The Classics Come to One Longfellow Square

Cuarteto Quiroga
One Longfellow Square
Feb. 24, 2019
by Christopher Hyde

A good-sized audience turned out on a miserable, wet and icy Sunday afternoon, for the first classical concert to be held at One Longfellow Square in Portland. “Music for a Change,” under the direction of Seth Warner, brought the world-renowned Spanish string quartet, Cuarteto Quiroga, to the popular venue for a concert of works by Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola, Bartok and Beethoven.

In spite of the wide range of styles, the program was unified by brilliantly shaded performances that bought out the works’ surprizing similarities.

Arriaga, born in 1806, was a child prodigy who, after moving from Spain to Paris, died at the age of 20. He was known as the Spanish Mpzart, but his published ouvre was small, including three phenomenal string quartets, the first of which opened the program.

It is amazingly well constructed, in spite of the composer’s age, with strongly stated themes and unusual developments. The final movement is a charming suite of Spanish dances which brought smiles to the faces of the players. Even without the dances, the quartet has a Spanish flavor, not merely because of guitar-like passages but also because of the imitation of speech pattens in musical phrases.

Dances and speech pattens bring us to the great Bartok String Quartet No. 2, which came next.. The quartet has been likened to the portrait of a life—youth, middle age and old age, and that program unifies it as much as any other. The first movement is characterized by violent moods swings, false starts, and moments of joy without reflection. The second, which is supposed to be “jovial,” is slightly frenetic, with dance rhythms gathered by the composer on his field trips in Middle Europe. In the final movement, the clouds roll in, but the atmosphere is more tranquil, one might say lyrical.

The importance of Hungarian speech pattens in Bartok’s music cannot be overestimated, whether it was done consciously —most likely—or was a product of the subconscious. I sometimes think that a supremely receptive ear could interpret the music as meaningful language, like the sounds of a talking drum.

The Quiroga gave it a definitive performance, sending a number of people to the lobby for their CD of the work.

After the Bartok, the late Beethoven String Quartet, Opus 135, sounded as pure and harmonic as a Mozart piano sonata, at least at first. We discover that Beethoven too can dance, on the edge of the abyss, and turn a German phrase and its reply, (Must it be? It must be.) into a ,musical motif.

I loved the Quiroga’s interpretation, supremely lyrical when called for, and unafraid to unleash the violence elsewhere in Beethoven’s score. The roar that Helena Poggio unleashed from her cello was awe inspiring. All the players received a prolonged standing ovation.

I hope Music for a Change is encouraged to stage more classical The One Longfellow Square venue is the perfect size for chamber music.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at