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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Lydian String Quartet revives classical music on campus

Published: November 16, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc., Top Stories

In a rather enjoyable change of pace Wednesday afternoon, the Mandel Atrium was filled with the sounds of soothing string compositions. The Lydian String Quartet performed as a preface to their concert on Saturday, sponsored by the Department of Music and the Mandel Center for the Humanities.

Formed in 1980, the Quartet has been receiving critical acclaim for almost the entirety of its existence. This performance included Professor Joshua Gordon (cello), Professor Daniel Stepner (violin), Professor Mary Ruth Ray (viola) and Mark Berger (violin); Gordon, Stepner and Ray are professors in the Department of Music, while Berger is a Ph.D. student. The Quartet’s numerous awards include the highly prestigious Naumburg Award for Chamber music. These highly skilled performers read their music and watched each other with authentic looks of joy and intensity from the start of the concert, which made them even more enjoyable to watch.

In the Quartet’s first piece, Mozart’s “Quartet in D Minor” dedicated to Mozart’s mentor Joseph Haydn, the music reflected the various complex aspects in Mozart’s life at the time. Slower swells of sound in the “Allegro moderato” movement were followed by upbeat measures, which complemented each other nicely. “Andante” featured emphatic breaks in the music, which punctuated the longer, rich phrases in the piece.

The third movement, “Menuetto: Allegretto” capitalized on the single-string plucking of some of the performers, which countered to more luscious melodies similar to “Andante’s.” The frequent tempo and style changes in “Allegretto ma non troppo” kept the audience’s rapt attention and evoked thoughts of Mozart’s performances when the piece was written, where he would sometimes play with Haydn in an impromptu string quartet.

After Mozart’s work came “Aqua,” a new piece composed by Harold Meltzer. Inspired by the design of the Aqua building in Chicago and the shimmering and liquid effects it creates, this performance was the Quartet’s premiere of the piece. Despite some initial hesitation about Meltzer’s inexperience with composing string quartets, the piece came together spectacularly.

Each of the 11 movements conveyed a different feeling and gave credit to the piece’s liquid inspiration. The first movement, “Liquid,” showcased this loose and easy changeability, moving from rapid slews of notes to drawn-out, fuller phrases and back again often within the movement’s three minutes. Another section of note was “Kaleidoscopic,” and while some members of the audience seemed off-put by its cacophonous and somewhat grating type of sound, “Warm and Full’s” rich melodies brought a sense of order and harmony to “Kaleidoscopic’s” chaotic orchestration. Whether this was a result intended by Meltzer or a happy side effect, the transition into a sense of musical balance set up the rest of the piece’s shifting nature quite well.

The audience was comprised mainly of adults, although students stood in the back of the atrium for parts of the concert; this lack of student attendance was by no means the fault of the Quartet, but likely due to classes beginning or ending during the concert. The presence of so many apparent classical enthusiasts resulted in the audience having a positive predisposition toward the Quartet, as they had gone out of their way to attend the concert.

This difference in audience from a typical campus performance also helped enhance the overall effect of the concert, as the audience held its applause until the end of each piece, rather than each movement—an approach that helped the performance truly feel like an authentic classical experience. The crowd had no problems with conveying their approval to the Quartet, as the wide smiles and lengthy rounds of applause indicated.