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To be in Brevard during the Brevard Music Center Festival is to encounter the musicians in venues all around town in addition to the BMC campus: at Brevard College’s Porter Center, in coffeehouses, at local churches, and once a week in recitals at the Transylvania County Library. This chamber music program was to have featured three student string quartets, playing first movements of works by Debussy, Bartok, and Beethoven. Instead, we heard two student quartets and, filling in at the last minute for the third student group, the Center’s professional quartet-in-residence, The Biava Quartet, who rounded out the program with movements from Mendelssohn and Barber.
First on the program was the first movement “Moderato” from Bartok’s String Quartet No. 2. The performers were Ryan Silvestri and Amanda McLaren, violins; Erin Rafferty, viola; and Lavena Johanson, cello. It is customary for students to introduce themselves before playing, indicating hometown, schools attended, and numbers of summers at BMC. Erin Rafferty, a self-professed “faculty kid,” took the prize with this, her fifteenth summer at the camp. This group was exceptionally polished, digging into Bartok’s dissonant score with relish and confidence. There were multiple opportunities to hear each instrument playing in the foreground, as well as in tandem with others, and the players were evenly matched in technical and musical prowess. First violinist Silvestri was particularly outstanding in his leadership of the ensemble.
Next was the second movement “Andante con moto quasi allegretto” from Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 9, Op. 59, No. 3, the last of the three “Razumovsky” quartets so named for its Russian dedicatee. The performers Jia Rong Gan and Kristin Bakkegard, violins; Joelle Arnhold, viola; and Andrew Borkowski, cello were less experienced than the first group and their performance was a little hesitant. More needed to be made of the great arcing lines, dynamics shadings and articulations, and emotional surging in the movement. Nonetheless, the audience accorded them a warm round of applause.
This is the first summer the BMC has had a string quartet in residence. The Biava Quartet (violinists Austin Hartman and Hyunsu Ko; violist Mary Persin, and cellist Jason Calloway) is in the middle of a three-week residency, during which they give four performances as well as coach 32 different student groups. The Quartet was formed in 1998 at the Cleveland Institute of Music and has served as the graduate quartet in residence and teaching assistants to the Juilliard Quartet and previously to the Tokyo Quartet at Yale University. The joy of this program was to hear juxtaposed the budding string players and their professional coaches.
The Biava Quartet performed the first and last movements of Mendelssohn’s somber String Quartet, Op. 80. Sandwiched in between them was Barber’s famous “Adagio” (marked “Molto adagio espressivo cantando") from his only string quartet. Mendelssohn composed six quartets in all — this, the last, was written hurriedly in 1847 after he’d received word of his beloved sister Fanny’s death. One could easily hear the sturm und drang of anguish in each of these fast, frenetic movements, tempered with only brief moments of repose. The Quartet clearly relishes playing this sort of dramatic, electric and technically challenging music, and the piece’s fireworks were delivered at fever pitch. Less successful, I thought, was the Barber, which moved a little too quickly, as though the players were still inwardly bouncing from the Mendelssohn and couldn’t quite put its energy aside.