Last Friday, the Borromeo String Quartet visited the College, delivering a show at the Brooks-Rogers Concert Hall that could only be described as breath taking. The quartet, native to the Boston area and a frequent guest at the New England Conservatory of Music and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, performed at the College a cycle of pieces by the early 20th century composer Béla Bartók, a man whose unique fusion of classical and modern musical sensitivities is extremely nuanced and difficult to present to contemporary audiences.
Fortunately, Bartók’s legacy was in the good hands of the quartet, a group whose infusion of the highly traditional with the highly modern seamlessly fits the pieces they were playing. The artists, for instance, eschewed traditional physical scores for a set of MacBooks – they read all of the music off of their computers, exhibiting a particularly avant-garde sensibility even in areas where most would not consider deviating from the norm. This experimentation in physical performance was mirrored in the musicians’ interpretation of the music itself. The three pieces that the Borromeo played, Bartók ‘s String Quartets No. 2, 4 and 6, showcased not only the quartet’s technical skill in performing a set of rigorous and demanding pieces, but also a unique sensitivity to Bartók’s emotional power. The second performance in particular, String Quartet No. 4, showcased the Borromeo’s mastery of the source-material, their seamless ability to transition from the moments of raw, visceral power to the most subdued, reflective and in some cases most somber sounds ever written. One felt, as one sat in the Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall, as if one could feel everything the composer was thinking when he first put pen to paper.
Luckily the College is not the only place where the quartet has received recognition. The ensemble has performed at some of the most important concert halls around the world, including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Concertgebouw in the Netherlands and the U.S. Library of Congress. The adoption of Bartók to the Borromeo’s repertoire has not gone unnoticed. The performances the group gave at the College were also given at the Orquesta Sinfonica de Xalapa Festival in Mexico, the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts and the Terra di Siena Chamber Music Festival in Tuscany, giving a truly global perspective to the pieces offered last Friday.
The show clocked in at just over 90 minutes and presented a tour-de-force of classical music that rivals any other musical visitor to the College in recent memory. Thankfully, however, the student body need not go without its classical music fix for too long. The Borromeo String Quartet will be returning to Massachusetts in early May. As they continue their performance of the Bartók cycle in Boston, they ensure that many more fans of classical music will leave their performances wanting more.