Hermitage show at the Hermitage Museum and Gardens October 12, the Tidewater Classical Guitar Orchestra was playing on the flagstone patio overlooking the river.

The shuttle from Second Presbyterian Church on Hampton Blvd. got me to the Hermitage about five minutes into the TCGO’s 6 p.m. set. I wanted to hear the whole of “Millennia Facing East,” which would be repeated at 7 p.m.

Darkness fell as I wandered around, looking at Muro’s light installations. Field of Light was, in the British artist’s words, “a landscape of illuminated stems . . . a personal symbol of the good things in life.” Hundreds and hundreds of small globes on slender rods, each glowing softly with fiber optics and changing colors, seemingly at random; they filled the circular scape in front of the museum and much of the area south of it, by the river’s edge. I’ll bet it looked spectacular from the water—and the lights across the river from the marine terminals seemed to be part of the show, too.

Waves, a series of tall glass rods set up on the rail of the boardwalk over the tidal grasses, flashed on and off in random patterns of gold, blue, green, orange, magenta and turquoise. The seventeen Water Towers were built of 252 stacked water bottles illuminated with fiber optics, again in changing colors, with the accompaniment of music from speakers hidden in a tower base. I heard soft, deep African vocal chants changing to high, ethereal women’s voices before I moved out of earshot—so the vocal colors, too, were changing.

For Parliament of Owls—the name comes from the collective term for a group of owls—pairs of round, glowing yellow discs were set on a tall pole with several horizontal arms. In the dark, the supporting framework was nearly invisible, so the discs really did look like owl’s eyes. There was a noisy racket from the river—the local Canada geese settling down for the evening.

Deeper in the woods were small groups of Munro’s Fireflies, sprays of fiber optics lighted at the tips to look like thousands of fireflies, caught in the dark stillness. Lighthouse is a 6-meter tall installation—a circle of clear, lighted rods that flash a Morse code message towards the river—meant not as a warning to keep away, but as an invitation to enter.

There were three Munro works inside the Hermitage itself, but I didn’t want to miss the TCGO, which was ready to perform again as the sun sank out of sight. Sam Dorsey, the group’s director, noted that “Millennium Facing East” was their second commission from the award-winning guitarist and composer Andrew York. It began with rippling ascending arpeggios, then into wonderful rhythmic hemiolas with a Spanish feel—and, surprisingly, a wordless vocal line over the top, sung by the guitarists themselves. Requinto guitars (think soprano voices) and bajas (bass voices) asked musical questions with strong melodic lines before seguing into the Spanish rhythms, with the soft ahhh vocals, then a hypnotic descending melody with perhaps a Middle Eastern influence. I could have listened to it again and again!

Another York piece—“The Lotus Eaters”—had a hypnotic bass line that repeated a one-three-four-five progression, before fading to silence. Dan Cudney’s “Rana del Arból” was about a tree frog with lots of enemies—but he gets away. The pretty ballad “Julia” was written by TCGO member John Bowles in honor of his daughter.

A slow tune by Argentine composer Cacho Tirao was followed by another delightful Bowles piece called “Jeriology”—he explained his wife’s name is Jeri, and ‘ology means “study of.” So: study of Jeri. The TCGO finished up with a rousing version of Bernstein’s “America,” from West Side Story. (At the earlier set, the group had done the suite from West Side Story.)

The spectators applauded vigorously. One called out, “We couldn’t do a standing ovation—we’re already standing!” It was the perfect accompaniment to a calm, cool night by the river, surrounded by magic lights.

The show—Bruce Munro: Light at the Hermitage—continues through January 10, 2015. Though there are ankle-height motion-detector lights around the various paths, it’s still really dark—bring a good flashlight.

This review was originally broadcast on WHRO 90.3 FM’s “From the other side of the Footlights.”

Feldman Chamber Music Society: Lark String Quartet
Kaufman Theater, Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, November 9, 2015
Review by John Campbell

The Lark Quartet has been delighting audiences since 1985 with energy, passion and fine playing. In this concert they brought music by Aaron Copland (1900-1990), Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) to a large audience.

After World War II, I.E. Feldman, a noted string teacher, organized the Feldman Quartet. After 39 seasons of public performances the quartet ended. The Feldman Chamber Music Society, in collaboration with the Chamber Music Society of Williamsburg, continued its mission to bring the best in chamber music to Hampton Roads by presenting nationally and internationally acclaimed chamber groups to local audiences. The recent pre-season concert by our local Ambrosia String Quartet was a welcome departure.

Two Pieces for String Quartet by Copland, I. Lento molto “nocturne” (1928 NY) and II. Rondino: Allegro moderato (Paris 1923), opened the concert. Later, Copland grouped them together as a unit. (The program notes are inaccurate). The quiet, moody opening of Lento has a modern, astringent sound. Copland, like many composers, traveled to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger and was part of the dazzling artistic climate there in the 1920s. Returning home, Copland set out to create an American sound. The Rondino, with its angular rhythms and jazzy syncopations propels the piece, sometimes in the foreground and at other times submerged as accompaniment. Overall there is a cool, abstract feeling. The four women of the quartet, Deborah Buck, violin; Basia Danilow, violin; Kathryn Lockwood, viola; Caroline Stinson, cello, played with authority and grace, telling us “We love these early Copland pieces.”

For the String Quartet in C major, Op. 20, No. 2 by Haydn, Ms. Danilow played viola while Ms. Lockwood moved to violin for the prominent dialogue between the two violins. The communication between the instrumentalists was outstanding as the slow, sonata-form, happy, Moderato first movement was played. The hesitant opening of Capriccio: Adagio second movement was somber, with the strength of a bass continuo with improvisatory freedom in the melody. A hurdy-gurdy sound was in the third, Menuet Allegretto, trio movement, light but with a burst of energy to end.

The cello speaks prominently in the Fuga a 4 soggetti; Allegro, as each voice enters one-by-one. In the essentially galant style, these fugues in the finale should be viewed as a touch of humor by the composer.

After intermission a single work—all 5 movements of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 in a minor, Op. 132—was played. In the third movement—Heiliger Dankegesang—Beethoven thanks his maker for his recovery from a serious illness. The first movement—Assai sostenuto; Allegro and second—Allegro ma non tanto—set-up material for the 15 minute third. The opening of the first is slow and quiet but it gains momentum—a little dance becomes grand—then falls into gentle quiet again with occasional bombast. A strutting grand ending concludes this nine-minute movement.

A tuneful second movement seems a bit off-center and restrained! Midway through the sound becomes higher pitched and lighthearted, even dance-like. The emotional centerpiece is the leisurely, very slow third movement, dominated by a hymn-like theme that appears in different guises throughout. Clarity and longing combine and a sweet hush falls over me, enfolding and comforting. A more exuberant section once again gives way to lovely consolation and ends quietly. During the pause the audience was stunningly quiet.

The two-minute march in the Alla marcia fourth movement becomes vigorous, stately and ended without pause, moving into the Allegro appassionato fifth movement with striking chords punctuating the quiet flow, then Presto and it is over.

The encore for this very laudatory audience was Williams Bolcom’s (b.1938) The Graceful Ghost (1970) for piano in an arrangement for quartet. A sentimental visit with pizzicato strings deepens the colors of the nostalgia.

In closing, this venerable group with an endowment providing some 50% of the annual budget has a great need to develop an audience that includes many more young listeners.

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