Early in the afternoon on Sunday, Oct. 5, students, professors, musicians, and Middletown residents gathered to hear the warm acoustics of Russell House to hear members of the West End String Quartet—comprised of Jessica Meyer and Sarah Washburn on violin, John Biatowas on viola, and Anne Berry on cello—perform classical and modern chamber music works. The West End String Quartet members, playing together since 2005, are not only strong advocates of classical, modern, and contemporary music, but they also direct and coach the chamber music program at Wesleyan. Individually, members also teach at the Hartt School Community Division, Bay Path College, Three Rivers Community College, Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, The David Einfeldt Chamber Music Seminar at Hartt, and Strings by the Sea in San Diego.
Bringing us back to the days of Mozart, the concert began with the short (by classical standards) and sweet: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “String Quartet No. 21 in D Major, K. 575,” which immediately captured the audience’s attention. Members of the audience sat onstage surrounding the musicians, which pleasantly gave this event a traditional, intimate feel.
Mozart’s recurring melodies, repeated in different dynamics, tones, and keys, moved audience members to feel as if they were involved in the ongoing conversation happening between the musicians of the quartet. These cantabile, carefree moments captured the blithe and lighthearted persona of Mozart’s music, and the individual technique of each musician allowed them to play cohesively with agile clarity.
Sometime during the first movement, Allegretto, I could not remember where I had recently heard some of those melodies. As a violinist, I naturally began to think about other classical music works and compositions where I might have come across them. When I got home, however, I realized they were actually used in the middle section of the song “Mozart’s House” by UK indie-electronic band Clean Bandit.
Midway through the second movement, I noticed my neighbor’s eyes begin to shut. Rather than being a negative observation, it felt to me to be an indication of the pleasant, lulling quality of the slow Andante section. In the dancing third movement, Menuetto: Allegretto, however, the room’s atmosphere instantly became jubilant and festive. Eyes opened, heads nodded, and I wanted to jump out of my seat and join in with my own violin. The musicians breathed in sync and slightly tapped their feet as they played.
Right before intermission, the group performed Erberk Eryilmaz’s “Miniatures Set No. 4 for String Quartet.” I’d never heard of either the composer or the composition before this concert. This contemporary work was quite interesting, providing a deep insight into the composer’s Turkish background, juxtaposing traditional melodic belly-dancing themes with more contemporary techniques. Each of the five movements was quite short, keeping the audience on its toes as different quartet members began to sporadically yell and randomly tap their instruments and their bows. It understandably shocked the audience at first, but they began to acquiesce and enjoy the piece as it progressed.
We eventually arrived at my favorite portion of the performance: Dmitri Shostakovich’s “String Quartet No. 3 in F Major.” Historically, this string quartet is well known as the one composed by Shostakovich after his “Symphony No. 9,” which was censored by Stalin’s Soviet authorities; as a result, each movement delicately revealed the angst and the pain that Shostakovich felt.
Even if you missed this performance, Russell House hosts a series of concerts throughout the year. They are all great opportunities to experience firsthand a variety of music, played by only the best of the best.