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PICTON – Watching The New Orford String Quartet in action is like watching a complex, high-speed industrial machine at work; listening to them is, well, as close as you can get to heaven. Their performances at the opening night Friday in St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church, Picton, drew near capacity crowd, much to the delight of festival board chair, Maureen Dunn.
While Schumann’s masterful String quintet in E minor with the piano being the focal instrument, was the highlight piece of the evening, it was also a rewarding night of prominent Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich of Kingston when his string quartet Aspirations was premiered, bouncing the audience to their feet for generous applause both for the musicians and the composer.
Still another treat was having Stephane Lemelin, the founder of the festival 20 years ago, at the piano for the quintet. It was truly a world class performance by world class musicians.
Mozetich took the microphone for a few words to describe his latest work which he said just “came together as it was written, not all planned out ahead.” He described the work as a slow steady climb upward on a scale, then a tumbling fall, repeated up and down, turning into a grand style of waltz for the final movement. Certainly a challenge for the musicians, Mozetich’s harmonies, while contemporary, were also sensible. This writer recalls him saying at an earlier interview, ”When I finished my studies as a composer, I was determined to write contemporary style music, but after awhile, I decided to write music that people like.” He also credited the festival for using other Canadian composers in this year’s program, including John Burge, Paul Winacko and Kevin Lau.
After the concert, Lemelin also commented on how pleased he is to see the festival, which he launched 20 years ago, thriving.
Having living composers take part in the festival was a cornerstone policy from the get-go with many well-recognized Canadian composers taking part over the years.
The opening work was a delightful String Quartet in D minor by Mozart. That composer would no doubt have been impressed and delighted could he hear it.
Saturday night’s concert also drew a large crowd to hear talented young brother-sister duo of Bryan and Sylvie Cheng. Bryan plays a 1686 Stradivarius cello and his sister accompanied on piano. One audience member described it as a ”lively” concert.
Bryan was back again Sunday afternoon as one of the foursome of cello players that brought the first weekend to a close. Young and supremely talented, the four took turns spelling each other off on snippets of melody and bowing patterns. They also strummed their instruments at times like a guitar, a style that lead member David Roberts described as “hard on the fingers with both calluses and blisters.”
One is used to hearing the rapid fire of 64th notes played on a violin, where finger spacing between notes is half to one inch. On the cello it is 1 ½ to two inches – done in the same timing. Truly world class musicianship!
After an astounding rip through Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro overture, and a serene Apres Un Reve, by Faure, two of the players took the stage for Suite for Two Cellos by David Popper (1845 –1924, described by musicians as “the uncrowned king of the cello.” That work involved a traditional three movements of challenging music. Group members David Roberts and Leanna Rutt handled this complex work with aplomb. Only two of the players were on stage for that – David Liam Roberts and Leanna Rutt.
The cello’s ability to create harmonics Ia technique which allows the player to soar octaves above the instrument’s normal range,) was demonstrated in a sweet traditional tune in an arrangement by Canadian contemporary composer Paul Winacko.
The theme and variations of the famous piece, ”Bolero,” brought the first half to a close with a standing ovation.
The second half opened with a three-movement suite called “Solo Caprices,” by Kingston composer Dean Burry, who recalled visiting the festival in previous years and described it as “a family and community event I really love.”
Another duet number featured Bryan Cheng and Cameron Crozman called “Duo in A Minor by French composer Jacques Offenbach.
Another French composition, La Fille aux Chevalier de Lin , was a sweet and tender serenade, launching into two rhythmic tango-style pieces by Brazilian composer Astor Piazzolla, closing with a horse-race sounding “Marcia,”by Giovanni Solima, complete with representative hoof beats and neighs and players thumping on their cellos like a percussion instrument.
After the concert, the foursome sat on the stage and each outlined their own instruments, ranging from 1696 to 1750 to contemporary.
Questions ranged from use of modern non-wood materials to bowing techniques to playing a barbershop harmony arrangement. To the latter question, the group agreed: “Good idea.”
Next weekend opens with an evening with festival founder Stephane Lemelin on the piano at 7:30 p.m. in St. Mary Magdalene.