We were an appreciative audience. I was concerned the damp, drippy weather might keep some from attending, but many still ventured out to enjoy an evening of excellent music performed by outstanding musicians. So, on Saturday, March 7, 2020 Sunset Center opened its doors and we settled into our seats to hear the Escher String Quartet. I recommend that you find a chance to see and hear them play in the future. The Escher String Quartet members are currently Adam Barnett-Hart, violin, Brendan Speltz, violin, Pierre Lapointe, viola, and Brook Speltz, cello. Each of these musicians performs as soloist, as chamber musicians, and teaches or mentors aspiring string players. We were introduced to a few of the young people they worked with earlier in the day. I found myself smiling in approval that Chamber Music will have such a bright future.
The program for the evening was three String Quartets. Each quite different, each crafted using the typical four- movement structure, and each being a wonderful adventure in chamber music. We started off with String Quartet Op. 77, No. 1 by Franz Joseph Haydn. As Kai Christiansen explained in his pre-concert lecture, this work is a truly representative work of Haydn at his best. In a few short remarks between pieces, Brook Speltz mentioned how each of the musicians on stage truly loved this masterpiece, and I likewise truly enjoyed listening to them perform this work. They may have been playing four separate instruments, but they shared the melodic motifs as though they were breathing in unison. I appreciated hearing Speltz’s comments and understood much more as I watched and heard the music unfold.
The comments by Christiansen and Speltz helped me to see the next work in a much clearer way. This was my first opportunity to hear the String Quartet No. 2 by George Enescu. I was excited to hear how the four musicians made this work come alive. I recognized more of the late Romantic aesthetic than the avant-garde tradition. As such, it was easier for me to listen to than many works from this era. I particularly appreciated how each member of the Quartet captured my attention playing a wonderful theme or melody, and then supported another instrument so their part could shine. I look forward to hearing more from this composer.
After a brief intermission, we experienced String Quartet, Op. 61 by Antonin Dvorak. One can hear music on a broadcast, or from a recording, but to really experience music, one must be in the same location as the musician. This work is a great example of Romantic Chamber music. The harmonies are full with expressive melodies and thick, rich sounds. Each musician knows that at one moment, they may be playing a lively pizzicato passage to support another musician playing a soaring melody. The next moment, the roles may be swapped with a duet thrown in for good measure. The four musicians I heard in this concert effortlessly filled the hall with this exquisite music. They played boldly, ethereally, and passionately.
Chamber Music Monterey Bay has worked long and hard to bring us ensembles of the highest quality, and Sunset Center provides a comfortable venue that enhances our listening enjoyment. Music is how we answer all that life can give and more. I may never play in a string quartet, but I’ll be the one in a seat halfway back trying to keep my hands in my lap until it is time to applaud. I will be looking forward to another opportunity to hear another concert by the Escher String Quartet.