Dalí String Quartet with Chuck Holdeman 9/17: Experience

Crossroads Music promises to bring music from around the world to West Philadelphia, and a quick look at their fall schedule reveals that they will surely fulfill that goal. A Latin influence was prevalent in the Dalí String Quartet with Chuck Holdeman concert. The Dalí Quartet has roots in both Venezuela's El Sistema and North American conservatories. The talented members of this ensemble play in various ensembles in Eastern Pennsylvania including the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra. Chuck Holdeman, bassoon, joined the quartet for two selections, including the American premier of his "Quintetto, for bassoon and string quartet". Please see the full program notes more details.

The first thing that struck me about the stage at the base of two beautiful curved staircases was that it looked like we were joining a chamber ensemble in their own living room. The kitchen style chairs, floor lamps, and casual atmosphere of the audience gave the room a comfortable warm glow that is not common in classical music concerts. The silky rich tones from the Dalí Quartet in the first selection of the night, Heitor Villa-Lobos's "String Quartet No. 1" completed the scene.

Holdeman's Quintetto, for bassoon and string quartet

This was my first artist supported blog and it was a pleasure working with Holdeman. He provided an advance copy of the music and program notes. It was interesting to note the different experience of listening to a recording vs a live performance. This was the North American premier of Quintetto, so the European recording was very helpful.

The first thing I noticed while watching the performance live was how tightly the group had to work together to produce melodies that seamlessly sliced through the ensemble - passing rapidly from instrument to instrument. It was a bit like hearing an old couple finishing each others sentences. This metaphor progressed through the first movement until it suddenly reached a darker tone; as if the couple found themselves in an argument.

A melancholy bassoon melody introduced the second movement accompanied by abundant pizzicato from the strings. All the "tip-toeing" around, and tension in the music, made me think of one of those classic cartoons, Tom and Jerry. This could easily have cast Jerry cautiously sneaking through the house trying to avoid a frying pan to the head. Those old cartoons contained some wonderful music, but I digress.

The flow of the third movement lurched forward in fits and bounds so just when I thought an extended pattern would break out, the music would suddenly pause like someone had slammed on the brakes. As the pace picked up the piece became more joyful, breaking into a fantastic rapid progression between the instruments that the Dalí Quartet expertly performed. The exuberant ending completed in stark contrast to the melancholy beginning of the work.


The second half of the concert was filled with Latin music. The Dalí Quartet was clearly in its element here. The group played a number of vocal works arranged for string quartet with sensitivity and fiery attacks. Violist, Adriana Linares introduced many of the pieces, including the most famous piece of the night: "La Cumparsita" Tango. With no percussion instruments in the ensemble, she demonstrated how they'd use a variety of techniques to replicate the percussion with their stringed instruments.

The enjoyable concert came to a close with Holdemen returning to the stage to play with the quartet. I was impressed by how well the bassoon can fit into a string quartet. At times almost completely blending with the strings, at other times adding a more vocal quality to their tone.


Sharon Torello, Local Arts Live
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