Classical music for the digital age will start off this year’s San Miguel International Music Festival

By Fredric Dannen

Many people think of the string quartet as the vanguard of centuries-old traditions, perhaps even the stuffy artifact of a bygone era. They might think otherwise if they attended a performance by the Borromeo String Quartet – “the rock star of chamber music,” in the description of one reviewer. Nicholas Kitchen, the ensemble’s first violinist, is something of a trailblazer in bringing 21st-century technology to a musical form rooted in the 18th century. You’ll get a sense of that right away if you are present at either of the ensemble’s performances at the Teatro Ángela Peralta, on July 31 and August 1, when the Borromeo kicks off this year’s San Miguel International Music Festival. Instead of music stands, the four members of the Borromeo will be playing from the screens of MacBooks, silently advancing the pages with foot pedals. The sheet music itself is likely to be a digital recreation of the composer’s handwritten score, obtained in today’s Internet marketplace.

Concert
San Miguel International Music Festival presents:
The Borromeo String Quartet
Thu, Jul 31, and Fri, Aug 1, 7pm
Teatro Ángela Peralta
450/350/150 pesos

Concert
San Miguel International Music Festival presents:
Alberto Cruzprieto, piano
Sat, Aug 2, 7pm
Teatro Ángela Peralta
Free

Concert
San Miguel International Music Festival presents:
Tembembé
Sun, Aug 3, 7pm
Teatro Ángela Peralta
Free

The combination of music and math, of rhythm and algorithm, is part of Kitchen’s heritage. “My dad is a mathematician, and a pianist and organist,” Kitchen says. “He built a magnificent three-manual organ for our church, and I grew up repairing it and tuning it. I knew all the ins and outs of how it was put together.”

Kitchen’s use of computer technology, which other major string ensembles have observed with interest, though none has yet imitated, is by no means the only thing notable about the Borromeo. The quartet has been called a “brilliant ensemble” (Gramophone), and its performances “thrilling” (Boston Globe). The group can trace its pedigree back to 1982, when Kitchen was 16, and a student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. There he met a fellow student, cellist Yeesun Kim; within a year, they became a couple, and eventually married. The original second violinist and violist of the quartet were also students at Curtis, and the ensemble gave its first concerts near the Borromean Islands in Italy – hence the quartet’s name. Today, second violinist Kristopher Tong and violist Mai Motobuchi round out the group.

Kitchen’s abandonment of paper in favor of an LCD screen came about for reasons having nothing to do with technology. The four performers in a string quartet normally have only their own instrument’s part in front of them – they hear, but do not see, their fellow musicians’ parts. Kitchen wanted to perform from a full score of all four instruments, but on paper that involved too many page turns to be practical. So he scanned a full score into his laptop, and acquired a foot pedal to “turn” the pages on the computer’s screen. Before long, the rest of the Borromeo followed suit.

The digitalization experiment had an unexpected payoff for Kitchen. A lot of performers prefer what are called Urtext editions – scores that replicate as closely as possible the composer’s original intentions, without the markings of editors. But Kitchen decided to go a step further, and obtain digital facsimile copies of the composer’s handwritten scores. Whenever possible, he now performs from manuscript scores – a highly unusual practice that would probably not be possible without computer technology.

Kitchen says that as a result, he has made surprising discoveries that influence his performances. For instance, in the Mozart String Quartet in F, K. 590 – the first piece to be performed at this year’s San Miguel festival – Kitchen found that Mozart “originally has an idea of where to start the first cello solo,” and then “changes his mind and goes a completely different way. People have the misguided impression that Mozart never had any doubts or corrections,” Kitchen adds, but the composer’s manuscript score proves otherwise, and “we can see his imagination at work.” In the Bartók String Quartet No. 4, which the Borromeo will also perform at one of its San Miguel concerts, Kitchen made an even more startling discovery. “The whole piece was in a different meter!” Kitchen says. “Bartók started writing it in three-quarter time, and by the second line, you can see him getting intensely uncomfortable. A couple of pages later, he goes back, and writes the movement the way we know it – in four-quarter time.”

General seating tickets to the eight concerts are now on sale at the Teatro Ángela Peralta, but subscriptions, and the more elite patron packages, may be purchased at the festival office on the second floor of Bellas Artes, Hernandez Macias 75, 10am to 4pm, (415) 154-8722, or via email, patrons@festivalsanmiguel.com. Patrons get reserved seating at all eight concerts, invitations to four post-concert parties, and entrées to master classes. Patron packages start at US$500, and qualify for a charitable tax receipt. For music programs and group information, please visit www.festivalsanmiguel.com.

Comments are closed

 photo RSMAtnWebAdRed13.jpg
 photo RSMAtnWebAdRed13.jpg  photo RSMAtnWebAdRed13.jpg

Photo Gallery

Log in | Designed by Gabfire themes All original content on these pages is fingerprinted and certified by Digiprove