Let me now praise four wonderful young musicians…

May 12, 2010 at 10:26 pm (Local interest (Baltimore-Washington), Music)

…Even though they play music that for the most part, I find incomprehensible!

I am referring to Charlton Lee, Kate Stenberg, Rick Shinozaki, and Hannah Addario-Berry, of the Del Sol String Quartet:

I attended a concert by this fine ensemble last month. Here is what was on the program:

String Quartet Set by Lou Harrison

String Quartet No.3 by Bela Bartok

Song of the Ch’in by Zhou Long

Leyendas – An Andean Walkabout by Gabriela Lena Frank

Of course, I knew Bartok. I had vaguely heard of Lou Harrison. The other two composers were completely unknown to me.

What was so very special about this concert was the way in which the members of Del Sol sought to make the music accessible to the audience. Before performing each of the works on the program, one of the four players took pains to tell us about the composer and the piece. Their explanations and elucidations were articulate and eloquent. That they are passionately committed to this music, there could be no doubt. They also share a veneration of Bela Bartok as a founding father of modernity in music. For myself, I’ve always had trouble warming to the music of this composer. Much is made of his work as a musical ethnographer, carting clunky recording devices into the hinterland in order to capture the folk tunes of his fellow Hungarians. Trouble is, I rarely hear any echo of that music in his own compositions. So unlike, say, Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose gorgeous, mystical creations are so redolent of the rich folk heritage of England.

Ron describes the Bartok string quartets as “thorny” — this, from a person who greatly esteems this composer. There is one work by Bartok that I do love: the Roumanian Dances, played here by Janine Jansen (and what a delightful outdoor venue, in Amsterdam!):

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The musicians of Del Sol, highly skilled and professional in the best sense of the word, succeeded in establishing a warm rapport with the audience. I wanted to hug each of them!

I also wanted very much to like the music. Alas, despite their heroic efforts and great personal appeal…well, for the most part, I just didn’t. And yet, all the same, I enjoyed the concert.

Del Sol appeared as part of a long running series of chamber music performances here in Columbia. The series is called Candlelight Concerts. I don’t attend regularly, but the house was pretty well packed for this event. Residents of this region of central Maryland genuinely admire and support high culture; this is one of the reasons it’s a pleasure to live among them.

As for the Del Sols, their commitment to contemporary music is thoroughly admirable. They’re out there on the cutting edge, willing to try just about anything – as this performance of “StringWreck” amply demonstrates:

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