The remarkable, young and remarkably young Ariel String Quartet will perform a nicely balanced concert of three works — a musical sandwich with sweet outer layers and a bittersweet interior — at 7:30 p.m. this Thursday, Oct. 28, in the Mary Craig Auditorium of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
The members of the Ariel String Quartet have been playing together for 12 years as of this writing — to steadily increasing international acclaim — and yet they are all still in their early 20s. From their names, at least three of them are of Russian extraction, which gives them a kind of edge in the classical music game. Founded in Israel in 1998, they have been residents in the United States since 2004.
The Ariel’s program consists of the Quartet No. 15 in D-Minor, K. 421 by Wolfgang Mozart, the Quartet No. 8 in C-Minor, Opus 110 (“dedicated to the victims of fascism and war”) by Dmitri Shostakovich and the Quartet No. 15 in G-Major, Opus 161, D. 887 by Franz Schubert.
The Israelis seem to have virtually proclaimed Shostakovich an honorary Jew, on the strength, mainly, of this string quartet, his Piano Trio No. 2 in E-Minor, Opus 67 and his Symphony No. 13 in B-Flat Minor, Opus 113, “Babi Yar,” which sets poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. I personally believe they are stretching things a bit. To be sure, Russian society has been, and probably remains, notably anti-Semitic, and Shostakovich’s philo-Semitism was bound to set him apart.
Both the trio and the quartet quote the same scrap of a Hebrew melody, and the symphony quotes Yevtushenko’s poem about a Nazi massacre in the Ukraine in which many Jews — and quite a few gentiles — perished. But most of the texts set in the symphony are critical of the Soviet government and contemporary Russian society, with no reference to the Jews. The first poem, “Babi Yar,” however, is unmistakably an attack on anti-Semitism, and by choosing the poem, Shostakovich is clearly using Yevtushenko’s words to voice his own sentiments.
Jews everywhere are right to honor him for this, especially since this symphony landed him, once again, in the soup with the Soviet authorities. But to claim that the trio and the quartet — each containing some of the most searingly beautiful music Shostakovich ever wrote — make the same case as the symphony is overreaching, upping the political content of the works at the detriment to their musical value.
Admission to the Ariel String Quartet concert is $19 for the general public and $15 for SBMA members. To purchase tickets, stop by the Visitor Services desks at the museum or call 805.884.6423.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.