Thursday, October 23, 2014

Jerusalem Quartet: "Passion, precision, warmth, a gold blend"

This Sunday (October 26) at 3 PM, the world-renowned Jerusalem Quartet makes its Spivey Hall debut.  It's The Times of London that in February 2011 proclaimed, "Passion, precision, warmth, a gold blend: these are the trademarks of this excellent Israeli string quartet."  All of which augurs well for those fortunate to hear their program of Beethoven's early A-major Quartet, Op. 18 No. 5, Bartok's Second Quartet, and Ravel's F-major Quartet.  These three works will amply showcase the Quartet's mastery of style, and on paper, it strikes me as a very energetic and engaging program, one I'm eager to experience.  (I have a special fondness for the Ravel Quartet, which with the Debussy Quartet and Schubert's String Quintet were the first pieces to ignite my love of chamber music as a teenager.)

To get a preview of what's in store, you can attend a free pre-concert talk by Dr. Kurt-Alexander Zeller in the Music Education Building at 2:00 PM.  His talks are highly informative, and he wins praise from Spivey Hall patrons who invariably say that attending the talk enhances their concert listening experience because they have a better sense of what to listen for.  A highly accomplished music scholar, Dr. Zeller is enthusiastic about the music he discusses, and provides historical background as well as insightful analysis of the program's works, often using excerpts from recordings to illustrate points of interest.

Another way to get a focused sense of Sunday's program is via (what else?) the Internet.  Spivey Hall now has Audio Web notes available for this program (click here to take a look and give a listen). Introduced as a result of the thinking that went into Spivey Hall's multi-year Strategic Plan (more on that in a future post), Audio Web notes are online program notes enriched by short music samples that give your ears the chance to hear what the program note is talking about.

Even die-hard chamber music fans can't always recall the details of favorite works.  Audio Web notes get the musical ideas easily into your ear and head at your convenience.  (For patrons who simply wish to get an early look at the notes published in our program book, without the music samples, those program notes are also available online as well.)

Another great thing about Audio Web notes is that you can click the music example and listen to it as many times as you wish, to let it sink in.  This is very valuable for chamber music, because string quartets are idea-driven.  These main ideas are the essential elements that fuel "what happens" in the piece.   Accordingly, appreciation of these masterworks is often enriched by being able to follow how a composer introduces musical ideas, and then develops and (in most cases) combines them, which typically is what creates the momentum of a movement. 

Job 1 in this instance is to be able to recognize the idea, or theme, that the composer has created, because as the composer manipulates it, the theme is most often broken down in the course of development and/or combination with other themes or bits of themes.  And like all ideas, context matters -- the theme you originally encountered in the piece might have very different meaning when the composer brings it back later in the movement, or in a later movement.  And since most composers use multiple (and often contrasting) ideas simultaneously in a movement, being able to distinguish the ideas gives the listener an even better chance to follow and appreciate the behavior (if you will) of the piece.

Sounds complicated, doesn't it?  It doesn't have to be.  Many people don't care to deconstruct pieces and analyze them, and one can simply sit back and take tremendous pleasure in the aesthetics of each passing moment.  But listening skills can be developed.  If we are seeking to hear something, and the ear discerns it, we can focus and refine our understanding of what we hear.  Doing so can yield even greater rewards, especially in the presence of great music, and particularly when attending live concerts, when our visual sense influences how the brain interprets what we hear.

We're grateful to Tedd & Cookie Mendelsohn for their wonderful generosity as Friends of Spivey Hall Concert Sponsors in helping us to welcome the Jerusalem Quartet to Spivey Hall, whose superb acoustics respond beautifully to a fine string quartet's sound.  Good seats to this concert are still available.  You can purchase tickets online (and select exactly the seat you wish from those available) or call the Box Office at (678) 466-4200 for personalized service, especially with discounts (50% off for educators and students; Clayton State students can attend for just $10, and students enrolled in CSU music appreciation attend for free).  There's plenty of free, convenient parking at Spivey Hall, too.