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Fine Arts Quartet Closes Out SMA Chamber Music Festival

Fine Arts 2

By Mick Lockey

The Festival Música de Cámara de San Miguel de Allende wraps up its stellar fortieth season with two exciting concerts by the Fine Arts Quartet, one of the longest-standing string quartets performing today.

The quartet appeared at the first festival in 1979, so their tenth return this season is especially meaningful. Their superlative playing and decades-long experience together will surely bring this year’s festival some memorable moments. If you can attend both nights, you’ll be glad you did.

The ensemble opens its Friday performance with Beethoven’s String Quartet No 1 in F major, Op 18, No 1. Beethoven grappled initially with the string quartet form but eventually scaled its demands, composing original pieces like this one. It starts out forcibly, then brightens as it glistens along. These early quartets set in motion his “middle quartet” period, which jettisoned the form into radical new areas.

Next up is String Quartet No 1 by Ralph Evans, the Fine Arts Quartet’s first violinist. This is the second of only two American chamber works being performed this year. It will be a treat to see the composer play his own work in what likely will be one of the definitive live versions.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky, known more for opulent ballet and opera scores than for intimate works such as the string quartet, is featured with the enchanting String Quartet No 1 in D Major, Op 11, his first chamber composition. The elegiac and lilting second movement, which might be familiar to many, moved Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy to sob quietly when he heard it during a concert in his honor. It’s music that gently urges you to drift inward to contemplate life’s greater mysteries and harmonies.

Saturday night’s performance opens with chamber music mainstay Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The ensemble performs his popular String Quartet No 19 in C major, K465, nicknamed “Dissonance.” Despite its harsh nickname—mostly for the first movement´s brief, downbeat heaviness—it’s charming at times, tuneful, and offers a lively minuet, plus a sunny final movement.

Then Dmitri Shostakovich´s deeply personal String Quartet No 11 in F minor, Op 122, which took the composer a year to finish, takes center stage. The work is shrouded with disharmony and fragmentation—for good reason: it’s a “get-it-all-out” emotional reaction to the unexpected death of the composer’s close friend and string quartet colleague, Vasily Shirinsky. Throughout the seven short segments that comprise this frequently anguished piece, some moments of relief arrive when, for example, the cello soothes the emotional turmoil, as if applying balm to open wounds.

No piece could be more appropriate to wrap up the festival season than Claude Debussy’s marvelous String Quartet in G minor, Op 10. Ken Morrow, author of this year’s festival notes, writes that Debussy’s effort here is “among the most beautiful and lyrical in the repertoire.” Prepare to be swept away with Debussy’s tender, flowing melodies and novel rhythms, played by these skillful musicians.



Festival de Música de Cámara de San Miguel de Allende Presents

Fine Arts Quartet

Fri and Sat, Aug 24 and 25, 7pm

Teatro Ángela Peralta

Mesones 82, Centro


Teatro Ángela Peralta Box Office

Consejo Turistico: Principal 14, Centro


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