Mozart with Muscle: Pacifica Quartet at WGBH

fromWGBH

The Pacifica Quartet

Simin Ganatra, violin

Sibbi Bernhardsson, violin

Masumi Per Rostad, viola

Brandon Vamos, cello

Hear the Music, Skip the Talk

Mozart: String Quartet No. 19 in C, K. 465 "Dissonance"

Cathy Fuller brings her talents as a pianist and educator to her work at WGBH Radio Boston, producing weekly live classical performances, hosting Classics in the Morning, coordinating programming, and acting as classical liaison to the community.

The Pacifica Quartet

The Pacifica Quartet brings its youthful vigor, and Mozart's "Dissonance" Quartet, to WGBH in Boston. courtesy of the artists hide caption

itoggle caption courtesy of the artists

The Pacifica Quartet flooded WGBH's Studio One with its vibrant, highly charged playing. Throughout our candid conversation, and as they made Mozart sound fresh, I saw the quartet's exuberant eyes, sparkling with a playful and almost disarming sense of assurance.

Young players of this caliber give me the most warm-hearted shivers, and leave me with a sense that the great string quartets written long ago, and those still unwritten today, are in really good hands.

My favorite remark in the conversation came as we were discussing Mozart. I asked the group's members if they would have any questions for Mozart if we could bring him back into the studio, right now.

"I think I'd tell him not to waste his time on us," violinist Simin Ganatra said. "Just please go and write some more music."

More About the Pacifica Quartet

The Pacifica Quartet is one of the most adventurous chamber ensembles working today. The group performs and commissions more than six new works each year. At the University of Chicago, where they serve as Quartet in Residence, members of the quartet work side by side with student composers, shaping new pieces and performing them as they're being composed.

The Pacifica was formed in 1994, and has won many awards, including the coveted Avery Fisher Career Grant, as well as top prizes at the Naumberg and Cleveland competitions. In 2002, the group was named a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's CMS Two, a special appointment for gifted young musicians.

The Pacifica's repertoire is especially broad, including staples from Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart, as well as the challenging quartets by Elliot Carter. The group has championed Carter's music, performing all five of the American composer's quartets in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Japan and Germany, and at the Edinburgh festival in Scotland. Pacifica's new recording of the Carter Quartets will be released in January 2008, to mark the composer's 100th birthday year.

'Dissonance' Splashed with Sunshine

Mozart's String Quartet No. 19 in C major, K. 465, has come to be known as the "Dissonance" quartet. He listed the piece in his composition book as being written in a single day: Jan. 14, 1785. The nickname refers to quartet's spacey and dissonant opening measures.

"It is a very interesting beginning," Pacifica violinist Simin Ganatra says. "You really don't know what key you're in for quite some time, until finally we have this C-major melody." The music must have come as a shock to those who heard it in Mozart's day.

But the gray clouds that cover the opening eventually give way to rays of light; in fact, most of the quartet is far from dissonant, and even sunny in many places. The graceful second movement includes a long-lined melody that could be an outtake from "The Marriage of Figaro," and the concluding Allegro provides plenty of drama.

Ganatra says the Pacificas like to approach the music almost as a miniature opera, with melodies and inner voices entering and exiting like so many operatic characters.

"It is easy to feel restricted," Ganatra says, "because the sounds are so pure, and you don't want to make a bad sound because it's Mozart. But instead of 'nice sounds,' we try to think it's operatic and try to sing out with each new character."

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