Saturday, March 13, 2010


For most of twenty-five years, I lived in Rochester, New York. Here, the Garth Fagan Dance Company got its start. The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra was a major symphony orchestra presenting concerts at Eastman Theatre. The Eastman School of Music’s two student orchestras also performed there. Chamber music concerts were frequent at the exquisite middle-sized Kilbourn Hall of the Eastman School of Music as well as at other venues. I heard my first complete cycle of Beethoven quartets presented one season by the Cleveland Quartet in the days when Donald Weilerstein was first violin.

For two brief periods, I lived in the Connecticut suburbs of New York City. I was ninety minutes from the cultural riches of Manhattan. The Paul Taylor Dance Company, the New York City Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet were among my favorites. There were operas at the Metropolitan Opera House and at New York City Opera (where Beverly Sills presided). There were visiting symphony orchestras at the acoustically wonderful Carnegie Hall and the New York Philharmonic at their acoustically challenged Avery Fisher Hall. Finally, there were many chamber music concerts at a variety of venues.

When I retired ten years ago to Western North Carolina, I expected to encounter strength in visual arts and in fine crafts. I was not expecting the profusion of chamber music that I have experienced. I have been delighted with concerts in Asheville, Hendersonville, Brevard, Waynesville, Hickory and Boone as well as in neighboring Greenville, SC and Spartanburg, SC. (Greenville is closer in time to Asheville than Carnegie Hall is to New Canaan, CT).

On the weekend of March 5-7, 2010, I had to choose among concerts by the Chiara Quartet, the Lomazov/Rackers Piano Duo, the Opal Quartet and an all-Chopin solo piano recital by Doug Weeks. I can’t make it to all the high-quality offerings that are offered in Western Carolina. I elected to attend the two string quartet concerts, and was not disappointed.

On March 5, the Chiara Quartet appeared as part of the Asheville Chamber Music Series. Members of the Chiara include first violinist Rebecca Fischer (whose father was cellist in the Concord Quartet) and violist Jonah Sirota (whose father Robert heads the Manhattan School of Music). The program included works by Haydn, Robert Sirota and Beethoven. Since I was still recuperating from surgery, I appreciated Beethoven’s Opus 132, whose middle movement is entitled “Heiliger Dankesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit” (“Thanksgiving to the Divinity by a Convalescent”).

On March 7, I returned to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville for a Sunday afternoon presentation by the Opal Quartet. This young quartet contains three principal players from the Asheville Symphony Orchestra (violinist Amy Lovinger, violist Kara Poorbaugh and cellist Franklin Keel, all graduates of the Eastman School of Music) and violinist Qiao Chen Solomon.

What was special about the weekend was the repertoire. The Chiara Quartet featured Robert Sirota’s Triptych, an engrossing piece written after September 11, 2001. The Opal Quartet featured Philip Glass’s String Quartet No. 5, a work in which Glass rises above minimalism, using that technique as only one arrow in his well-loaded quiver of compositional skills.

This was not a weekend for old warhorses, but a time to revel in American composers of the 21st century.

© 2010 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #467
March 13, 2010

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