By Michael Burten
It’s never been quite clear to me as to why the fashion for performers of classical music has always been black-on-black (as far as I can tell) ﾗ but, nonetheless, as the members of the Chase Quartet walked on stage to applause, it seemed rather appropriate. There was nothing funereal in their attire, only a modesty that bespoke the philosophy of music-first performer-second, a philosophy all but lost in this modern age of the cult of celebrity and the artist-as-art mentality.
The crowd quieted quickly as the four sat down and began tuning. Stage right were Andrew Stewart ’15 and Alayne Wegner ’17 with their violins in hand; and stage left sat David Hoyt ’14, who is also the Collegian’s chief copy editor, tuning his viola quietly, and Jeremy Fuller ’14 dragging his bow across thick cello strings. In a moment they were ready and, with a breath, began.
Over the course of the performance, the quartet played three pieces: Schubert’s String Quartet No. 12 in C minor, D. 703 (1820), Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2 in D Major (1881), and Prokofiev’s String Quartet No. 2 in F Major, Op. 92 (1941). Looking at the set list, I wondered how the musical choices served some thematic function, but, as the performance continued, I stopped wondering and started enjoying purely for the music’s sake. Stewart’s performance as first violin was superb, but it was made possible only by the assiduous technicality of Wegner’s job on second violin. Hoyt and Fuller played their respective instruments with virtuosic clarity and composure, but it is not the individual talents of the musicians that makes a quartet function.
During the Schubert piece, the four players seemed ﾗ if not shaky ﾗ new. It was clearly a difficult bit of music, frenetic and alive with huge emotional shifts and fancy fingerings. Stewart made an impressive show of it and the rest of the quartet played along beautifully, but I wasn’t sure if they had really congealed into the well-balanced unit a quartet needs to be in order to function. But, through the Borodin and Prokofiev pieces, the Chase Quartet showed that beyond each of their individual talents lies a strong tendency toward teamwork. Neither Borodin’s romantic piece nor Prokofiev’s modern Soviet composition could have been performed by a group of talented musicians playing together. They had to be played by a quartet, and that is exactly who played them.
When they finished, the crowd jolted up into a raucous standing ovation. Each member of the quartet looked tired, relieved and happy in the way only performing live can make anyone feel; and, after more than an hour’s worth of playing, they deserved it. The audience was all smiles and so were they. It was a good night for music.