in: Reviews

November 1, 2011

The Russians are Coming. . . Eventually

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The Borodin String Quartet has been performing with various personnel for over sixty-five years. The foursome’s strangely presented performance at First Church in Cambridge, Congregational on October 28 is the subject of the first Garrett Report.
The “performance” was superb, though I had some reservations about Julian Milkis, the clarinetist who was called in to assist with the Mozart Clarinet Quintet and who starred in the Gershwin pastiche. The “experience” was something else.

1. There was the ghastly weather outside.

2. The sale and purchase of tickets seemed to be confused on both sides of the table, but that was not a problem I had to deal with.  I gave the two extra tickets I had to the man who originally alerted me to the concert. There had been virtually no publicity.

3. When I went in, I asked for a program. The woman seemingly in charge answered either “nyet” or “not yet,” I didn’t know which.  It turned out to be the latter, for about twenty minutes later a man came through with programs, but he was most reluctant to hand them out.  I chased him down and fetched one.

4. The room gradually filled with wet, well fed, nattering Russians, for whom this was not a concert but a social gathering.

5. The performance, scheduled to begin at 6:00, was “Russianly” delayed.  At 6:20 a man made an announcement (in English I think) that few heard, because the audience talked through it.  I learned later that the fellow apologized for the delay and explained that the Shostakovitch Fourth Quartet would be performed in lieu of the scheduled Shostakovitch Eighth.

6. At 6:35, the performance began. The first-half was given to Mozart and Shostakovitch. It was interesting to hear both in FCC,C’s  large, very live space.

7. The intermission came and lasted forty-five minutes. That’s right, forty-five minutes.

8. The second-half featured Borodin’s Second Quartet, which is the quartet’s signature piece certainly (and they did it up brown), and five songs from Gershwin’s Shall We Dance arranged for string quartet and clarinet. The Gershwin was okay, but I don’t think that the audience was very receptive (many spent the time putting on their coats, because by now, it was about 9:15).  My take was that any five journeymen jazz musicians (American) could, in an hour or so, come up with better arrangements.

9. The program did eventually end, and then there was still that ghastly weather outside.  I was on foot, but appropriately attired and fortunately living just four short blocks north and one long one across.

An Harvard Musical Association member, Thomas Garrett admits to knowing very little about music, but he has a doctorate in history of the theater and feels qualified to write about this concert as a “happening.”

2 Comments

  1. Thomas, it was not Borodin Quartet but Baltimore Quartet impersonated the celebrated Borodin String Quartet. Also, the “well-fed nattering Russians” that you have witnessed in there were not indigenous Russians but CIA and FBI workforce who learned Russian language in their Harvard comparative literature classes. If you know very little about music then it is still very simple to figure out if you dealt with Russians or with American contraintelligence operatives. Perhaps the bad weather outside gave you a wrong impression that they were Russians but there are more indicative ways to recognize the differences. During the genuine Russian performances of the Shostakovich Eighth Quartet, right after first movements, a big Siberian bear with salmon in his teeth shall walk on the stage and dance Trepak in Baryshnikov style. If it did not happen then it was CIA operation to catch Russian secret agents. Well, the problem with it is that if we catch all of those damn Russkis and extradite them then we will be forced to listen that great number of the “wonderful” string quartets composed by only American composers. Good luck with that opportunity!

    Comment by Romy The Cat — November 1, 2011 at 10:44 am

  2. Well, Romy, without derogating one jot from the wonderfulness of the Shostakovich string quartet œuvre, I can think of plenty of American string quartets that don’t require scare-quotes: both Ives quartets, the five by Chadwick (especially 4 and 5), the five by Piston, the Beach, the Carpenter, the Barber, the Seeger, some of the Rochberg, (for some tastes) the Carters, a few by Quincy Porter, Randall Thompson, Virgil Thomson, Easley Blackwood, Ross Lee Finney, (for some tastes) Philip Glass, John Harbison, Aaron Jay Kernis, et cet.

    Comment by Vance Koven — November 1, 2011 at 11:27 am

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