By Bob Workmon
Copyright © 2012 StarNewsOnline.com
Reprinted with permission
If the thought of attending a brief history of the history of the string quartet whips trepidation into an intellectual dust storm, then perhaps a fresh attack led by an attractive group of young musicians can nudge open the door to this music for you.
Kontras Quartet is the group and a brief history of great quartet music is exactly what’s planned for its first concert with Chamber Music Wilmington on Sunday at Church of the Servant in Wilmington.
Kontras comes to town, in a sense, on the shoulders of Ludwig van Beethoven and Maurice Ravel, carrying the banner of Romanticism in music by Franz Schubert as well as the late 20th-century’s fusion of musical genres in a work by Astor Piazzolla. Together, it exemplifies the meaning of the quartet’s name, from the Afrikaans word for “contrasts.” The group’s spokesperson is South African-born Francois Henkins.
“We tend to pick programs that contrast musical styles and periods,” Henkins said during a phone interview. “This program has four standards – well, three standards and a work that is becoming a standard – a kind of brief history of the quartet.”
Henkins will be joined by violinist Dmitri Pogorelov, violist Ai Ishida and cellist Jean Hatmaker.
Henkins said that Kontras will open its performance with the last of Beethoven’s early quartets, the Opus 18 No. 6 in B-flat major. In this music Beethoven was on the cusp of breaking away from the Classical influence of another great composer of string quartets, Joseph Haydn.
Franz Schubert was an accidental iconoclast, whose single-movement “Quartettsatz” in C minor may have started out as part of a scheme for a large scale work, Henkins said. But it was left to stand on its own by the Romantic-trending young composer.
“Schubert had developed more of his own style than Beethoven at about the same age,” Henkins said. “It is a lyrical piece, showing off Schubert’s gifts as a writer of melody set in a beautiful landscape of harmony.”
Having established a Romantic mood before intermission, Henkins said it will be time for a little Impressionism: “Music by composers such as Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel matched the art of the period so well that the comparison was inescapable even if unwelcome.”
Becoming a modern classic isn’t easy, but “Four, for Tango,” composed in 1989 for the acclaimed Kronos Quartet by Argentinian Astor Piazzolla, has found an audience beyond its debut. Piazzolla’s sinewy melodies and acrid harmonies are wedded to the rigor of counterpoint inspired by Bach and the freedom of jazz in a singular style called “Nuevo Tango.”
The Kontras Quartet will play an open dress rehearsal prior to Sunday evening’s performance. “If you want to know why a particular piece of music was selected or why it’s played a certain way, this will be a great opportunity to ask those questions,” said CMW artistic director Barbara McKenzie.
What a great way to get know music that, for many of us, looms as a distant object.
What: Chamber Music Wilmington presents Kontras Quartet, with music by Beethoven, Schubert, Ravel and Piazolla.
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 15. Open dress rehearsal at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Church of the Servant Episcopal Church, 4925 Oriole Drive (near UNCW campus)
Tickets: $25, $12 for students
Details: 962-3500 or http://www.ChamberMusicWilmington.org