Juilliard String Quartet; Areta Zhulla Violin 1, Ronald Copes Violin 2, Molly Carr Viola, Astrid Schween Violoncello.
Robert-Schumann-Saal, Row 11, Seat 16.
(This post also appears, in slightly different form, at my Instagram account betweendrafts.)
The Juilliard String Quartet is incredibly good. Their performance was as precise and expressive as any meticulously post-produced studio recording, with the added advantage of a much higher dynamic range than you could possibly press on home media.
The seating arrangement was what can be called “American default,” with the viola outside. It optimizes the projection of low and very low cello tones, which sounds fantastic. But it comes at a price, as the viola—barring upper body contortions or left-handed players—loses some projection at that position. And indeed, several times I failed to keep my focus on the viola part when I tried. (A wider seating arc would solve that problem but in turn limit communication.)
They played Beethoven’s and Schubert’s final string quartets (No.16 F major Op.135 and Nr.15 G major D.887, respectively); the String Quartet No.2 “Amorphous Figures” by Juilliard School grad student Tyron Davis; and a brief encore with Beethoven’s »Marcia alla turca«, set for string quartet, from Die Ruinen von Athen Op.113.
Davis’s quartet, a very clever and interesting piece, was so dazzlingly well and delightfully presented that it was nearly impossible—hearing it for the first time—to reflect on its deeper qualities and compositional structure. Beethoven’s quartet, the last major work he completed, is a very fine piece that many people love. It’s not quite my cup of tea, though; but the performance was brilliant and thoroughly enjoyable.
Then, oh yes!, Schubert’s monumental last quartet from 1826, posthumously published in 1851, with its Viennese and modern elements and the scope of an entire romantic symphony. An incredible piece! (Actually, if you imagine string quartets as racing cars, Schubert’s 15th overtakes Beethoven’s 16th with such speed that you’d think the latter were driving in reverse.)
All in all, this night with the Juilliard String Quartet was an absolute treat for every string quartet aficionado.
If you have something valuable to add or some interesting point to discuss, I’ll be looking forward to meeting you on Mastodon!