Friday, May 22, 2020

ASQ Returns with Socially Distanced Dvořák

Cellist Sandy Wilson, violist Paul Yarbrough, and violinists Zakarias Grafilo and Frederick Lifsitz (photography by Shirley Singer, from the SFSU event page)

Almost exactly a month ago this site reported on how the Alexander String Quartet (ASQ), consisting of violinists Zakarias Grafilo and Frederick Lifsitz, violist Paul Yarbrough, and cellist Sandy Wilson, prepared a “cyberspace performance” of Joseph Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Christ in its string quartet version (Hoboken III/50–56) as part of their residency at the Baruch Performing Arts Center of Baruch College in Manhattan. Most local readers know that ASQ is also quartet-in-residence and directors of the Morrison Chamber Music Center in the College of Liberal & Creative Arts at San Francisco State University (SFSU). In that capacity they prepared a similar performance for a “virtual” celebration of the conclusion of the current foreshortened academic year, playing Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 96 (“American”) quartet in F major. That performance is now available for viewing through the event page for that celebration.

It would probably be fair to say that ASQ has gone through a “learning curve” between last month’s performance and the one released yesterday evening. It also appears as if Lifsitz and Yarbrough were playing from different locations, while the “backgrounds” for Grafilo and Wilson appeared to be the same as they were last month. More importantly, however, this second venture into cyberspace strongly suggested that all four players had a better sense of how to communicate with each other while playing, to an extent that the Dvořák performance itself benefitted from both more subtlety and more spontaneity in phrasing.

The other factor that may have some significance is the likelihood that the four ASQ players are more familiar with Dvořák’s Opus 96 than they were with their Haydn selection. Indeed, familiarity may come from not only their own past performances of the music but also experiences in coaching student quartets preparing for a recital. Where audience tastes are concerned, Opus 96 probably ranks quite high, possibly higher than any quartet composed by Haydn. As a result student ensembles that aspire to “go pro” need to anticipate audience demand for this particular Dvořák quartet.

Whatever the cause(s) may be, this “cyberspace performance” is highly engaging. It may not be as engaging as an actual concert performance experience, but ASQ has gone a long way in putting their own stamp of individuality into this elaborately synthesized recording. Even those that think they have “heard it all” in performances of Opus 96 are likely to discover new perspectives while viewing this highly compelling artifact.

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