WOW, Brentano...

February 9, 2019, 12:41 AM · I've been to a fair number of underwhelming concerts in recent years. Tonight we went to hear the Brentano Quartet perform a concert organized around the theme of Lamentations–and I remembered how truly excellent the best string quartets can be. The first half consisted of a bunch of individual movements spanning the gamut–from madrigals to Haydn to Elliott Carter. The second half was Bartok 2. Both halves were absolutely breathtaking.

https://live.stanford.edu/calendar/february-2019/brentano-string-quartet

Things I noticed while listening/watching: such economy of motion producing such an intense, bejeweled sound! The violinists' bow arms were in perfect sync (not just the bowing, but the degree to which they were using pinkie pressure, length of bow, etc.) The quartet really looked and sounded like one seamless organism. Physically they looked amazingly relaxed. Their stands were really low and they seemed to lean forward into the music, almost diving in. I'm sure they were making eye contact but it wasn't always super obvious. Still, one organism.

I studied with them (chamber music with the quartet; lessons with Serena, the second violinist) for a bit in college and it was fun to go backstage afterwards and reconnect...but I was still feeling so gobsmacked by the purity of the whole performance that it was hard not to just sound like an idiot.

Anyway, they're performing this concert again later this spring in St. Paul, and Bartok in a number of places. They were our idols back in the 90s and 25 years later, still incredible. Go see them if you can.

https://www.brentanoquartet.com/concerts/

Replies (1)

February 9, 2019, 12:09 PM · We heard the Brentano Quartet locally around a year ago, and I recall them being somewhat dominated by the vocalist, Dawn Upshaw, as I suppose it often happens when you add a voice to the music. https://www.ludwig-van.com/toronto/2018/01/12/scrutiny-brentano-upshaw-sound-great-in-modern-oldies/ I see that they're playing with her again in some concerts this year.

'Eclectic' is how I'd otherwise describe their performance - to the extent that it'd be hard for me to form a coherent opinion about the experience, even if I was able to recall that clearly after so long.

It's good to hear that you enjoyed it so much, but I wouldn't say that other quartet concerts I've been to recently have been underwhelming in contrast - to the contrary, in my experience there's a lot of music, and new music, being made and played well these days, and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to hear them, and to have groups like the Brentano bringing us eclectic mixes of them to experience.


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