Certain friends (and Friends) will already know that the cover photo of this blog shows the front porch of the Inn at Silver Bay, a YMCA camp and conference center and, for me at least, one of the holy places on earth. We’ve been coming here every summer since 2005, and every time I find something more, something new, something amazing.
Tonight, as on many Sunday evenings during the summer season, the Silver Bay String Quartet performed a recital in Hughes Chapel. I knew the quartet (made up of professional musicians from New York and New England) was top-notch, but in all truth I had never taken the time in previous summers to go and hear them on the Sunday series.
Well. I will not make that mistake again.
The program tonight began with the Allegretto from the String Quartet in D, K. 575, a lovely bit of Mozartiana composed for the King of Prussia, himself an accomplished cellist. Unlike many other quartets wherein the cello merely holds the tonic of the chord while the other instruments arpeggiate about and show off, here the cellist him-or-herself gets to do a good bit of showing off also. Cellist Andrea Chandler offered her audience a marvelous and somewhat cheeky rendition pf the piece, with the able support of her colleagues. I had intentionally selected a seat very near the platform, better to watch as well as listen to the peformers, and Chandler’s facial expressions clearly demonstrated she was having fun tonight.
The next selection was the first movement from the first string quartet of Charles Ives, written in his student days at Yale. I have to confess that I’m not been much of an Ives fan in the past, but I may need to revisit that judgment. The Andante is built as a fugue, using the hymn tunes “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains” and “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”. Ives takes these tunes, well-known in his day and not entirely lost to modern hearers, and creates a lush, late Romantic treatment of the material wherein subject and countersubject weave in and out of one another, sometimes presenting in melodic form, sometimes in rhythmic. The piece does not yet demonstrate the mature composer that Ives will later become, but nevertheless a delightful and occasionally humorous treatment of the material, which (one hopes) was more than satisfactory to his composition professor at the time.
Meredith Arksey, first violin, informed the audience that these first two pieces were “merely the appetizers, to set up the main course to follow.” This “main course” was the Brahms Piano Quintet, Op. 34. Pianist Olga Gurevich joined the quartet for this endeavor, and friends, let me tell you: If you are in the New York area and have the opportunity to hear Mme. Gurevich perform, take immediate advantage of it. She is fantastic, and I greatly hope she may grace Silver Bay’s musical scene again in summers to come.
The Brahms Op. 34 is one of those pieces that you know, even if you don’t know that you know it. The third and fourth movements in particular are highly recognizable, although I’m willing to admit that in my case, that may be a function of watching Bugs Bunny cartoons in my youth. But I digress.
Violist Marshall Meade, in introducing the piece, noted that Brahms wrote it in a way that allows each instrument to perform at its own best and most accomplished. It is of course an ensemble piece, as all chamber music is, but everyone in the quintet gets their own chance to shine. And did they ever.
I mentioned above that I sat near to the platform, in order to watch the musicians as they created the music of the evening. This is a hard-working group, performing a completely different program every Sunday night during the summer season. While I can’t say they made it *look* easy (fierce concentration was evident, as they glanced between music stands and one another to follow, or lead, as the music unfolded), the sounds they produced were splendid. From the most gracious, subdued clarity in tranquil moments, to thundering outpourings of passion as the notes pursued one another across the chapel’s vaulted ceiling, the players gave their all this night. At the silence following the last chord, I expected the audience to stand and start cheering and shouting. Although applause was effusive and enthusiastic, I was astonished at how quickly it ceased and the hearers began chatting among themselves.
In a letter to her friend and colleague Julia Child, editor Avis DeVoto describes going to the service of Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge and the music’s beauty “tearing you up inside, all over.” That’s what tonight felt like.
Congratulations to the Silver Bay String Quartet and Mme. Gurevich, on a truly splendid performance. Bravi, bravi a tutti!