Classic 107 freelance contributor Sara Krahn breaks down Saturday night's Virtusi concert. The verdict? If you weren't there, you missed out on a fantastic performance from the Calidore String Quartet!

Richard Linklater’s animated drama film Waking Life opens with a scene of professional string players having a practice session in someone’s private home. The film uses a type of animation called rotoscoping, in which stylized lines and colors are digitally traced over footage of lives actors. This style of animation works wonders on the film’s opening scene, allowing the musicians’ playing to look whimsical and effortless - their bows seemingly dance just above their instruments. This is the image that immediately came to mind as the Calidore String Quartet took the stage at the University of Winnipeg’s Eckhardt-Grammatte Hall on March 22. The Internationally renowned and award-winning quartet from California is made up of violinists Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meeham, violist Jeremy Berry and cellist Estelle Choi. The group has received high praise from audiences across North America and Europe, and after Saturday evening’s performance I have no skepticism towards the hype surrounding the stunning string ensemble. As the evening progressed, the initial image of animated and surreal musicianship gained further nuance. I was struck by the idea of playful drama and contrasting themes within an overarching unity. Beethoven’s Op. 18 No. 1 in F Major notably displayed the interaction between playful and serious themes. The fiery motive at the opening of the first movement undergoes a remarkable transformation, becoming overlaid with a new gentler, and more syncopated voice that creates an extraordinary new dimension.


Out of all the works on the program, the quartet’s playing was the most interactive in Beethoven Op. 18– dancing the motivic voices between their instruments with stunning candor. This is an ensemble that truly understands the importance of theatre in musical performance. With amazing ease, their performance achieved that one thing every artist strives towards – the occasion when technique is overwhelmed by the drama of a work.


Osvaldo Golijov’s Tenebrae followed Beethoven’s Op. 18 No. 1, and turned out to be my favorite piece of the night. In his program notes, Golijov writes, “I wanted to offer a piece that could be listened to from different perspectives.” Carrying on the theme of disjunctive ideas within a single work, Golijov sought to portray two distinctly different realities. The first reality focused on the ethereal experience of bringing his son to the planetarium for the first time; the second reality emphasized violence, inspired by Golijov’s trip to Israel.


While Beethoven’s Op. 18 works with spinning motives into metaphors, Golijov’s Tenebrae is a classical representative of 21st C. ambient style. The contrast between these works was wonderfully captured by the quartet’s onstage demeanor, which noticeably transformed for the performance of Tenebrae. The theatrical interaction demanded by Op. 18 was replaced by an introspective, contemplative style of playing. The players drew into themselves so as to achieve the raw emotion that characterized Golijov’s work. This highly sensitive style of performance was carried on in Mendelssohn’s Quartet Opus 13, No. 2 in A minor, which was given greater flourish. The simple idea of Mendelssohn asking his lover, “Is it true if you love me?” in the opening chorale spins into a frenzy of emotional turmoil. Again, the quartet demonstrated an intimate interaction with the piece, achieved only through their ability to play together as a unified tour de force.


Linklater’s whimsical animated drama, Waking Life does indeed serve to describe the magic of the evening’s performance, which lay in the quartet’s ability to transform beautiful music into a dreamlike space. The achievement of creating this musical space is no small feat, as it ultimately marks the difference between a technical performance and a truly artistic one.


Sara Krahn is a freelance contributor for Classic 107. When she is not reviewing concerts for us, she is studying music at Canadian Mennonite University.


The Virtuosi International Recital & Chamber Music Concert Series has one more concert left in their season. Saturday April 12th, they welcome American pianist Christopher Taylor to Winnipeg with a show called Soaring With Poetry. The program will feature Bach's Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 and Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 1. For more information click HERE