Orion String Quartet to play Smith Theatre

Concert: The renowned quartet-in-residence at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is to perform at 8 p.m. Saturday.

February 17, 2000|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

One of the most accomplished string quartets of them all comes Saturday night to Smith Theatre under the auspices of Candlelight Concerts. Taking the stage at 8 p.m. will be the Orion String Quartet, which serves as quartet-in-residence at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Violinists Daniel Phillips and Todd Phillips (who share the ensemble's violin roles equally), violist Steven Tenenboim and cellist Timothy Eddy have collaborated with such luminaries as cellist Pablo Casals, pianists Rudolf and Peter Serkin and soprano Benita Valente.

The Orion also was chosen by Isaac Stern to perform in the Carnegie Hall Centennial celebration and to teach at the Isaac Stern Chamber Music Workshop, also held at the venerable structure on Manhattan's West 57th Street.

The players come to Columbia ready to perform a bright new work, "At the Octoroon Balls," composed by the brilliant jazz and classical trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, plus two of the most extraordinary string quartets ever composed.

The "American" Quartet, by the Bohemian composer Antonin Dvorak, was written during the summer of 1893. Dvorak, one of Europe's most illustrious composers, had been brought to America to head the National Conservatory in New York City.

For a summer of rest and relaxation, he headed to a Czech community in Spillville, Iowa, where he communed with nature, played organ in the parish church and composed at his leisure. The story goes that a group of Iroquois Indians performed for Dvorak, an admirer of native folk music of all countries, and that some of the indigenous fare inspired his quartet piece.

Whatever its origin, the piece was sketched out in only three days and completed in just more than two weeks.

Movement one, an expansive, wide-open allegro, exudes geniality. Lyrical melodies positively soar in the slow movement, while the scherzo and finale recall different aspects of Dvorak's summer in the American heartland.

"I compose only for my own pleasure," Dvorak said.

Beethoven's Opus 18, No. 5 comes from the first batch of string quartets the composer crafted after his arrival in Vienna at age 22. The six Opus 18s announced forthrightly that Beethoven availed himself of the chamber genre that had been given life by Haydn and Mozart.

The A major quartet is clearly a tip of the cap to the recently departed Mozart, for it is as elegant and genial as anything Beethoven wrote.

Still, there are inimitable touches, such as the galumphing accents Beethoven adds to the waltz theme of the minuet.

"There are, and there will be, thousands of princes," Beethoven wrote to Prince Lichnowsky, one of his patrons. "There is only one Beethoven."

Candlelight Concerts will sponsor a performance by the Orion String Quartet at 8 p.m. Saturdayat Smith Theatre, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. The program includes works by Beethoven, Marsalis and Dvorak. Tickets are $24; $18 for senior citizens. Full-time students pay $9. Information: 410-715-0034 or 301-506-6203.

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