Solera Quartet delivers youthful enthusiasm, talent

The Virginia Gazette

The Virginia Arts Festival's only classically oriented options in this year's Festival Williamsburg were two performances, Thursday and Friday, featuring the Solera String Quartet, the quartet in residence at the University of Notre Dame.

The Coffee Concerts, held at the Williamsburg Winery, are a popular draw and this year's events held true to form.Individually and collectively, the Solera's members are movers and shakers in major musical venues around the world, fully committed to expanding awareness and appreciation of music and musical styles, especially in community-based endeavors.

Only about a year old, the New York-based ensemble, displayed a sense of musical cohesion and interpretive understanding usually found in groups of longer, more established tenure.It was an impressive hearing of top notch, intense playing that reflected the group's notable skills.The members (Tricia Park and Miki-Sophia Cloud, violin; Molly Carr, viola; Andrew Janss, cello) brought to the fare stylish presentations, carefully crafted interpretations, and abundant technique and flair--a brilliant physical and musical display of abundant youthful enthusiasm and talent.

Thursday's fare offered a start, an end, and a bit of today for balance.Beethoven'sString Quartet No. 16 in F Major was, essentially, his last composition, Mendelssohn's String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor his first substantial string quartet, and Caroline Shaw's "Entr'acte" a comment on contemporary composition.

The Beethoven is lyrical, rhythmic, with frequent interruptions of intense turbulence.A mixed bag of emotions, the piece has garnered curiosity for Beethoven's mysterious penning of "must it be" and "it must be" on the score, the interpretations of the inscription ranging from spiritual to witty.Regardless of the quasi-philosophical trappings, it's a powerful piece that was superbly done.

Mendelssohn's quartet, inspired by Beethoven, was a fine companion piece to the Beethoven in emotional content and a romantically inspired question, "is it true." Reflecting a bit of Beethoven bravura, this A Minor is typical of Mendelssohn in its charm, lyricism, rhythmic variations, and sense of melodic line.It was an involved performance, the quartet fully capturing the work's soaring lines, intensity, and delicacy.

Caroline Shaw, the youngest person to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize in music, is an important voice in contemporary music, crafting vocal and instrumental works that are exciting, challenging, and intriguing.Sometimes she sounds contemporary and then, with the quickness of light, shifts focus and enters the classical or neo-classical genre, comfortably moving back and forth between styles.

The basic jumping off point for many of her compositions is rooted in the classical genre, as is the case with "Entr'acte" which drew its inspiration from Haydn. Elements of classical lines run through the piece, as do tonal and more dissonant sounds, and complex rhythms and fanciful passages.With everything from melodic to ghost-like utterances, "Entr'acte" is clever and quite appealing, as was this excellent performance.

Friday's Coffee Concert offered another impressive display of fine playing by the Solera and two principal players from the Virginia Symphony -- Debra Wendells Cross, flute, and Barbara Chapman, harp.

The fare was colorful, showcasing Nino Rota and Heitor Villa-Lobos, with Dvorak rounding out the mix.Rota's Sonata for Flute and Harp was intriguing, given his main claim to fame as the man behind the music in such films as "The Godfather," "Romeo and Juliet," and "War and Peace." In fact, Rota wrote an impressive number of chamber works, the Sonata being one. Graceful, lyrical, delicate and flowing, the work was captivating and its playing illustrative of the extreme talent that exists in the Symphony.

Heitor Villa-Lobos also wrote a number of classical works, in addition to his more Brazilian flavored works as "Bachianas Brasileiras." "Jet Whistle," which featured Cross and cellist Janss, was an exotic and engaging work that contrasted the elements of both instruments, sort of a musical yin and yang.Its performance was perfection at play.

Dvorak's String Quartet No. 12, "American," is one of the most well known and loved works in the literature.Written in a matter of days while visiting a Czech community in Iowa, the quartet reflects Dvorak's homeland, although there are reasons to believe it also reflects degrees of Americana.It is a feel good piece that is notable for its long, luxurious lines, richly developed melodies, and infectious sense of spirit.

The Solera delivered a highly energetic and sensitive interpretation and performance that was explosive in impact. Involved and total performances such as this are rare,which makes this hearing all the more memorable.Keep your eye on this group; it's got quite a future ahead. You can't beat that abundant youthful enthusiasm and talent!

John Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for over 40 years. He makes a guest appearance in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."

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