Best. Music. Ever.
“The string quartet is the highest form of music.”
I’ve never forgotten hearing this many years ago. The statement stands out because the person who said it had that rare convincing power, much like a great writer, so persuasive that you don’t even ask yourself if you agree. So while I won’t try to convince anyone that this statement is true, I will certainly try to explain why the string quartet form can have such a powerful effect on listeners.
The string quartet (2 violins, a viola, and a cello) is one of the longest running musical ensembles. It has been a most popular form since it appeared in mid-18th century and continues its today. For many, the string quartet has enough players to provide enormous musical variety and power but few enough players that the individual instruments can become as one. Famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma has often described the necessary level of trust amongst the four players to perform successfully.
In many ways, you can think of a string quartet as a mini-symphony where, instead of an entire cello section, you have only one cellist. The compositions written for string quartets can be every bit as complex as a symphony but each part is played by only one person. Each player is incredible exposed but also has significantly more expressive flexibility. Each player can interpret their own part but only with a clear sense of the other three musical parts. So much more freedom is possible yet absolute camaraderie, trust, and sense of their place in the greater composition is necessary. Such a necessity lead famed English conductor Jeffrey Tate to say that, “the most perfect expression of human behavior is a string quartet.”
One of America’s finest string quartets performs in Sheridan on March 8. The Muir Quartet rose to prominence immediately upon entering the music scene in the early 1980s, winning the coveted Naumburg and Evian competitions, a GRAMMY award, two Grand Prix du Disques, and the Gramophone Award. The quartet was also featured on the internationally acclaimed PBS broadcast, In Performance at the White House, for President and Mrs. Reagan. Muir Quartet is known for its “exhilarating involvement” (Boston Globe) and “unbridled musicality” (American Record Guide). The Muir Quartet has been in residence at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts since 1983, and gives annual summer workshops at the Tanglewood Institute.
The Muir Quartet will be joined by famed flautist, Carol Wincenc, for a performance and masterclass at Sheridan College on March 8. After participating in this masterclass, Sheridan College music students join a list of Muir’s masterclasses that includes the Eastman School of Music, the Curtis Institute, Oberlin Conservatory, and Rice University.
The March 8 performance features works by Erwin Schulhoff, Antonín Dvořák, and W. A. Mozart. Tickets ($20/15) are available at WYOTheater.com. The 1pm masterclass is free and open to the public. More information can be found at WhitneyArts.org.
Dr. Erin Hanke
Director, Whitney Center for the Arts