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Gerald Carpenter: Calder Quartet Program Spans Two Centuries

UCSB's Office of Arts & Lectures will present a concert by the famed Calder Quartet (Benjamin Jacobson and Andrew Bulbrook on violin, Jonathan Moerschel on viola and Eric Byers on cello) at 7 p.m. Thursday in Hahn Hall at the Music Academy of the West.

Calder Quartet
The Calder Quartet will play Thursday in Hahn Hall. (Autumn de Wilde photo)

The quartet, which formed as a student ensemble at the Thornton School of the University of Southern California, has been hailed from coast to coast, and around the world, as the new shining hope of chamber music. Their two specialties: giving established classics a fresh, new sound, and providing remarkably sympathetic readings of new works. Thursday evening's concert is a case in point.

There are three works on the Calder's program: Thomas Adès's seven movement quartet, Arcadiana, Opus 12 (1994); Leos Janácek's String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters” (1928); and Franz Schubert's String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor, D. 810, “Death and the Maiden.”

Adès (born in 1971) is an English composer who has gone from a spectacular student career straight into the front rank of contemporary composers. Most of his music sounds, to me, like Arvo Pärt with a neo-classical edge, though there isn't a great deal of sharpness about Arcadiana, which is just plain lovely.

When one of Janácek's two string quartets is on a program, it tends to dominate one's memories of the event — they are so emotionally engaging, so full of echoes of one's own feelings and yet so different from what one has heard before.

The Quartet No. 2, written in the year of his death, celebrates the love affair that very likely hastened his end. It is, from start to finish, a commanding original, extraordinarily powerful and deeply moving.

Schubert's "Death and the Maiden Quartet" — so-called because it utilizes music from a Schubert song by that name — has suddenly become the Schubert string quartet you are mostly likely to hear in concert. (For a long time, all it took was the name "Schubert" to attract an audience. Now, a work's fame needs to be certified by some text — like this melodramatic title that combines mortality and virginity. Too bad for the 13 other Schubert string quartets: not having a nickname, they'll turn into Cinderellas that won't get to go to the ball.)

Mind you, it's an amazing work, full of lovely tunes and moving developments.

Members of the Calder Quartet will also lead a masterclass with UCSB string students at 10 a.m. Friday in Geiringer Hall (UCSB Music Department). Admission is free.

Admission to the Hahn Hall concert is $32 for the general public and $10 for UCSB students with current ID (assume limited availability). For tickets and/or information, call the A&L box office at 805.893.3535 or go online by clicking here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own

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