The Fine Arts Quartet: Vintage Red Wine and Polished Mahogany
This coming Thursday evening, September 29, 2016 at 8:00 pm in the Tryon Fine Arts Center, we will be gifted with a performance by the Fine Arts Quartet playing a work by Haydn (often acknowledged as the “father” of the string quartet) and also by Ralph Evans, the quartet’s own first violinist. For the second half of the program, the quartet will be joined by pianist Orion Weiss in Robert Schumann’s radiant Piano Quintet, Op. 44. Last year, I did an interview with TCA board member Kymric Mahnke about pianist Peter Rösel , which proved to be very popular. Thinking all of you might enjoy my going to the well once again, I asked Mr. Mahnke to tell us a little more about the Fine Arts Quartet, and what we can expect Thursday evening.
Rex: Well Kym, here we are again at the beginning of what promises to be another glorious concert season from the Tryon Concert Association. Can you give us a preview of what we might expect at the season’s opening concert?
Kym: Rex, this concert came about, really, as almost a continuation of the last season. You will remember that we closed last spring with the Dover Quartet, probably the hottest young “up and coming” string quartet performing in the world today. We thought it would be a real treat for our subscribers to be able to contrast that concert with an old school, or what I would call “silk-stocking,” quartet, one that has been around for years, year after year playing the greatest concerts, and garnering the finest reviews not only for their live concerts, but also for their recording efforts. Since the Fine Arts Quartet fits this description, and since we have never had them here, it seemed like an obvious choice.
Rex: Yes, the Dover Quartet was truly stunning— and they were so young! How about telling our audience what you mean by “old school,” and “silk-stocking.”
Kym: Rex, let’s first talk about longevity. The Fine Arts Quartet is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. Think about that! For that to happen, something has to be working, with a minimum of changes in personnel. Specifically, you have to have players that have a common approach and understanding of the music— and that find a special pleasure and emotional satisfaction in making music with one another. In this quartet, the first and second violinists, Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, have played together in the quartet for 33 years. Prior to Robert Cohen, their current cellist, succeeding Wolfgang Laufer a few years ago, Laufer had been their cellist for 34 years. Unbelievable.
The quartet started in Chicago in 1946, right after the war. It had a long association with the classical radio station there, WFMT, which would broadcast their concerts. By the way, if our audience wants to have some fun Thursday, tell them to seek out a few subscribers from Chicago who love classical music, and mention WFMT. Then watch as their eyes glaze over with nostalgia. There is no classical music station like it in the world. It is not public, but private, and every advertisement has to be spoken by the announcers only, in the same way they announce the next opera or overture set to be broadcast. It is amazing, never changes, and is still going strong.
Rex: That’s really interesting, Kym. But getting back to the quartet, what can you tell us about the individual players?
Kym: Well, the first violinist, Ralph Evans, was a prize winner in the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, undoubtedly the biggest and most high-pressure competition for violinists in the world. When the quartet’s original first violinist, Leonard Sorkin, passed away in 1982, Ralph Evans was chosen by the quartet as his replacement. The second violinist, Efim Boico, is a native Russian who emigrated to Israel all the way back in 1967, enjoying a career as soloist and principal second violin in the Israel Philharmonic and Tel Aviv Quartet. Before joining the FAQ in 1983, he was the Concertmaster for the Orchestra de Paris under Daniel Barenboim. Cellist Robert Cohen joined the FAQ in 2012 after the passing of Wolfgang Laufer. Cohen has had an active solo career, and his recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto is the best selling recording ever of that work. By the way, he has a recording of the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites that takes a back seat to no one, and I mean no one. But I predict that the quartet’s newest member, violist Juan Miguel Hernandez, will be the one that steals hearts Thursday night. A number of us heard him play the Walton Viola Concerto at the Brevard Music Center a couple of summers ago. You will not believe that a viola can sound like that.
Rex: And speaking of sound, I have heard that theirs overall is something really special.
Kym: Rex, a string quartet is, in many ways, the most pure and primitive way that sound is generated from musical instruments: four players scratching on cat gut. The ability to get a warm and cohesive sound from that is something not often appreciated. If our listeners are interested in why we wanted them to hear both the Dover and Fine Arts Quartets, we would invite them to listen for the differences in their sounds. The Dover sound is exciting, but aggressive. It reflects the virility and optimism of youth. The sound of the Fine Arts Quartet will be the sound of experience and long life. A recent review of their playing at a concert in Edmonton described it perfectly as, “the depth of a vintage red wine, or the glow of polished mahogany.” Perfect.
Interestingly, the violist of the Dover Quartet told us when they were here that their goal is to stay together forever. It kind of brings all of this full circle, doesn’t it?
Rex: One thing the programming committee has done that I think is really wonderful is to pair the Fine Arts Quartet with pianist Orion Weiss for the second half of the concert. Tell us a little about that as we close.
Kym: Rex, in recent years, the Fine Arts Quartet has received special acclaim for their recordings with pianists. So we thought it would be really special to, first, hear them with a pianist, and second, match them up with one of the greatest young pianists of today, Orion Weiss. The quartet and Orion jumped at this opportunity. You may remember we had Orion four or five years ago in a solo recital, still at the beginning of his career. Well that career has blossomed, as it should have, because he is a pianist’s pianist— the real deal.
They will be performing one of music’s miracles, the Schumann Piano Quintet. I still remember the first time I heard that quintet— a live performance when I was a young student. About two-thirds of the way through the last movement, the music comes to a climactic moment with a grand pause— after which Schumann combines the main theme of the last movement with the main theme of the first movement in a brilliant double fugue to both unify and conclude the work. When you hear that compositional master stroke, it makes you want to shout out “huzzah!” to the rafters!
Rex: Outbursts of emotion that may well be our experience this coming Thursday night. Thank you for the warning, Kym!