Tuesday, April 19, 2011
The Aeolus Quartet
Something a little different on the blog tonight. Not an album review, but a concert review.
I just got home from the Aeolus Quartet's da Capo performance in Reinberger Hall at Severance Hall in Cleveland. (I call it da Capo because as the quartet was formed right here in Cleveland at the Cleveland Institute of Music, it was a return to their roots a little bit.) Here is what you need to know: these kids are fantastic. I say "kids" with great love. I might be biased because they are also good, treasured friends of mine. But do not let that change your opinion, I'm hard on my friends.
Aeolus has been officially together as an ensemble for three years now. All four members have just finished post-graduate degrees at the University of Texas at Austin where they were the first Graduate Quartet-in-Residence at the school. As individuals, they are young; as an ensemble, they are young; as artists, they are way beyond their years.
The quartet put together a big program - a Bartok quartet, a Mendelssohn quartet plus two new works by living composers. Each piece presenting its own difficulties in mastering well, but mastered these artists certainly did. The Mendelssohn may have been the weakest on the program, the middle movements perhaps needing a little extra care than what they'd received, or suffering from fatigue as it was the last piece on the aggressive program. The Bartok was stand-out incredible. Such a mentally, musically and physically demanding piece and Aeolus certainly rose to the challenge and won. Alan Richardson's cello playing in the third movement was absolutely stunning. And the new works were intriguing and palatable. First on the program was Steven Snowden's "Appalachian Polaroids" which makes use of taped recording that interweaves through the beginning of the piece until the quartet takes over the sound. It's recognition of Americana sonorities and techniques make it resonate in the hearts of the audience - difficult to do with modern music these days. The Snowden has a companion piece in Alexandra Bryant's "Lady Isabelle Was That Kind of a Woman." Talking with the quartet members afterward, violinist (and husband of the composer) Nick Tavani let me in on some of the inside difficulties of the piece. It requires the players to both speak and play in rhythm - which can be done, but is a little like patting your head and rubbing your belly at once. He told me they were afraid of it at first, but they certainly didn't sound it at all. What I appreciated most about the Bryant was its use of rhythm and speech pattern in musical form.
The Aeolus Quartet possesses the rare combination of passion and discipline. I know they practice 8 hours a day, 6 days a week together. And their discipline shows. Each member is so familiar with not only their own part, not only each other's parts, but even how every note works in the whole of the piece - the purpose and direction of each phrase. They live inside this music. But it is that living that sets them apart. They really LIVE in the music. It has not lost meaning or just become rote, each player is present in each moment. They are communicating across the ensemble, they are communicating with the audience, they are communicating with themselves. Nick Tavani is a brilliant soloist, whose moments in the Mendelssohn elicited a literal mid-performance exclamation from his teacher, legendary William Preucil, of "That's my boy!" Rachel Shapiro's ensemble playing was on fire, supporting each line as necessary and then finally getting her own real moment to shine during their encore piece. Greg Luce's sweet sweet viola sound is so good for the soul - it really makes me feel bad for perpetrating so many viola jokes. And my superstar of the night cellist Alan Richardson was absolutely solid and his interpretation gorgeous. It is so inspiring to be in close proximity to these fantastic players. But even beyond what they bring to the stage, each one is so personable off stage as well. They can talk your ear off about what they just played, but they can also tell you about other bands, other composers, video games or food.
I'm not kidding you - watch out for these kids ... and just plain watch them. If you can make it to any of their performances, even if it requires a little bit of a drive for you, do it. It is completely worth your while; especially if you stay and chat with them afterward.
They are living proof that truly great sound is no respecter of time - you are never too young and it is never too old.
This video is from their website. Enjoy!