Amernet String Quartet
Studzinsky Recital Hall, Bowdoin College
Jan. 28, 2017
by Christopher Hyde
After more than 20 years of reviewing classical music in Maine, I am still surprised by the variety and quality of the offerings here.
The concert by the Amernet Quartet, Saturday night at Studzinsky Hall, is a prime example. Here was one of the most renowned interpreters of contemporary music, playing two “modern” quartets, a transcription of the Beethoven “Pathetique” and a movement from a quartet by Vineet Shende, who teaches at Bowdoin.
I don’t know what to say about the Beethoven transcription. I play the sonata myself and its andante cantabile was one of the first “classical” works I heard on the radio, an orchestral version introducing some company’s “Symphony Hour” back in the 50’s. Anyone remember what that was, on a Philadelphia station?
At any rate, the transcription was fun to hear, bringing out some inner voices generally obscured in the piano version. What was lacking, however, was the crispness of individual chords and the dynamic range that can be achieved on a Steinway grand.
The third movement of Shende’s String Quartet No. 2, “in Raag Ahir Bhairav,” utilizes traditional Indian modes and complex rhythmical patterns in a Western classical form. It avoids “exotic” cliches to attempt an authentic fusion of East and West, rather than a pastiche.
Shende provided a brief explanation of the modes in opening remarks before the performance, pointing out that the Indian modes named in the work are more than patterns of notes. One wishes that more information could have been included in the program notes.
The same applies to the other contemporary works on the program—the String Quartet No. 1 (1998) of Manuel de Murga, and the String Quartet No. 4 (1996) of Sydney Hodkinson, although both have expressive indications before each movement, such as “slowly pulsing, smoldering,” (de Murga) or “declamando, placido, sereno,” (Hodkinson).
De Murga, who teaches composition at Stetson University, and Hodkinson, Adjunct Professor of Music at Stetson, have both used the string quartet format as a vehicle for conveying emotional states, as designated by the movement indications.
Hodkinson also ventures into character portraits of his friends, a la Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations. Some of the portraits are based upon letter and number patterns, like those of the late Elliott Schwartz. In both cases, it was enjoyable to attempt linking the music to the adjectives.
The Amernet provided the best possible renditions of these late 20th Century works, especially the dense and sometimes fugal textures of the Hodkinson Quartet.
There’s a strange phenomenon at Studzinsky: an approximately 50 percent audience decline after intermission. The hall was almost filled for the first half and half filled for the second. I thought perhaps they wanted to hear only Beethoven and a native son, Shende, but the same thing seems to happen at every concert, not just of “modern” music.
Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.