Each summer the Marlboro Music Festival offers a chance for musicians to collaborate as they develop skills and explore great chamber music. The festival gives young players weeks for refining their craft in chamber music settings and learning new pieces. These weeks are luxurious to concert musicians who, under normal circumstances would not have time for such exceptional polishing. This afternoon, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum hosted several Musicians from Marlboro in a delightful afternoon in its Sunday Concert Series at Calderwood Hall.
The afternoon began in great fashion with Franz Joseph Haydn’s first string quartet, showcasing the incredible artistry of the foursome while pleasing the listeners with its light mood and classical touch. The quartet performed with an astute awareness of each other and with careful attention to dynamics—radiantly squeezing expression from every note of the score while maintaining its delicacy and brilliance.
From the nimble string quartet, the program took quite a dramatic turn as a new group of musicians took the stage for György Ligeti’s Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano. Violinist Soovin Kim gave a brief introduction to the work stating how this was a turning point for Ligeti. After decades of experimentation the composer began to look back, towards more traditional forms such as the passacaglia which the last movement uses. Kim also stated how important the Marlboro Music Festival was in making a performance of this piece possible, citing how difficult it is, especially for the horn player. The musicians handled the piece well, displaying their fervent virtuosity even under the most intense moments. Written in 1982, the composition is a major milestone of its period. While Ligeti is looking back on more traditional roots, he is also reflecting on an era of violence and profound tragedy. Having grown up in a Jewish family in Eastern Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, Ligeti witnessed, first hand, some of the unspeakable horrors of World War II. In his trio, there are beautiful, soaring horn melodies, fractured by incongruous octave displacements, obsessive piano ostinatos performed with incorrigible devoutness and submissive harmonics on the violin, meek but daring to glow from a distance. The piece ends in a Lamento, clearly from a man whose life was torn apart by uncontrollable forces. The movement ducks in and out of tonality faintly recalling disintegrating harmonies as the motion slows, eventually arriving at the hushed ending—three notes, quietly but hopefully shimmering, which finally fade, defeated, into impalpability.
The last piece on the program was Mendelssohn’s Quintet No. 1 for strings in A major, Op. 18. The masterful display of texture and color gave the development sections, which can often seem meandering in Romantic literature, exactly what they needed. The quintet dazzlingly revealed idiosyncrasies and moods which are often overlooked.
The Gardner Museum deserves kudos for curating this exceptional sold-out event— exactly the type of concert which the classical scene needs more of—supporting young musicians in refined performances of classics while also increasing awareness of the under-appreciated catalog of 20th-century music.