New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) gave chamber music lovers something wonderful for the 2018 Winter Festival-January 23 and 25 midweek engagements with the NJSO Chamber Players, Eric Wyrick and Brennan Sweet on violin, and David Blinn on viola and Na-Young Baek on cello. The January 23 concert regaled shore fans at St. George’s-by-the-River Episcopal Church in Rumson and I enjoyed the January 25 engagement at Calvary Episcopal Church in Summit. And if you have never experienced chamber music performed in neo-Gothic splendor, you are truly missing a peak experience!
Wyrick gave us a brief overview of the works we would hear, letting us know that the first act was about composers giving of themselves to their new land. The second act would be about a composer taking souvenirs of musical inspiration back to his homeland. First, we had Tan Dun’s “Eight Colors” for String Quartet–a lush and beautiful piece that, if you just heard it, you may not know that it is exclusively for string quartet! Tan Dun has brought all of the sounds of his native China to us in a travelogue of color–favorites of mine include the opening “Peking Opera” with its colors of fanciful chaos, “Zen” with its ribbon of sinuous sound, a drunken walk of a river among the saw teeth of the rocks embedded within, the evocative and textured “Drum and Gong,” and the energy of “Red Sona.” Modern brilliance! Brennan Sweet then gave us an overview of Béla Bartók’s String Quartet Number Two, highlighting the composer’s work with his friend Zoltán Kodály in cataloguing the music of the rural areas of the Hungarian countryside. This Bartók string quartet’s movements were characterized by Kodály as “Pleasant Life,” “Joy,” and “Suffering,” and are perfect for our current existential situation. The string quartet thrums with blue notes playing peek-a-boo in the Moderato with a phrase that seemed to foreshadow Rodgers and Hammerstein’s“Bali Hai,” with its exotic nature. The Allegro molto capriccioso had joy with a tinge of darkness, or like Freed and Brown’s “Singing in the Rain,” if Gene Kelly were Hungarian. The Lento contains a beautifully played dynamic among the quartet that was elastic sound speaking of the closeness of affect of this amazing group. The moment was transformation made corporeal, and utterly beautiful.
The entire second act was Antonín Dvorák’s String Quartet Number 12 in F Major, “American”, Opus 96 and it was pure magic. The Allegro ma non troppo was a Mark Twain setting, in music, bucolic and lush, organically evoking green joy in Nature. The Lento sounded like a homesick soul recognizing the beauty by which it is surrounded, yet longing for home. Molto vivace felt like a hoe-down, with everyone in their Sunday best and the sense of possibility for connection with someone special a very tangible prospect. The Finale: vivace ma non troppo felt like sunlight, connection and the return home of the soul’s beloved.
This textured and beautiful work in the hands of such a talented quartet made braving the cold and dark a very rewarding experience. Being THIS close to such talented musicians felt like attending a house concert, which perhaps we were–the house of someone who encourages people to make joyful noises there. I hope NJSO schedules more of these for next year’s Winter Festival.
What is next? Join me for the final week of Winter Festival, America, Inspiring–hurry now for the remaining seats at www.njsymphony.org