Avalon String Quartet



Unity Temple Concert Series
Oak Park, IL
November 1, 2008
7:30 pm


Beethoven: String Quartet Op 18 No 1 in F Major
Frank, Gabriela Lena: Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout
Ravel: String Quartet in F Major

World-Class Form: string quartet impresses Unity Temple audience

By Cathryn Wilinson, for Wednesday Journal, published on November 11, 2008

The Avalon Quartet had only finished half of the concert at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple when a woman turned and exclaimed boldly to anyone who would listen: “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world!” The program on Nov. 1, second in this year’s Saturday evening series, opened with music of Beethoven and Gabriela Frank. By the time the four intensely focused players closed out with the towering Ravel “Quartet in F Major,” I couldn’t have agreed more. Any professional quartet should be able to pass the Beethoven test. The Avalon foursome passed-no mean feat when “Opus 18 No. 1,” Beethoven’s earliest published quartet (in 1801 at age 30) is your opener. This quartet is rife with Beethoven’s classical signature, which means the music is deceptively accessible to the listener. But the composer’s short, simple motives, clear form, and transparent textures put the burden on the players to maintain a very high level of precision. Just as they should, Blaise Magnière, 1st violin; Marie Wang, 2nd violin; Anthony Devroye, viola; and Cheng-Hou Lee, cello, played an equal role in navigating Beethoven’s musical landscapes. The more than a precise reading caught his many moods-from the delicate whimsy of the scherzo, to the heavy funereal tolling of the slow movement, to the tripping virtuosic theme of the final Allegro. As Devroye noted, Wright himself held Beethoven in high admiration. The mood took a turn toward cutting edge with a work premiered in 2001 by the Chiara Quartet from Lincoln, Neb. American-born composer Gabriela Frank’s “Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout” drew on steady double stops, long, sweeping glissandi, pizzicato accompaniments and percussive effects to retell Andean legends. Clearly inspired by the innovative techniques in Bartok’s late quartets, Frank’s work creates a wild array of exotic and unexpected sounds from strings and bows, showering listeners with new auditory sensations. Music from the Andean tradition rests largely on wooden flutes, guitars, and sonorous voices, which Ms. Frank aptly captured in an irresistibly likable idiom. Forget “modern music” being too hard to listen to; this work revealed both her remarkable musical imagination and Avalon’s astonishing technical command on a comparatively unknown piece that held its own against two of the music world’s monuments. In spite of scoring for only four standard string instruments, Leyendas invoked the sounds of drums and wood blocks, whistles, and plaintive human moans. Frank cleverly pulled in jazz and minimalist effects to depict Andean life in a highly engaging work which ought to become a staple of 21st century quartet repertoire. The Ravel quartet, as described by Magnière, who spoke briefly about the music, was a groundbreaking work in 1903 and to my mind has not been surpassed in expressive depth or sensory stimulation in the ensuing 105 years. Listening to this landmark of intense and ravishing sound, performed with technical accuracy, yet dripping with emotion, I suddenly noticed for the first time my soothingly beautiful surroundings. The music had been so captivating, I nearly ignored the harmonic lines and angles, created by another master artist. On this night, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple became a meeting place for master architect, master composers, and master musicians. The Avalon String Quartet has been performing for 13 years since their founding at the Yale School of Music’s Norfolk Chamber Music Festival in Connecticut. They have gone on to win numerous prestigious awards, including the Chamber Music America/WQXR Record Award for their CD on the Channel label in 2002. Currently, the quartet is in residence at Northern Illinois University and will present an all-Beethoven concert on Sunday, Nov. 23 at 3 p.m. at Symphony Center in Chicago. Go to www.cso.org/main for more information.

Pin It on Pinterest