The Brentano String Quartet, made up of violinists Mark Steinberg and Serena Canin, violist Misha Amory and celloist Nina Lee, performed at Shannon Hall inside of Memorial Union Feb. 10.
The performance, part of the chamber music series, marked the first classical showcase of the Wisconsin Union Theater’s 2022 schedule.
After the group met at the Julliard School for the Arts in 1992, the Brentano String Quartet has since toured around the world for decades playing in several of the world’s premiere concert venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York City, the Konzerthaus in Vienna, Austria and the Sydney Opera House in the land down under.
In 1999, the group became the first ensemble to hold a artists-in-residence position at Princeton University, where they experimented with and fine-tuned their craft. In 2014, Brentano String Quartet relocated to Yale University where, when not on the road, they have been stationed ever since.
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Brentano String Quartet opened their program at the University of Wisocnsin with a tribute to the “father of the symphony,” 18th century Austrian Composer Franz Josef Haydn, with his “String Quartet in D Major.” The half-hour long piece is a collection of joyful rhythms varied by noticeable changes in tempo.
The opening act featured Steinberg prominently as he set forth many of the main melodies heard throughout Haydn’s crowd-pleasing composition. An abrupt but playful ending to its allegro set the tone for a memorable evening.
Sandwiched between the standard classical 18th and 19th century quartet epics, the group presented a series of contemporary works.
Two of the performed pieces, “ContraDictions” and “Lude,” written by Bruce Adolphe and Steve Mackey, respectively, were products of a 2002 project commissioned by the Brentano String Quartet to encourage modern interpretations and commentaries of Johann Sebastian Bach’s encyclopedic collection “The Art of Fugue.”
Adolphe’s “ContraDictions” draws connections between the generations of music between the Bach’s time and current composition, referencing Bach’s main theme played on the violin while the other instruments create an innovative atmosphere. On the other hand, “Lude” takes inspirations from Bach’s “Contrapuctus XI” and slowly introduces one subject at a time, which lifts the timeless melody.
As artists-in-residence, Brentano String Quartet continues to commission modern works such as these which are often incorporated into their concert set lists.
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Perhaps the shining moment of the night’s performance was the marathon-length finale.
Following a brief intermission, the Brentano String Quartet came back on the stage at Shannon Hall, capping the night off with Franz Schubert’s “String Quartet in G Major” — a near hour long rendition, which had the audience marveling at the artists’ talents and endurance.
As embodied by the musicians on stage, Schubert’s work is rooted in emotionalism — a constant juxtaposition between introversion and extroversion. It was a masterful seal on a night showcasing some of the very best in the classical music world.
A sweet melody introduced late in the song is repeated time and time again by a myriad of voices and tones before being brought to a halt by a grandiose ending, which closed the curtain on a night of orchestral excellence.
Brentano String Quartet’s magnificent program is just a taste of what is to come for the Wisconsin Union Theater’s showcase of world-renowned musical talents. Trumpeter Pacho Flores visits Madison March 5 where he, in collaboration with UW own Symphony Orchestra, is set to perform at Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall at the Hamel Music Center.
Just a few weeks later, the popular “Black Arts Matter Festival” will make its week-long return to Memorial Union. For tickets and more information, visit the Wisconsin Union Theater’s website and social media platforms.