It occurred to me this morning, while listening to a recording of Béla Bartók’s fifth string quartet, the first of the Bartók quartets I ever heard, that I have not yet reviewed a performance of any of these quartets on Examiner.com. Indeed, it appears that my only recent account of a performance of Bartók’s music on my San Francisco platform involved the New Century Chamber Orchestra performance of his string orchestra version of six short Romanian folk dances by the New Century Chamber Orchestra at the kick-off concert for their eight-city tour of the Midwest and California this past January. This is not to suggest that Bartók has been unduly neglected in this city. The Takás Quartet performed his fourth quartet when they visited last October; and I even recommended Robert Greenberg’s latest series of lecture-demonstrations in conjunction with the Alexander String Quartet, covering the quartets of both Bartók and his colleague Zoltán Kodály, as an ideal “Christmas gift for the serious listener.” (The last of these presentations will take place on May 14 and focus on the last two Bartók quartets.)
I am fully aware that concert programming is very much at the mercy of what is fashionable. Bartók was all the rage when I was a student, but for most audiences that counts as ancient history. Those who were around may not have memories as vivid as my own. Still, given the interest that still forms around the music of György Ligeti, one might think that some of that interest might extend to Ligeti’s own listening experiences and the role that Bartók must have played in them.