Among many concerts this week, two stand out, commanding special attention. Both involve the Ciompi Quartet of Duke University, which has been celebrating its 40th anniversary all year. The programs offer two opportunities to explore one of Robert Schumann's quartets as the 150th anniversary of his death draws near. These are "standard repertory" pieces, of course, but they're not as well known as, say, the Piano Quintet, and they're worth a close look every now and then. The performing ensemble is one of our region's finest and most engaging, and the Thursday performance is an informal one with refreshments and discussion of the score by violist Jonathan Bagg, an articulate fellow who can explain music in terms that amateurs can comprehend. The second concert offers the same Schumann Quartet with some unusual program partners. James Tocco, artist-in-residence at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, is the guest pianist, and he'll play Edward Elgar's expansive Piano Quintet, penned 1918-19. And there's an exceptional bonus this time, too, since soprano Audrey Luna, who also hails from Cincinnati, will be on hand to sing Gabriel Fauré's La bonne Chanson, a great masterwork from French song literature that requires a superior vocalist, a pianist and a string quartet.
Speaking of the quartet--our quartet--brings us back to where we came in. Music lovers throughout the Triangle have been in festive moods all season, marking this milestone anniversary of Duke's famous foursome. If Duke is seen by a large segment of the population as a bastion of the arts and culture, it's partly due to the presence of Eric Pritchard, Hsiao-mei Ku, Jonathan Bagg and Fred Raimi. Those who have not heard them in concert owe it to themselves to make tracks to the Nasher on Thursday or the Nelson Music Room on Saturday.
Thursday, April 13
Ciompi Quartet First Course Concert: Schumann: String Quartet in A Minor. Op. 41/1, with commentary by violist Jonathan Bagg. Auditorium, Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham. 5:30 p.m. $5 at the door. 684-4444; information ciompi.org.
Saturday, April 15
Ciompi Quartet with James Tocco, piano, and Audrey Luna, soprano. Schumann: String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 41/1; Fauré: La bonne Chanson (for soprano, piano and quartet); and Elgar: Piano Quintet in A Minor. Nelson Music Room, East Campus, Duke University, Durham. 8 pm. $15, students/children $8. 684-4444 or tickets.duke.edu; information
For a brief history of the Ciompi Quartet, prepared for its 40th anniversary, see Our Quartet: A History of & Tribute to the Ciompi Quartet of Duke University by John W. Lambert at cvnc.org/reviews/2006/features06/CQhistory&tribute.html.
Another Musical Voyage with Mallarmé (with Nagi Hilal, oud, Etty Ben-Zaken, vocalist, and Eitan Steinberg, composer) by Jeffrey Rossman
Eitan Steinberg captured the essence of the afternoon's music by saying that cultures are like oceans--one flows into the other. Just as you cannot actually discern where an ocean ends, the cultures of this globe blend, assimilate and share at least some aspects of those near and far, geographically.
An Oud in Exile (Rahim AlHaj, oud, and the Ciompi Quartet) by Elizabeth Kahn
As we passed the three-year anniversary of the war in Iraq, Duke sponsored concerts featuring music from the Middle East. The first is cited above. The second consisted of music by Iraqi oud player Rahim AlHaj and the Ciompi Quartet. The message of both concerts was: Make Music Not War.