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Matthew Christakos, Charissa Vandikas, Royce Rich and Leslie Ashworth

​​Review by  David Richards
oronto ON  January 24th 2019

It was a very special night last night at the home of Marko Duic and Gabriel Lau in their Music@100 concert. The ambiance of a beautiful room lined in bookshelves, stunning art, a working fireplace with the crackling sounds of burning wood, and the plush seating on comfortable sofas contributed to the intimate atmosphere for the twenty or so in the audience, but it was the superb playing by student musicians that created the singular experience. I wouldn’t ordinarily write about a house concert with a small audience. However, this concert was so moving that I can’t let it pass without expressing how deeply heart-rendering it was.

Four musicians from the Royal Conservatory who call themselves the Meraki Quartet presented a program that would challenge the finest seasoned musicians and performed with passion, intelligence, energy and joy. Sitting just a few feet from the performers, I felt like I was in the middle of the music. It was as if I was a part of the performance, a feeling that is almost impossible listening from several rows back in a large concert hall or worse still listening to a recording even with the finest amplifier and speakers.

The student musicians from the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School and the Phil and Eli Taylor Academy performed music by Bach, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Brahms, music that will be part of their student recitals, auditions for their next schools, and the GGS chamber music competitions

The first half of the concert featured the musicians as individuals. Violinist Royce Rich opened the program with a beautifully expressive Allemande from Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1006 by J.S. Bach. He dug right into the depths of the music’s soul. Next up was violinist Leslie Ashworth performing another Bach selection, this time two movements from Sonata No. 2 n A minor, BWV 1003. Her playing was full of enthusiasm with precise intonation and dynamic ferocity. Charissa Vandikas, whom we have heard in our home in a duo with fellow student Linda Ruan, performed Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 51. The intensity and drama in her playing was palpable. . Both Ashworth and Vandikas in their final undergraduate year at GGS gave samples of their audition music for grad school. The final solo performance featured cellist Matthew Christakos. The youngest of the four, a high school student in the Eli Taylor Academy for Young Artists, Christakos performed a beautifully lyrical piece by Rachmaninoff entitled Lied. I was most impressed by his rich tone and musical phrasing. The first half concluded with Rich, Asworth and Vandikas in a performance of two movements from J. S. Bach’s Concerto in D minor for 2 Violins (not sure of the BWV). The two violinists obviously enjoyed playing off each other. Their sounds were well-matched, and their playing had a fresh, spirited energy buoyed by Vandikas’ intricate piano reduction of the original orchestra score .

The highlight of the evening came after a short intermission when each of the performers came out complete with costume change ready to take on Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60. This intensely emotional work demands the utmost of virtuosity and ensemble unity and the four performers delivered with every ounce of passion one could imagine from a group of young artists getting ready for major performing careers. With Leslie Ashworth on viola for this work, the ensemble had both power and an astonishing depth of tonal colour. The performers performed not as students, but as mature artists in every sense. The unison attacks and rhythmical complexities were spot-on. This was some of the most satisfying music I have heard in some time.

House concerts are alive and well in Toronto. In the spirit of 19th century salon gatherings, they provide a setting for great music not often heard on the big stages, yet just as enjoyable for both performers and audience alike.

House concert provides a special musical treat with outstanding student performers!