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November 14, Chapel Hill Public Library. Granted the meeting room at the Chapel Hill Public Library only seats about 100 people but even so, we seldom see audiences standing and sitting in the aisles for a classical concert –not to mention one by amateur musicians. The Eno River String Quartet, made up of ophthalmologist and first violinist Jennifer Weizer, attorney and second violinist Kim Hagan, general surgeon and violist Kathryn Baerman and psychiatrist and cellist Clark Wang, harks back to the founding tradition of chamber music: music to be played in the home –or the palace –by professional or talented amateur musicians.
The Quartet met at the Chapel Hill Chamber Music Workshop, an annual June event when amateur musicians from all over the world come to make music and receive coaching by internationally renowned professionals. All four musicians represent an under-appreciated subculture –of which one of your reviewers is a member –people who have received professional training in music but who have gone on to “day jobs”in other professions. They make up a significant talent pool without which the various orchestras, choruses, bands and pit ensembles of the Triangle couldn’t exist. What is special about the Eno River Quartet is that they have kept up their skills in this most difficult of musical ensembles, while simultaneously pursuing challenging, time-consuming careers, to the level that it is worth going to hear them play in public
Unsure exactly what we were getting into, we arrived not entirely happy with the program, which consisted of only one complete work, the Divertimento in F major, K.138 by Mozart. The remainder comprised the first movement of the Schubert G major Quartet, D. 887, the Nocturne from the Borodin Quartet No. 2 in D major and the Schubert Quartettsatz, D.703 (from an incomplete string quartet). However, once we understood the makeup of the group and heard them play, we were filled with admiration for these four musicians who had taken the time to work up entirely creditable performances and wanted to show off their best work.
Because the performance was, in fact, creditable, it would be condescending to leave them without a proper critique. Overall the Eno River Quartet has excellent intonation and musical sensitivity. They were not, however, aided and abetted by the location of the concert. The meeting room of the Chapel Hill Library is not designed as a performance venue. With its low ceiling and utterly dead acoustics it was impossible to hear any resonance at all from the upper strings. Wang’s cello fared somewhat better but only by comparison. Although balance is everything for a quartet, Weizer still seemed to be holding back too much, especially in the Schubert G major, where the tremolos in the other strings were overpowering. But while we’re on the subject of the Schubert G major, that first movement is one of the longest and most emotionally wrenching movements in the repertory. The Eno River is to be congratulated for tackling it and making it work.
Maybe we’ve found the solution to the tort reform issue. Get groups of doctors and lawyers playing chamber music together (or bluegrass, or punk rock…)