String Quartet Soulmates: Ravel and Adams

fromWGBH

The St Lawrence String Quartet contrasts music by Ravel and Adams at the WGBH studio. i i

hide captionThe St Lawrence String Quartet contrasts music by Ravel and Adams at the WGBH studio.

Marco Borggreve
The St Lawrence String Quartet contrasts music by Ravel and Adams at the WGBH studio.

The St Lawrence String Quartet contrasts music by Ravel and Adams at the WGBH studio.

Marco Borggreve

Just The Music

Hear the St. Lawrence Quartet perform at WGBH.

Geoff Nuttall, Scott St. John: Violins
Lesley Robertson: viola
Christopher Costanza: cello

Big truths can come in surprisingly small sentences. That's just one thing I learned when we invited the members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet into our Fraser Performance Studio.

It was so much fun to hear Geoff Nuttall (the group's lead violinist) and his colleagues simply talk about music that I wish I could follow them around with a microphone. They combine wit, energy and intelligence with a delicious dose of irreverence — a recipe that makes their conversations almost as irresistible as their performances.

Composer John Adams was equally taken with the St. Lawrences. When he heard them play, Adams said he was reminded of how much the sound of the string quartet is like "elevated human discourse ... like speech brought to the highest, most sublime level." The group was in Boston recently to perform the local premier of Adams' String Quartet, written especially for them. In our studio, they offered to juxtapose a portion of that piece with part of Maurice Ravel's string quartet. It makes sense. Adams has said that Ravel's music, with its lush harmony and atmosphere, was an inspiration.

Ravel had an uncanny understanding of earth and air, creating intoxicating worlds of sound. Somehow, his sensual harmonies and flexible rhythms capture the very essence of perfumed breezes, sunlit landscapes and the intimate glow of the moon. And he pours all that essence into clear and eloquent musical designs. Nuttall says that Adams was openly influenced by the magic of Ravel's instrumental color, and an excerpt from the opening movement of the Adams Quartet offers the nocturnal feel of an evening in the south of France.

Adams, like many composers before him, was hesitant to write a string quartet. But after he saw the St. Lawrence Quartet play Beethoven, he turned into what Nuttall describes as a "kid in a candy shop." All kinds of possibilities were suddenly open, and he began writing.

In this studio performance, Nuttall and company play the final movement of the Quartet. It ends with a bright, blistering propulsion, an energetic dimension that has come to signify John Adams.

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