The Juilliard String Quartet in Carmel

“Slow it down.  Take your time.  Listen, really listen.” Much of the wisdom and coaching offered yesterday by the esteemed Juilliard String Quartet to local students at Carmel High could be boiled down to those basic principles.  It was riveting and incredibly satisfying to watch the students—who performed admirably well—soak in the wisdom offered by the quartet, and, with each repetition of a phrase or passage, get closer to excellence and a deeper musical expression.  I think what impressed me most about the quartet’s coaching was that they did not speak down to the students, but treated them as equals, as fellow travellers on the path of musical discovery.  The students had clearly worked very hard for this day and they deserved and received the appreciation and respect of the quartet and the audience.

I was also struck by the advice to allow the bowing arm to move freely of its own weight, instead of through pushing or forcing, which has the effect of jamming the music into the instrument, rather than letting it flow and emerge out from it.  That is applicable to many activities in life, musical and other.

When the Juilliard last appeared in Carmel, a few years ago, I was less than enthusiastic about their performance, which I found dry and uninspired.  But since then they have acquired a new first violinist, Joseph Lin, and a new violist, Roger Tapping, and the change in the group’s energy is palpable.

Tomorrow, at Sunset Center, they will perform quartets by Haydn and Beethoven, as well as a new work by the rising young American composer Jesse Jones (b. 1978), whose piece, “Whereof man cannot speak...” was commissioned by the Juilliard.  Jones writes, “[each of the quartet’s five movements will reference] a certain poetic text, and will explore the spiritual and literal dimensions of religious mysticism and symbolism, as embodied in certain poetry: Yeats, Aquinas, Lamartine, etc. To achieve this, I intend to wed musical aspects of these texts with luminous microtonal harmonies, in hopes to create a sonic embodiment of their unspoken, spiritual ‘meaning.’  In other words, I intend to create a sounding board from which the sentiments of the texts, without actually being spoken, can freely resonate in the listener.  For this I plan to transcribe and orchestrate samples of the human voice—inflected speech, sighs, and song—so that the music flows directly from the sinew of genuine human expression.”

This promises to be a wonderfully auspicious start to Chamber Music Monterey Bay’s 47th season.

The Juilliard String Quartet, Saturday, October 26, 8:00 p.m., at Carmel’s Sunset Center.  Call 831-625-2212 for tickets or visit http://www.chambermusicmontereybay.org/