PROGRAM REVIEWS for the individual concerts will be posted here as they become available.
SHANGHAI QUARTET, MAY 16-23, 2021
On May 16, 2021 the Chamber Music Society of Utica concluded their virtual concert series for this season with the Shanghai String Quartet. The Quartet’s elegant style and impressive technique flowed throughout the performance .
The first work on the program was “Chrysanthemums”, by Giacomo Puccini. It was played with such warmth and depth of feeling that it seemed to bring this “yellow flower” to life, and it blossomed!
The members of the quartet were introduced and they spoke about their second and concluding work by Ludwig von Beethoven. It was the second of three of his “Razumovsky” cycle of quartets, opus 59, No. 2 in E minor, composed for the Russian Ambassador to Vienna, Count Razumovsky. This work was given such high praise that the quartet members said,” if they were to play it in a competition it certainly would win.”
Throughout the four movements each player had a chance “to shine”, displaying virtuosity on their instrument and showing a complete command. Beethoven thought of the second movement as being ”heavenly…as if lying on top of a hill looking at the stars”.
The third movement expressed a deep languishing that was sustained by the beauty of the music and their exemplary tone quality. The concluding fourth movement surged to the end with great rhythmic fervor and drive. They played as if with the strength and sound of a full string orchestra.
With great anticipation, we look forward to their live performance next season. The Shanghai Quartet, world renowned, ended our season triumphantly!
All donations made while this concert is available go directly to the artists.
CSMU Board Member
Pianist, Teacher, Accompanist and Adjudicator
Staff Pianist for Colgate University
To hear one of the most significant string quartets in the repertoire, Beethoven's String Quartet No. 8, coupled with one of the few purely instrumental works by Puccini, such as the beautiful and romantic ”Crisantemi", was a brilliant idea of programming.
The Shanghai Quartet performs with a fine sense of ensemble and tonal blend creating their own unified tone and sound. The sweet and romantic Puccini throbs with its own heart.
And then on to Beethoven's intensity in rhythm and emotion, immediately expressing the contrast with the sweet lyricism of Puccini.
In Beethoven, there is great attention to the dynamic range that we've come to know from all of Beethoven's works. Rhythmic attacks are very well accented, and they enhance the musical tension of the performance by observing well all of Beethoven's dramatic pauses.
In terms of the video production, I was very glad to see that they did not exceed what I call the "three minute rule" for talk. They briefly introduced the work in an informative and engaging way, and then right on to the music. Thank you!
In these times of virtual everything, this is a great way to present a musical event. The one- hour program works very well in this online format.
I definitely would have gone to this live event, if I had been there: a quartet well worth hearing!
G. Richard Glasford
G. Richard Glasford has worked for over 40 years in the major classical radio stations such as WNYC, WQXR, WCRB (Boston). He was also the lead programmer for Music Choice Cable TV networks for three classical formats . He was music director for SONY’s Classic FM radio network , and worked as Music librarian for The Juilliard School , New York University and Syracuse University. He currently lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I am delighted to have been asked to write a few words about the Shanghai Quartet’s pre-recorded performance for the Chamber Music Society of Utica which was available for streaming from May 16-23, 2021. They have been playing together for many years (at least 35), which gives them a comfort level of interaction hard to surpass. While I have never attended a concert of theirs in person, I have heard them many times on recordings, YouTube, and NPR. Their performances are always engaging and delivered with a great deal of enthusiasm, and this was no exception.
The concert began with Puccini’s Chrysanthemums. I was not familiar with this piece at all until about 3 weeks ago when I heard it on NPR Performance Today. Puccini wrote it in memoriam to a dear friend who had passed suddenly, and its title comes from the Italian tradition associating chrysanthemums with death and funerals. It is a beautiful and melancholy work, sometimes emotionally intense, sometimes more reserved. I was immediately struck by the way their four individual instruments could blend so seamlessly and listened to this first piece several times before even continuing with the rest of the concert.
Following this, the four musicians presented a short informal talk about the Beethoven Quartet Op. 59, No. 2. It was interesting to hear their informal remarks, and gave the recorded performance a sense of intimacy, as if they were in your living room or in the concert hall with you in the audience live. A particular fun note about that – As they were talking, I found myself thinking I had been in that hall at some point. And thanks to the wonders of technology, using my cell phone camera aiming at the computer screen I was able to zoom in close enough to read the decal on some of the seats. And sure enough – Montclair State University in New Jersey. I judged piano guild auditions in that hall for the private studio of one of their music faculty about 18 years ago
The Beethoven performance might have been one of the best I can remember hearing. The way Beethoven’s weaving melodic lines and textures were handed off between players was remarkable. Intonation was impeccable, and though I am a pianist for whom tempered tuning is ingrained I never was jarred by their handling of chords and interval relationships. And for me that is admittedly a rare thing when I listen to string quartets.
But the thoughts I most want to express follow now. The technical level of the video and audio on the recording was outstanding. As was the fine choice Chamber Music Society of Utica made in using the VIMEO platform. While I love attending live concerts, this was in some ways almost better for the following reasons. First, I could watch and listen to things multiple times. Secondly, unless sitting in the first few rows of a hall live, I would never be able to watch the individual motions and expressions of each player so closely, and the sound would not have had the resonance and blending that would come from sitting further away. The second violinist was particularly fun to watch, with his very active body language and facial expressions. And finally, I was so impressed with how little apparent eye contact the players need to make while performing. Yes, it is all communicated subtly through their body language, but that demands a remarkable degree of comfort interacting with each other.
I absolutely look forward to hearing them live in person when they return to Utica next season.
Sar-Shalom Strong is well-known as both a soloist and a collaborative pianist with the versatility to jump between styles and genres. For over 30 years, he has worked with many international artists as well as the fine musicians who have chosen to live and perform in upstate New York. He has been a soloist in concerti with the Utica Symphony, Hamilton College Orchestra, and Symphoria, and has regularly appeared on series sponsored by, the Society for New Music, Civic Morning Musicals, Syracuse Friends of Chamber Music, the Skaneateles Festival, A Little Summermusic, the Oasis Center of Syracuse, Hamilton College, Utica College, Mohawk Valley Community College, and the Walker Lecture Series (Concord, NH). He also has performed orchestral keyboard with numerous orchestras. Mr. Strong is Lecturer in Piano and Coordinator of Staff Pianists and piano maintenance for Hamilton College, where he has taught since 2001, and has a large private studio. In 2012, he was a judge for the Humans in Space Youth Art and Music Competition sponsored by NASA, and in 2016 he celebrated the release of eight CDs recorded with Ronald Caravan, clarinetist/saxophonist, on Mark Recordings with Naxos distribution.