The Clark Art Institute’s “Performing Artists in Residence” program welcomed five acclaimed classical musicians to perform in concert last Sunday. The invited musicians included violinists Jennifer Frautschi and Tessa Lark, violists Che-Hung Chen and Max Mandel and cellist Edward Arron. Frautschi is a two-time Grammy award nominee and made her recital debut at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Lark is the winner of several national violin competitions and was a featured soloist at the Forbidden City Concert Hall with the Beijing Symphony. Chen is the first Taiwanese citizen to ever have become a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Mandel is a member of many renowned ensembles such as the Metropolitan Museum Artists in Concert – of which Arron has served as the artistic director for 10 years – and is currently a member of the NYU faculty.
Their first piece was composed by Arvo Pärt in 1990 and titled Summa. This piece was written for a violin, two violas and a cello and played by Lark, Mandel, Chen and Arron. The tempo for the piece was slow and the music had a solemn tone throughout, evoking a sense of solitude and even sadness. Slow, pulsing harmonies drove the piece along, and there wasn’t a single moment of empty space; at least one instrument was playing at all times. This gave the piece a smooth quality. It ended with a steadily gradual decrescendo. Overall, this piece was the most emotionally resonant of the four that were played and left the audience members with palpable chills. Most striking was the absolute silence in the auditorium after the piece was completed, as the entire audience waited until the players had set their instruments down to clap.
The second piece was the celebrated Mozart String Quintet in C Major. This piece came in four movements: “Allegro,” “Menuetto: Allegretto,” “Andante” and “Allegro.” This piece was radically in contrast with the first in every way – the sound was louder, more chaotic and syncopated, and the players’ movements were more lively and intense. It seemed at times as if one of them might have leapt out of their seat in the midst of playing. In the first movement, the first violin (Lark) and viola (Chen) almost seemed to be in dialogue with each other, as one would play directly following the other. In this way, the instruments seemed to have voices of their own, and they made the piece come alive. The second movement was played at a moderate pace (the meaning of “andante”) and it gradually increased back to allegretto for the final movement.
Following a short intermission, Giya Kancheli’s Rag-Gidon-Time, composed in 1999, was played. It was sparse and minimal, at first barely producing any sound at all, with the players plucking at the strings in a syncopated fashion. It was clear that this piece had a satirical edge to it, as the sparseness was punctuated by loud bursts of dissonant sound so sudden at random intervals that it made most of the audience jump out of its seats every time. Despite its slow pace, the piece had an almost jazzy feel to it and was the most unique out of the four played. It was concluded with both applause and laughter by the audience.
The fourth and final piece, a String Quintet in G Major, Opus 111, was the last ever composed by Johannes Brahms in 1890 and was inspired by Mozart. It was the longest piece played, with a length of nearly 30 minutes. Besides the actual playing of the instruments, one of the distinctive features of this piece was the way you could hear the sharp inward breaths of the players at certain parts in the piece, as they usually took the time to breathe in unison when there were brief pauses between notes.