Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Telegraph Quartet Dances with the Viennese

The Telegraph String Quartet performed music by Mozart, Webern, and Beethoven on Friday at the San Francisco Conservatory, "all of which is related to dance," remarked violinist Joseph Maile, above left. He unintentionally underlined the point by tapping his feet throughout much of Mozart's String Quartet #6, which could have been annoying but was instead endearing, especially since it was such a lively performance by the entire ensemble, including Conservatory professor Ian Swensen on the extra viola.

Thank Google for the Search bar at the top of this blog because the musicians looked familiar but heck if I could remember when or where I had seen them before. It turned out that in 2011 I heard violinists Joseph Maile and Ian Swensen, violist Pei-Ling Lin, and the cellist Norman Fischer give an extraordinary performance of Schoenberg's massive String Quartet #1 in the same hall (click here). In 2013, the group was born as the Prometheus Quartet with Eric Chin on violin and Jeremiah Shaw above on cello joining Maile and Lin. I heard them play Henry Cowell's United String Quartet in a performance so good it sounded definitive (click here).

They have changed their name from Prometheus to Telegraph, possibly because there were already so many musical ensembles out there with Prometheus in their name. Their home base is the Bay Area but they have already been touring worldwide, often in an educational capacity. In fact, I wish the extra violist for the Mozart Quintet had been a Conservatory student rather than Ian Swensen above, whose onstage mannerisms are a little swoony for my taste.

The Anton Webern Five Movements for String Quartet was a revelation. Written in 1909, the compressed, expressive, insect-like piece sounds like it could have been written yesterday. The Second Viennese School, represented by Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, is not music I would enjoy listening to at home, which means that it's always a surprise how absorbing and exciting most of it is in live performances. The Telegraph Quartet played the piece from memory, without scores, in a superb performance.

I couldn't stay for the Beethoven String Quartet #8, but Stephen Smoliar did and he thought it was fabulous (click here). The quartet is having another concert at the SF Conservatory on Thursday, April 9th at 8PM and it should be worth attending no matter what they end up playing.

No comments: