Local lovers of classical music were treated on Sunday April 12 to a marvelous concert at Peace Church when the Del Sol String Quartet performed a program of works that were so modern the earliest one was from the 1970s and the others all from the 21st century. Two Aptos composers were featured: the late, great Lou Harrison (1917-2003) and current Cabrillo music faculty Josef Sekon (1937). The San Francisco based quartet, founded in 1992 when musicians were very young, features Benjamin Kreith and Rick Shinozaki violins; Charlton Lee viola and Kathryn Bates cello. This ensemble has twice been top winner of the ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, and has performed all over the world, so they were ideal for the music we heard. And they did not disappoint.
The program opened with a brief “Fast Blue Village 2” (2007) by Elena Kats-Chernin (b. 1957, Uzbekistan). The moto perpetuo number, originally to be played by robots, and premiered by Del Sol with the composer at the piano, was not only tricky, but funny and sad at the same time, with quick bowing up and down, as if by automata as in a movie score. Aptos icon and Cabrillo Music Festival hero Harrison’s String Quartet Set (1978-79) is a striking departure from his signature Indonesian work with gamelan and gongs. Instead, we were transported back over a thousand years to Minnesingers in his String Quartet Set “Variations on Walter von der Vogelweide’s Song of Palestine as its first movement. Who would have guessed that Harrison could sound Medieval, with very few notes in its counterpoint, continuing into the “Plaint”, a plainsong moving lament, perfect for a cathedral or church, then Estampie with peasants stomping right out of Breughel’s paintings, Rondeaux a fully harmonic homage to French Baroque and Usul, an unusual Turkish march.
Many in the audience, like this reviewer, are very familiar with Joe Sekon, faculty member at Cabrillo College and master wine maker, whose fascinating piano piece “Dodecafonically” was performed several years ago at the old Cabrillo College Auditorium by Russian pianist Halida Dinova. Now, we have just heard his equally interesting and mysterious Adendo, a 12-plus-minute work in its World Premiere from this premiere ensemble, with alternating strident, tranquil sections, with whimsically plucked and scurrying strings. As the piece ended, quietly, a nearby motorcycle accelerated added an amusing exhaust note, amazingly on pitch! A standing ovation greeted Sekon, who was besieged by audience members during intermission.
“These Memories May Be True” (2012) by Lembit Beecher (1980) was commissioned that year when cellist Bates met him at Tanglewood and the four sections served as a tribute to his Estonian grandmother. Although Beecher grew up in Santa Cruz, this very emotional work is all about childhood stories absorbed years ago and now filtered through four stringed instruments. “Old Folk” is plaintive; “The Legend of the Last Ship” is about trying to make it away before the final Soviet takeover of Estonia, and grandma’s escape on this boat sailing away in the distance. She made it to the USA and her strength blazed forth in “Estonian Grandmother Superhero,” which also has lulls when she’s just a human being resting from her struggles against Hitler and then Stalin. The concluding Variations on the opening old folk song begins quietly, then builds up from plaint (like the Harrison work) into a powerful statement by the joyous Del Sol Quartet, who have this work in their bones.
Calligraffiti (2009, by Huang Ruo 1976, China,) contrasts the venerable traditional and the contemporary profane. Three movements melted into one, opening with a quiet cello, then joined by the other strings into a big drama with fragments bowed back and forth intensely, with lots of dissonance like a hornet’s nest, then moments of unison bowings sounding like the Chinese one-string Urdu. A very electric and interesting piece indeed.
This special concert was added courtesy of the Santa Cruz Chamber Players, and all the music Del Sol’s playing of it were of the highest order and welcome to the ears of our local and large number of classical music fanatics. As for our two local Aptos composers, the late Lou Harrison becomes more important and performed as time goes by. Meanwhile Joe Sekon’s sparse output should increase and be performed, as the little we have heard shines forth from a very bright talent. So, to this composer we say: “Don’t hide your light under a bushel” and “We can hardly wait to hear more.”