One of the most anticipated arts events of the year in Greensboro, the 17 Days Festival, Classical Music Across Cultures, offers bounteous choices from quality cultural entertainment. The concert given by the Harlem String Quartet was no exception. Made up of four young, very gifted musicians, the group presented an intriguing collection of works by Turina, Chick Corea, and Schubert.
Spanish composer Joaquin Turina isn't exactly what you would call a household name in the concert repertoire. However, the work the quartet chose to open their concert showed that he very well should be. "La Oración del Torero" is a work infused with Latin rhythm and harmony, much like that of Turina's more famous contemporaries Manuel de Falla and Enrique Granados. The blending and balance between the four players was exquisite, making it plainly clear they were very attuned to each other. Starting off rather quietly, the piece grew into a toe-tapping flamenco-esque dance, making for a very satisfying musical experience, and setting the level of energy for the evening at a very high bar. Overall, a very interesting choice for an opening, and its reception was warm.
Next up on the program was Chick Corea's The Adventures of Hippocrates. It shared the same warm energy of the Turina, but this time in a very American idiom. Chick Corea is famous throughout the world for his jazz, and it was interesting to hear this medium applied to such a hallowed form as the string quartet. This also being a rather unfamiliar work, the expectation was riding high. This piece, interesting as it was in originality, was not as enthusiastically received. An air of sameness prevailed through the piece, and the audience response was tepid.
After intermission, the sole work played was Franz Schubert's String Quartet No. 14, “Death and The Maiden.” This is one of the staples of the chamber repertoire, and it was up to the quartet to find something new to say in this old warhorse of a work. I am happy to say that they succeeded wildly. Throughout the composition, they found something new to say in every bar, turning a new phrase inside out to find Schubert's tragic meaning. One movement in particular that deserved the fullest praise was the second movement – full of darkly colored passion, a cry in the night for release from the demons that torture the soul. The last movement flew along with incredible execution, building the tension ever further until the last, tragic note rang forth. Immediately following its conclusion, the audience rose to their feet for a warm ovation. Quality chamber music is easy to find, but truly exceptional performances are rare. This was one of them.