This was an ideal program, with impeccable taste, performance and excitement. I truly enjoy combining new sounds with those tried and true - it speaks well for the composers - and the Tokyo Quartet certainly took it to a new level Thursday evening.
Beethoven's Opus 18 #4 is a young, thoughtful quartet written when he was 29 years old. It's the only minor key of the set of six, and it might be my favorite of the early quartets.
Jennifer Higdon's "An Exaltation of Larks" was written at the age of 43 for the Tokyo Quartet, premiered this last month at the Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival. It is a work of great thought and beauty. In three broad sections, fast-slow-fast (or perhaps four, fast-slow-slow-fast, I should get a score) it uses combinations and collaborations that fit exceedly well to the poetic title. Trills and artificial harmonics are combined with stunning motifs. Written by the most mature composer (Schubert was also 29 years old for his quartet) Higdon simply crafts the sound that harkens back to traditional quartets yet has a unique modern and optimistic feeling. This is a work I hope is not only recorded soon but also taken up by other quartets - it should be shared and enjoyed by audiences and musicians!
After an intermission meeting Jennifer's colleagues and students - which the audience was greeted by other worldly sounds of a childern's chorus performing in the garden above the theater - I joked to Jennifer that we'd all died and gone to heaven, she replied that she thought she had been the only one to hear it and was perhaps going insane - the Tokyo came out for the juicy and gripping G major Quartet by Schubert. This is again one of my favorites, and was stunningly played. It's a quartet to cherish and enjoy - like a good friend. The last movement had an odd stumble, a page turn that didn't go right, but things got back on track and finished with flourish. (A measure of good musicians is how they recover, everyone makes a mistake now and then, but how you deal with it is a great measurement of an ensemble/soloist.)
John and Jennifer at intermission
The entire program with the Tokyo Quartet struck me as satisfaction...perfection...something just right. They allowed every note to be heard, and every melody to be sung - like a good pianist voices the piano, or a great conductor balances an orchestra. Only this was better, an intimate setting with four great musicians, playing Strads, and compositions of the highest quality.