A talented quartet heading to Columbia

Festival: Members of Pacifica, a prestigious group with West Coast roots, usher in 2004 on the Candlelight calendar.


Howard Live

January 08, 2004|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Each season, Columbia's Candlelight Concert Society works to present the best and the brightest of the young chamber ensembles ascending the classical music ziggurat.

True to this mission, a seemingly endless procession of piano trios, string quartets, woodwind quintets and other groups appears on the Smith Theatre stage to participate in the society's chamber music festival.

Even in this parade of talent, the Pacifica String Quartet, which ushers in the new year on the Candlelight calendar Saturday evening, is special.

Formed in 1994 and named for the Pacific Ocean in deference to the West Coast background of several of the founding players, the Pacifica quickly captured several of chamber music's most prestigious awards.

In 1996, the group won the grand prize at the Coleman Chamber Music Competition. Top prizes at the 1997 Concert Artists Guild Competition and the Naumburg Chamber Music Competition quickly followed, and in 2002 the ensemble entered the elite of New York City's classical pantheon with its appointment as the Resident Quartet of Lincoln Center's Chamber Music Society.

Violinists Simin Ganatra and Sibbi Bernhardsson, violist Masumi Per Rostad and cellist Brandon Vamos have distinguished themselves in the recording studio as well, with acclaimed performances of Dvorak's chamber music (featuring the string quintet with violist Michael Tree of the all-world Guarneri Quartet), and the complete quartets of the contemporary American composer Easley Blackwood. Both releases can be found on the Chicago-based Cedille label.

The group's next scheduled release is a set of the complete quartets of Felix Mendelssohn, whose Quartet in E-flat (Opus 12) will be on Saturday's program.

Crafted by the composer in 1829 when he was 20 years old, the quartet is a work of astonishing virtuosity, very much in the tradition of the String Octet and the celestial Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, both of which Mendelssohn had written before his 18th birthday. It is famous for its tips of the cap in the direction of Beethoven's Harp Quartet (Opus 74, also in the key of E-flat), and for its charming second movement "Canzonetta," which was occasionally played on its own in concerts before the complete cycle of Mendelssohn quartets became an indispensable part of the chamber canon.

Nationalistic elements are never far off in the music of the 19th-century Czech composer Antonin Dvorak and his D minor String Quartet (No. 9), complete with a polka for a second movement. Composed in less than two weeks, the work is full of fresh, attractive melodies that never lose their charm, rhythmic poise or harmonic interest.

Saturday's concert ends with Quartet No. 3 of Paul Hindemith, one of the 20th-century's more accessible voices who, when he wasn't writing his own music, could be found nurturing the creative processes of his composition students at the Yale School of Music.

The Candlelight Concert Society presents the Pacifica String Quartet in concert at 8 p.m. Saturday. The program of quartets by Mendelssohn, Dvorak and Hindemith will be presented at Smith Theatre on the campus of Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. General admission tickets are $29; $26 for senior citizens; and $12 for full-time students. Information: 410-480-9950, or www.candlelightconcerts.org.

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