At the Euclid String Quartet Dame Myra Hess concert performance we listened in on a vivid and engaging musical conversation by four musicians who clearly love the repertoire they brought to us.
The richness of the concert experience began with the decision made by the quartet to juxtapose two starkly contrasting works during the strict 45-minute WFMT simulcast. First up was Tan Dun’s “Selections from ‘Eight Colors’ for String Quartet”, which was followed by Antonin Dvoŕák’s “String Quartet No. 12 in F Major”. Dun’s piece was all about hearing newer sounds from the string instruments, at times like percussion. Dvoŕák’s piece, which you can hear Euclid String Quartet performing its final movement below, is all about melody.
Violinist Jameson Cooper comments, “These are two works written by non-Americans in America. Chinese composer Tan Dun moved here in the 1980’s and Dvořák wrote his ‘American’ quartet during the time he lived with a Czech community in Iowa. These are pieces that we have played elsewhere and we love them and how they showcase what makes the Euclid sound the way it does. These two pieces are not usually heard together and we thought it would be interesting given the time constraints in this concert to put them together.”
Perhaps the foreign transplant to America commonality of these pieces especially stands out to the Euclid String Quartet because they come from four different continents: Violinist Jameson Cooper from Great Britain; Violinist Jacob Murphy from the United States; Violist Luis Enrique Vargas from Venezuela; and cellist Si-Yan Darren Li from China.
While both composers were making their works in a new-to-them America, Dun’s piece reaches back to his origins, giving us the familiar chords of Chinese opera at times. Dvořák on the other hand seems to be about reflecting back the America he is absorbing. He doesn’t incorporate a familiar barn raising square dance tune but at times you feel like he has conjured one, a more beautiful one than you’ve heard before.
It is especially the second movement of the Dvořák’s “American” Quartet that moves the quartet. Violinist Jacob Murphy says, “Especially in the second movement, the lyrical expansiveness of Dvořák’s writing come with such gorgeous melodies is giving Jameson and Si-Yan a chance to shine and show their craft.”
Violist Luis Enrique Vargas adds, “I especially like this second movement and how it reminds me of the Italian barcarola…The steady rhythm of the viola is like a gandolier paddling in the water as he is singing a folk song. It combines sadness and very lyrical emotional material.”
Here is the Euclid String Quartet performing this second movement--
This is the quartet’s second performance in the Dame Myra Hess concert series and hopefully not the last. They report that their newest project is trying to know the Schoenberg quartets and that they are also working through the late Haydn quartets. Their hope is to experiment with a new concert format where they play standard repertoire in the first half and then a series of short pieces akin to encores in the second half. Their programs will likely include music from the late 19th and early 20th Century repertoire, which violinist Jacob Murphy explains, “ is where we as a group are most at home. The tonal language is the richest and there is a strong emotional expansiveness to the music of that period.”
There were several moments in today’s concert when cellist Li broke his intense concentration to flash a smile at violinist Jameson. Perhaps this was because some new emphasis had emerged in the concert hall that was more apparent to the group than to the audience. Jameson commenting on the “live” nature of their performances says, “As four string instruments we have so many variables in sound and intonation and you are always kept on your toes. Any departure from the norm by one person in the group has a ripple down effect. (Playing in a quartet) is an intense listening experience. We always have to adapt and make it work with what is going on at the time. I enjoy the excitement. You can have a plan but you never know how it is going to go. This challenge makes its very artistically rewarding. You always have to be very alive..It’s great that we are able to have that freedom if you feel like taking more time. It’s inspiration that hits you at the moment—both liberating and a stranglehold at the same time.”
You can hear other performers strive to bring the original intent of composers to life every Wednesday at 12:15 PM either on WFMT or in the Chicago Cultural Center. If you can break away from a Loop job or find your way downtown during this concert time it’s definitely worth making the trip.
For a schedule of upcoming concerts see the Dame Myra Hess pages of the International Music Foundation website.
Dame Myra Hess concerts are held every Wednesday except major holidays, 12:15 PM.
Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St., Chicago, IL 60602
Photos courtesy of Euclid String Quartet unless otherwise indicated.