The roots of the Juilliard String Quartet go back to 1946, when the four original members combined forces. As in any long-standing organization, changes brought new musicians into the ensemble as others gradually left the fold.
Cellist Joel Krosnick, after his stint as a founding member of the Group for Contemporary Music, became the youngest member of the Juilliard String Quartet (in 1974) and now, decades later, is the temporal anchor of the group, whose next longest serving member, second violinist Ronald Copes, joined in 1997.
One thing that hasn’t changed over the decades is the group’s ongoing showcasing of the familiar and the less so, a commitment to playing newer works with the same care allotted to earlier masterworks.
This was evidenced in Tuesday’s program in the Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall, the last one in the Buffalo Chamber Music Society’s 2014-2015 season, when the quartet featured works by Franz Joseph Haydn (op. 33, no. 5) and Ludwig van Beethoven (op. 135) bracketing Shulamit Ran’s second string quartet.
Haydn’s score is one that had never made it to the BCMS docket before Tuesday and its debut was a fortuitous one. The performance was solid from the opening notes through the final phrases and the audience response was what one would expect of such a pleasant work.
Things were a bit different for the Ran piece. This work wouldn’t have been out of place at a June In Buffalo concert, a place where experimental or challenging scores are the main course on the menu. The reaction in the Mary Seaton Room was decidedly mixed.
Krosnick and violist Roger Tapping, in a preconcert talk moderated by WNED-FM’s Peter Hall, discussed how rehearsing a new piece (in this case, the Ran score) before tackling an acknowledged masterpiece often gives the performer a new perspective on the classic, causing the performers to re-evaluate the solutions to musical situations posed in both works.
Last year, a performance of Ran’s piece was reviewed in the Berkshire Edge and damned with the phrase “… not as ugly as [Ralph] Shapey’s music; but it is, unfortunately, moving in that direction.” Tuesday evening’s murmurings included snippets like “horrible,” “I hated it” and “That was a waste.”
Realistically, it wasn’t that bad. Even after one of Tapping’s viola strings broke and interrupted the performance, the group soldiered on and made an interesting case for the work’s validity in the repertoire. Perhaps, just like scores by Bela Bartok, Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern that the Juilliard Quartet has introduced audiences to in the past, this piece may end up having traction in the concert hall.
As the intermission neared its end, five young musicians were introduced to the audience as this season’s Silverman Scholarship winners, an award that will help them as they enter college in pursuit of a career in music.
The capstone for the evening however, was Beethoven’s powerful and lovely quartet, a work of undeniable genius played with skill, intelligence and grace. The group’s Beethoven performances have been lauded over the decades and this current edition of the foursome has upheld the tradition. It was a great way to send out the season.
Who: Juilliard Quartet
When: Tuesday evening
Where: Mary Seaton Room, Kleinhans Music Hall