Tuesday, November 05, 2013
The Prometheus Quartet and Menahem Pressler at the SF Conservatory
The SF Conservatory's Chamber Music Masters series involving veteran guest musicians was given a new wrinkle this year, with part of the program devoted to recent alumni performing a chamber piece at their alma mater. Last Wednesday, it was the newly formed Prometheus Quartet (they might want to Google that name to check out their similarly named competition) playing Henry Cowell's String Quartet #4, United.
Cowell wrote in his original program notes, "The Quartet should not only be easy to understand without following any known pathways, but it should be understood equally well by Americans, Europeans, Orientals...or by anybody from a coal miner to a bank president." These utopian words were written while Cowell was in the Redwood City Jail prior to going to San Quentin on a morals charge in 1936. The five-movement piece fully justified Cowell's hopes for it and the music was so remarkable that it eclipsed the rest of the program. I cannot imagine a better, more exact or more committed performance than was given by (l-r above) Joseph Maile and Eric Chin on violins, Jeremiah Shaw on cello, and Pei-Ling Lin on viola.
The Conservatory brought back the 87-year-old pianist Menahem Pressler (above right) for a week of master classes and a concert with faculty and students. With violinist Ian Swensen, the two played the late Beethoven Violin Sonata #10, but it was a dud, and not just because they were following the Cowell quartet. Having heard Swensen play brilliantly before, it was weird seeing him turn his butt to the audience for most of the performance so he could make eye contact with Pressler on the piano behind him. This had the odd effect of making the piece sound like a wan piano sonata with incidental violin accompaniment.
Perfect balance was restored in the Schumann Piano Quintet after intermission where Pressler expressively guided the ensemble of three students and one faculty member in a vibrant, lively performance. Performers above were (l-r above) Douglas Ku Won Kwon and Joshua Peters on violin, Menahem Pressler on piano, Natalie Raney on cello, and Jodi Levitz on viola.