Czech quartet among hottest on international music scene

Skampa goes beyond the tried and true classical repertoire

April 05, 2001|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Eastern Europe has turned out string quartets the way Brazil has produced soccer players.

One of the newest and best of them, the Czech Republic's Skampa Quartet, will appear under the aegis of Candlelight Concerts at 8 p.m. tomorrow at Smith Theatre on the campus of Howard Community College.

The Skampa is one of the more exciting young string quartets on the international scene today.

Founded in 1989 at the Prague Academy of Music, where one of the ensemble's teachers was Milan Skampa of the Smetana Quartet, the Skampa Quartet' was recognized quickly for its excellence when the group won the 1990 Best Quartet at an international competition in Florence, Italy.

The group won first prizes at competitions in the Netherlands and in its home city, Prague, before making a successful debut at London's Wigmore Hall for which violinists Pavel Fischer and Jana Lukasova, violist Radim Sedmidubsky and cellist Peter Jarusek received the Royal Philharmonic Society's Best Debut Award for 1993.

Subsequently, the ensemble was appointed Wigmore Hall's first quartet in residence, and the quartet's concerts there have become one of the hottest tickets on London's extensive music scene.

The players have performed in Japan and North America and appear regularly in such prestigious European venues as Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, the Musikverein in Berlin, the Konzerthaus in Vienna and the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.

The Skampa also appears in concert with distinguished collaborators such as pianists Nikolai Demidenko, Kathryn Stott, Melvin Tan and Lars Vogt, the great Czech violinist Josef Suk and the extraordinary young baritone Wolfgang Holzmair.

The quartet is also known for its propensity for going beyond the tried and true repertoire. The ensemble introduced America to Peter Eben's String Quartet at its Carnegie Hall concert last season, and the group also traveled to England's Warwick Festival to premiere the moving "Terezin Ghetto Requiem" by Czech composer Sylvie Bodorova.

Several Skampa Quartet recordings have been released on the Czech label, Supraphon, including quartets by Beethoven, Haydn, Ravel and Czechoslovakia's own Bedrich Smetana.

Saturday's program will feature Mozart's "Dissonant" Quartet, Quartet No. 1 by Leos Janacek (1854-1928), the remarkable Czech composer whose compositions are becoming better and better known at long last, and the C sharp minor Quartet, Opus 131, of Ludwig van Beethoven.

The "Dissonant" Quartet comes from the set of six quartets Mozart dedicated to Franz Joseph Haydn, the inventor of the genre.

Opus 131 is one of those late Beethoven works that leaves us scratching our heads in wonder about 180 years after it was written. Sprawling across seven movements designed to be played with as little break between them as possible, the work has all the harmonic complexity of a great symphony.

"Beethoven's music is music about music," wrote Friedrich Nietzsche.

That may sound like nonsense, but with the late Beethoven quartets in mind, the quirky old philosopher comes off as a pretty shrewd judge of music.

The Skampa Quartet plays at 8 p.m. tomorrow at Smith Theatre at Howard Community College. Tickets are $24; senior citizens pay $18 and students pay $9. Information: Candlelight Concerts, 410-715-0034 or 301-596-6203.

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