Manhattan String Quartet Delights Modernity Students

Rachael Shook

If you were looking for a classy way to start your Friday night, the Colgate Memo-rial Chapel was the place to be last Friday, November 9, when it hosted the renowned Manhattan String Quartet. The group, which traditionally performs at Colgate once a semester, has toured worldwide, most recently visiting the Baltic countries for the Sarajevo Music Festival.

Violinists Curtis Macomber and Calvin Wiersma, violist John Dexter and cellist Chris Finckel paid homage to 18th, 19th and 21st century composers with three pieces of great aesthetic appeal. The group began with a piece by Joseph Haydn: “String Quartet in G Major,” an upbeat and joyful tune. The audience was immediately captured by the overwhelming talent of these four men. Rhythms were perfectly synchronized with one another; not once did any player fall behind. Although the sheet music was present, it was almost unnecessary for the performers, who could effortlessly produce a beautiful sound by barely skimming the pages. The main focus of these players was to perform, and their charisma resonated throughout the concert.

After a humble bow, violinist Wiersma then spoke about the context of the second composition. It was written in 2012 specifi-cally for the group to perform at the Sarajevo Music Festival. “The Salt of Broken Tears,” taking its name from a Shakespeare quote, was modeled after Balkan folk music.

“There are three important qualities to note about this piece,” Wiersma said.

First, the piece was classified as a special type of mu-sic called a “Gan-ga,” which is sung by women working in the fields. The goal of the Ganga is to signify a fierce or “rip-off ” qual-ity that represents a boasting con-test between these women. Musically, this is notated by close intervals causing dissonance, or clashing, of sound. Sec-ond, the piece is polyrhythmic, meaning it has an uneven distribution of rhythms. This quality adds to the harsh, melan-choly tone of the music. American com-posers rarely use this quality, so it sounds unusual to our ears. Finally, it is impor-tant to note that the song included many motifs of traditional Balkan folk songs, during which, Wiersma said, the Balkans would sing along enthusiastically.

Following a short intermission, the group ended with “String Quartet in A Major,” written by composer Robert Schumann, which made a gradual transi-tion from bitter to hopeful. During this song, Wiersma, who had been the first violinist for the first two pieces, gave up the solo role to Macomber, who played with the same precision and beauty as his colleague. The song gradually built up to a powerful crescendo, bringing the audience to their feet as the group smiled and left the stage without boast or pretension.

Thursday afternoon, the quartet spent one-on-one time with students enrolled in CORE 152: The Challenges of Mo-dernity. The students not only had the opportunity to ask the members any spe-cific questions, but were also able to gain insight on the players’ repertoire. They even received an exclusive performance – one which is unique and ultimately adds to the Core Curriculum experience here at Colgate.

Contact Rachael Shook at [email protected].