August 10, 2009 at 11:02 AM
I like that word, "soiree." It may or may not really be appropriate for a group of amateur friends getting together to sight-read (at least in my case) string quartets, but what the heck. Last week, one of my friends and occasional stand partner from the violin section of the Arlington Phil invited some of us over to play quartets and to accompany her husband (a cellist) and his teacher on the Vivaldi double cello concerto.
The afternoon was cloudy and humid, one of those pre-thunderstorm pauses that last anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours. And they have a screened-in porch in the back of their house, where we played, looking out on a beautiful flower garden. The Largo from the cello concerto is unaccompanied by orchestra, just the two cellos, first trading back and forth and echoing each other, then together. I imagined leaning out a window of one of the other houses in the neighborhood and hearing this music, it was like something from angels. I love Vivaldi, he is one of my favorite composers, 7th-grade hacking through the A-minor violin concerto and all. Then we took a break for a little sangria. The music sounded even better afterwards . . . ;-)
Yesterday it was a different group, also Arlington Phil players, sight-reading Haydn string quartets. Another violinist (whom I have also sat with, my first year with the orchestra I must have sat with every member of the first violin section at one point or another) organized the group. Surprisingly, to me anyway, in both of these groups plus another that I played in for the orchestra's 75th anniversary celebration, I have been in demand more as a violinist than violist. We have several really good violists around, and you only need one of them in a quartet. The same with cellists. But It seems to be harder to find two violinists available at the same time for some reason. This group had played together a couple of times while I was on vacation, as a trio (violin, viola, cello). They said once or twice that it was great to have a whole quartet together.
We started out with some early Haydn quartets, and, sight-reading, I played 2nd most of the time. Then, the cellist had brought some copies of Op. 17, which is a little more challenging. At least the last 2 movements have lovely melodies in the 1st violin part. We played through one of them, uncertainly, and I commented how beautiful the melody was. The 1st violinist asked "do you want it?" I said "sure, okay, I'll try it." To my surprise, it sounded pretty nice. The new violin again, the sound that comes out of it is still delightful to me--surprising in a good way. I didn't even cringe very often when I heard myself (well, it also helped that I played a high F and G or two an octave down). The room acoustics were pretty good too: we were playing in the function room of a senior center, a former and refurbished high school with high ceilings and hardwood floors.
Could we perform this piece? Maybe--we started talking about where/how we could set up. It has been great to get to know all these local musicians. It is a whole new world I never had a clue about before. What's especially nice about it, to me, is that nobody from this orchestra has an attitude. We know we're all kind of at the same level; few of us have careers in music although some, like our quartet cellist, teach in public schools. We're just doing the best we can and having fun. And sometimes, that best is actually pretty wonderful.
What a bonne soirée. Very cool; you're lucky to have found this kind of thing and people.
Chamber music as informal pastime could definitely stand to make a comeback.
It’s wonderful that you like Haydn. I’m currently also working with a group on the 1st movement of Haydn string quartet in D minor Op 76 #2 (“Quinten”) for a chamber retreat in September. I love to play the first violin in Haydn because they are more like mini-concertos. I can work on some technique and play with others to improve chamber skills. I like Op 17 and find all the adagios are must absolutely gorgeous. I hope you'll get to perform some of them. It'll be so rewarding I'm sure.
Incidentally, I noticed a lot of amateur chamber groups like to play romantic period stuff more so than Haydn or even Mozart, but I think if we can play Haydn or early Mozart really well, we are a darn good group.
Someone told me that Haydn invented the string quartet as a form. And we played Haydn quartet #1, so that must have been the first ever string quartet.
I've also been thinking that I'd like to transcribe that Largo from the Vivaldi cello concerto, for two violas. Or maybe I should just stop fighting it and take up the cello.
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