ECMSA: Hayden, Beethoven, & Janacek

One of the things that I really like about the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta is the way that their concerts are generally programmed with some kind of thread that connects the various pieces being played. The programs often span multiple musical periods but always manage to remain coherent, with some kind of conceptual or musical thematic connection. Tonight’s program for the Vega String Quartet was no exception; the evening began with a piece by the Classical composer Hayden, ended with a Romantic era piece by his student, Beethoven, and sandwiched in-between was an early 20th century modernist piece by Janacek that references a Beethoven sonata.

The Hayden that they played was the Joke Quartet. This is an immensely enjoyable and clever piece and I am almost always happy to see it on a program. In retrospect, it was a very satisfying bit of levity to take with us as we were thrown into the turbulent passion of the Janacek and the profound and epic Beethoven. The joke in the quartet is a series of false endings, the last of which was emphasized by the Vega Quartet when Kong, the violist, stood up to take her bow and the others gestured urgently for her to sit down and finish the piece. The joke itself was as well played as the music.

Although I would have been sorry to have missed this concert otherwise, the real reason that I exchanged my normal Saturday ASO ticket for the Thursday concert was so that i could hear the Janacek. I love Janacek and really wish that his works were played more often. His String Quartet no 1 is inspired by a Tolstoy short story, Kreutzer Sonata, in which a husband becomes mad with jealousy after watching his wife play Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata and later kills her. Janacek’s piece is full of such exquisite tension and explosive moments passionate extremes and the Vega String Quartet did a magnificent job of bringing it to life. I could have spent the evening listen to them play it three times in succession and still have found myself wanting to explore the piece further.

The Beethoven that concluded the concert was his 14th in C# minor. I love his late quartets and I think that the Vega String Quartet handled this one especially well. I have a hard time expressing what this piece feels like to me: it has a solemnity and pensiveness to it that would make me think of piety but for something in it that somehow strikes me as non-theistic: like a person finding themselves having to recover from a loss of faith and building something new for themselves. Of course, I may just be getting that from being primed with a reference to post-Confession Tolstoy. Anyway, it’s an amazing work, full of grandeur and so rich in feeling, and the performance nearly took my breath away.

The whole program was very well put together and amazingly well performed. This really was an excellent way to end the ECMSA’s season in the Emerson Concert Hall and I’m really looking forward to seeing what next season brings from the ECMSA and the Vega String Quartet.

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