24 Mar

This day held a wonderful musical surprise for me! At work, my friend Bill invited me to join him at a free concert and the nearby Hochstein music school. We live in the country – out of town – and sadly have not enjoyed much of the rich live music opportunities of Rochester. Hochstein hosts a series of free lunchtime concerts that are broadcast live on the local classical radio station. Though the school is in the center of the city, surrounded by offices and very accessible, the audience for today’s concert was rather small and seemed to be mostly seniors. The 12:10 to 12:50 concert schedule is designed to fit comfortably in a lunch hour – why didn’t many people take advantage of it? They don’t know what they’re missing.

tango.jpg Of course, I didn’t know what I was missing. Even now that I am learning cello, I didn’t think to see what live music was available all around me. Thanks to Bill, another thread of the adventure began today with a completely stunning performance by the innovative string quintet Quartsemble.

Their website explains that “Founded in 2002 by Karine Stone and Diego Garcia, Quartsemble is an innovative chamber music ensemble based in Rochester, New York and dedicated to performing classical masterpieces side by side with Latin music and more contemporary repertoire” and that’s exactly what they did today. They packed an amazing variety of music into that 40 minute concert. All from composers I’d never heard of. But the best part was the chance to sit in the second row – right up close – and watch and feel the energy and joy they brought to the music. Now that I’m trying to play a string instrument myself, I found it fascinating to study these brilliant musician’s moves on their instruments. And probably more important, they obviously had a great time doing it.

Quartsemble has two violins, a viola, cello and bass. I was fascinated by all of them – not just fixated on the cellist. The violins wrought dazzling things up high on their E strings. The bassist was amazing – I’d always pictured a string bassist plucking away in the background – but this woman was all over the fingerboard, bowing and plucking all kinds of cool sounds. I especially noticed the singing viola, an instrument I’ve not thought much about at all. It’s range overlaps the top of the cello’s and now I’m pondering the roles of the two instruments. Today’s viola passages were sweet and mellow – the very sound I most love from the cello.

I was smitten. I was inspired. I wanted to go home and grab my cello and try some of what I’d seen and heard. It wasn’t the pieces that echoed in my head all afternoon – it was just phrases of music – little passages that pulled you this way and that emotionally. I saw how much passion could flow through the strings. I heard how the freedom to bend and slide and vibrate those little notes could work together to create a river of music that sweeps you away. I’m gushing right now, I suppose, but nothing in the last four months has motivated me to work on the cello like this concert. I have a feeling that’s what live music does. I plan to find out.

I ordered Quartsemble’s CD, titled Tango. I guess I knew a tango was some kind of dance. I’m not sure I knew it was Latin, nor that the dance had inspired a whole genre of music which now soars far beyond the dance. Wikipedia taught me that the piece I heard today by Ástor Piazzolla is tango nuevo. Whatever it’s called, it is pure emotion and energy, but not painfully so, like acid rock is to my ears. This music swoops and swirls with beauty and life. Uh oh… I’m gushing again…

(Update – June 24, 2010)  Quartsemble has changed their name to Gibbs & Main)

  1. Tsen Chow

    January 9, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    Love your posts.
    Just a couple of tidbits:
    1. JS Bach liked the tonal range of the viola so much that he often times played the viola while making informal music with family and friends.
    2. Yo Yo Ma has a CD titled “Tango” on Piazzolla’s music.