By Serena Wong
This past Sunday at Bing, the St. Lawrence String Quartet (SLSQ) filled a sunny afternoon with dualities of style and celebration, mixing classical and contemporary into a joyous affair. Violinists Geoff Nuttall and Mark Fewer, violist Lesley Robertson and cellist Christopher Costanza performed to celebrate both SLSQ’s 25th anniversary season as well as the 50th wedding anniversary of Joan and Allan Fisch — the Fisches commissioned Stanford composer Jaroslaw Kapuscinski to craft a work specially for the occasion, and Kapuscinski delivered with the contemporary original “Alikeness.” The program also featured Erwin Schulhoff’s “Five Pieces for String Quartet” and Franz Joseph Haydn’s String Quartets in E-Flat Major, Op. 1 No. 0 and Op. 33 No. 2.
The SLSQ opened the concert with Haydn’s No. 0 string quartet, creating a stately and sophisticated atmosphere for the audience. The group engaged with their music from the start, with smooth body movements and seamless entrances; rather than contrasting different layers of voice, the instruments blended perfectly to make the sound fuller. This piece truly showcased SLSQ’s ability to play almost perfectly in unison, matching not only note length, but also bow usage and vibrato. SLSQ maintained their clean, classical style of play through the five movements, concluding the work with a graceful, if abrupt, release.
In a deviation from the program, Nuttall announced that they would be performing the world premiere of Kapuscinski’s “Alikeness,” an eight movement work for string quartet and percussion, with percussionist Aiyun Huang. SLSQ filled each movement with character, whether it was the first movement’s use of unorthodox, almost creepy tremolos in high registers or the third movement’s cheerful melody on the xylophone. Kapuscinski found the inspiration for these vibrant characters in French artist Henri Matisse’s series of colorful cutouts entitled “Jazz.”
After a brief intermission, SLSQ continued its foray into contemporary music with Schulhoff’s “Five Pieces for String Quartet.” Despite performing only with string instruments, SLSQ was able to create percussive-esque sounds with aggressive pizzicatos and highly-articulated double-stops. First violinist Nuttall truly brought this suite of pieces to life with his full body movement, whether he was bouncing along to the high-energy third movement or swinging back and forth with each bow stroke in the intense fifth movement. The feverishness of the fifth movement culminated in an abrupt ending, complete with cellist Costanza breaking some bowstrings.
The SLSQ bookended their concert with yet another Haydn string quartet, known as “The Joke,” allowing the audience to catch their breath after the dissonance of two contemporary works back-to-back. Yet SLSQ was careful to distinguish “The Joke” from the earlier string quartet by making it richer and fuller in a slight departure from the classical style. The artistic choice paid off, as the audience remained engaged despite the two works’ similarities. The final movement of the quartet was marked by a passage repeated over and over. SLSQ chose to play each of these passages in the same way, creating and fulfilling the audience’s growing expectation of repetition. In a fitting conclusion to “The Joke,” SLSQ broke the audience’s expectations by breaking the passage up with grand pauses in between phrases, only to finish with the opening notes of the passage once more. Audience members likely left Bing with both a chuckle and a newfound appreciation for contemporary music mixed with classical.
You can contact Serena Wong at serenaw ‘at’ stanford.edu.