Last year some friends from the Arlington Philharmonic and I got together over the summer and played string quartets. We played some Mendelssohn and Haydn and worked on those enough that we could play them at the Farmers' Market. I hadn't thought the group was organized enough to be named, but my friend Marianne, who played 2nd violin, came up with the name "Mystic String Quartet," after the Mystic River and lakes, which are local to the area.
This year, at my Franck recital, the rest of the Mystic String Quartet was in the audience, and the pianist for the Franck was also a violist who has sometimes played with the Arlington Phil but who has now taken on a new role as a viola student a Boston Conservatory. After the Franck was over, they had a new idea: we should play viola quintets.
IMSLP is a great thing. You can look through music and decide if there's something you might like, if it's appropriate to your level, to your audience. We chose Mozart viola quintets No. 4 in G minor (K. 516) and No. 5 in D major (K. 593).
Well, although in theory, you can look through music and make an informed decision, I have to admit that I was busy at work and with travel and kind of abdicated the decision-making responsibility to my more knowledgeable friends. I said "Mozart, great!" And when one of the violists said to the other violist, "I'll take 1st on #4 and you can take 1st on #5," I said the same thing to Marianne, the other violinist.
At the first rehearsal a few interesting things became apparent. One was that #4 sounded quite Mendelssohnian. Maybe because it was in a minor key. The other was that the 1st violin part was pretty challenging. I've been told by violists, and especially cellists, that Mozart can be boring for the lower voices, as the 1st violin gets all the good stuff. This is, theoretically, nice for me, but it also sounded like it was more challenging than the 1st violin part to #5. Well, that's what I get for picking a part sight unseen. And really, it's only fair that I take on the more challenging part since I've been playing longer since my extended break from the violin than Marianne has.
The other thing we decided was, that the Adagio movements were maybe not quite the thing for a Farmers' Market. They are beautiful, but they are quite long and slow and quiet. They don't really lend themselves to vegetable shopping, wind, and kids on bicycles. For that, we need sprightly and active.
By the second rehearsal I had noticed something else. I really needed to be paying attention to viola I. Hmm, this is a quintet, we don't outnumber them anymore. Then we discussed every string player's favorite topic: seating. We rearranged ourselves, violin I and viola I across from each other, violin and viola II across from each other, cello in the center.
|From violinist.com blog|
After being with two these quintets awhile, I start to realize it's not so much Mozart vs. Mendelssohn, but 2 different sides to Mozart. The quintet #5, on which I am playing 2nd violin, is more in the style of what I traditionally think of when I think of Mozart. It is elegant and Viennese. You can imagine long white gloves and high powdered wigs. You can also imagine people buying strawberries, whipped cream and organic, sulfite-free wine.
The quintet #4, although it was written first, is more unruly and, well, mystic. As the 1st violin on that one, I am surprised--pleasantly--to pass the opening theme to viola I and sometimes take a supporting role. This is a viola part that is worthy of our conservatory-trained violist's skills. As a violist, was this the kind of thing that Mozart really wanted to write all the time? Back then, was the viola more equal to the violin in general? Did music have to evolve in the direction of putting the violin more central and the lower voices more supporting, or did it just happen that way?
At the market, the first violin and viola seats become, literally, the hot seats, as the sun shines into our tent. And for a little while, our performance becomes a sextet (string quintet with bicycle) as a kid rides around and around us in circles. Around us, people buy, and do not throw, vegetables. There is some applause between movements, which is fine with us because we need time to adjust our clothespins and turn our pages. At two years in a row this is almost getting to be a tradition.Tweet
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