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Gerald Carpenter: Juilliard Quartet Returns to Santa Barbara

CAMA's Masterseries opens the 2017-18 season with a concert by the incomparable Juilliard String Quartet (Joseph Lin and Ronald Copes, violins; Roger Tapping, viola; Astrid Schween, cello), 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, at the Lobero Theater, 33 E. Canon Perdido St.

This will be something of a homecoming for Copes. Before he accepted, as would any musician in his or her right mind (there are plenty of the other kind), Juilliard's offer of a place on its faculty and the post of second violin on its fabled string quartet, he was a popular, effective professor of violin at UCSB.

Copes's tenure here is remembered fondly, both for his own considerable contributions to the local music culture, and for the coincidence of his time at UCSB with a kind of Golden Age of music in Santa Barbara, when the number of stellar local ensembles and great performances was at an all time high.

I was already in love with Copes's playing when a small incident confirmed my opinion. At the time, I had amassed a large number of recordings by the Belgian fiddler, Arthur Grumiaux.

In my many conversations with UCSB music students, I would sometimes mention Grumiaux, and they would invariably say, "He's very refined," making it sound as if refinement were a fault.

I wondered where they had gotten that epithet, fearing it might be one of their professors. I asked Alejandro Planchart about it, and he replied: "It certainly wasn't Ron Copes — he worships Grumiaux."

Copes and Schween will lead a masterclass with students from the UCSB Department of Music at 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10, in Karl Geiringer Hall, UCSB Music Building. This event is free and open to the public.

For the Nov. 11 concert, the Juilliard program will include three works: Franz Joseph Haydn's "Quartet in D-Major, Opus 76, No. 5" (1797); Béla Bartók's "Quartet No. 5, Sz.102" (1934); and Antonín Dvorák's "Quartet No. 11 in C-Major, Opus 61" (1881).

The modern string quartet — two violins, one viola, one cello — owes its preeminence among chamber ensembles to the work of Josef Haydn, every one of whose 80-some works in the form is a peerless masterpiece.

In this dazzling catalogue of greatness, the quartets of Opus 76, dedicated to the Hungarian count Joseph Georg von Erdődy, hold a special place for several reasons.

For one thing, No. 3 contains the Haydn-penned Austrian national anthem and is known, for that reason, as "the Emperor," but all six have kept the string quartets and musicologists of the world fully employed for the last 200-plus years.

A solid majority of musicians and musicologists are of the opinion that Bartók's six string quartets represent the most valid continuation of the form after Beethoven's 16, and aver that they are the greatest examples of the string quartet written in the 20th century.

I do not share this opinion.

Although he wrote nine gorgeous symphonies and three sublime concertos (cello, violin, piano), Dvorák maintains his presence on modern concert programs chiefly with his chamber music, and particularly his string quartets, which far surpass, in melodiousness and romantic pleasure if not construction, those of his hero, Johannes Brahms.

Tickets to this concert are $39 and $49, and can pe purchased at the Lobero box office, by calling 963-0761, or by visiting http://checkout.lobero.com/single/SYOS.aspx?p=9971&promo=5590.

— 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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