Float Like a Butterfly...
Bklyn sounds

Sweet Sorrow

Dsc03966_2Last night, Alice Tully Hall was double-marked by a sense of passing. On the one hand, the Vermeer Quartet, the excellent Chicago-based ensemble that has played together for nearly 40 years, was performing it's final New York concert, as guest of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. On top of that, Alice Tully Hall will be closing for major renovations next week, after a near-forty-year run of her own. The hall - which seats over 1,000 - is getting a dramatic facelift  from Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the NYC firm that recently built Boston's new Institute of Contemporary Art, to rave reviews. Plans are for the new ATH to re-open in time for the 2008-09 season.

For this final concert, the Vermeer admirably selected a program of some of their favorite, yet less well-known string quartets. They began with Franz Schubert's early Quartet in E-Flat, written when he was only 16. It mostly resembled Mozart in scope and feel, but the final Allegro sounded like the start of something new, looking ahead to such future masterpieces as his "Death and the Maiden."


The following selection, Benjamin Britten's Third Quartet, was about as different from Schubert as you could get. Written at the end of Britten's life, it is a haunting masterwork: alternately brooding and playful, like a mysterious dance towards death. The visionary final movement was a slow, steady progression, almost hypnotic in its repetition. After fleeting moments of rapture, the music finally faded away to an uncomfortable close.

Following intermission, the Vermeer closed with Antonin Dvorak's Quartet in E-Flat, Op. 51, a mid-career work filled with Slavic folk rhythms and sunny melodies. The quartet played with a lightness and elegance that sent the music floating high above the audience.

Dsc03969After a rousing standing ovation, the Vermeer returned for one final encore: the Zingarese from Haydn's Quartet Op. 20, No. 4: a perfect  little confection to send everyone away with a smile, however bittersweet. 

The final ATH performance before closing for the renovation will be a gala next Monday, April 30, featuring Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Wynton Marsalis, the CMS, and the Juilliard Orchestra. If you can't make it to the hall (or don't want to spring for one of the benefit tix), the concert will be broadcast on PBS on May 3.