They opened the program with Andrew Staniland’s Four Elements for String Quartet. The driving opening repeated notes going at hair-racing speed signaled the fury and anger that the music portrayed as it made its statement about the effects of climate change. The five sections of the work, ‘Song for Fire’, ‘Song for Air’, ‘Song for Water’, ‘Song for Earth’, and ‘Song for the Earth on Fire’ each had an intensity brought on by the dissonant intervals and persistent furious rhythms intermixed with sustained harmonics and explosive moments. Staniland, a Canadian composer currently on faculty at Memorial University in St. John’s Newfoundland, is known for his “alternately beautiful and terrifying music” that characterizes this work.
String Quartet No.2 in A minor, Op. 51, No. 2 by Johannes Brahms was performed with convincing commitment and energy. The program notes said “one does not immediately fall in love…” with this music, nevertheless, one couldn’t help but be drawn into the complexity of the thematic and harmonic richness. I was particularly impressed by the soulful second movement. It was in this movement that the chime of a wine glass in the audience added to the performance.
Following an intermission that was enjoyed by all, the audience as the performances themselves, the Quartet returned to perform György Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1, “Metamorphoses nocturnes”. Beginning with softly-rising lines from the lower strings, the first violin played a series of shapes that became the basis for the organizational development of the movement. There were moments with vicious speed and wildness demanding dazzling playing. A sad adagio section and an impudent waltz parody were juxtaposed. (A glass that reverberated with a fork near me seemed appropriate at the end of the waltz section.) There was coarse harmony, disturbing half-tone and quarter-tone separations, “Bartók pizzicatos”, glissandi and harmonics. With all this the, music was immensely listenable, something I probably wouldn’t have said fifty years ago as a young musician.
The quartet ended the evening with an encore of the beautiful “Cavatina” movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 13, Op. 130. I look forward with an increased sense of anticipation for the Rolston String Quartet’s performance on Saturday, July 27 at 1pm in Walter Hall when it teams up with pianist Todd Yaniw for Dvořak’s Piano Quintet in C Major, Op. 48, B. 80. The concert is entitled reGENERATION: Source and Inspiration: Art of Time Ensemble.
Rolston String Quartet: Luri Lee, violin; Emily Kruspe, violin; Hezekiah, viola; and Jonathan Lo, cello
by David Richards
Toronto ON July 24th 2019
Last night, Toronto Summer Music moved down the road to a venue in Parkdale more associated with Salsa dancing and Flemenco shows than the Rolston String Quartet. Lula Lounge is a former movie theatre that has been re-purposed into a hall suitable for dinner theatre, dinner-dances… or even string quartets? For the Lula Lounge, serving dinner and drinks is the key to its success. The hall is rented to organizations that can bring in an audience. There is seating for about 200, mostly around tables in a surrounding that is a cross between early Spanish and Art Deco, ideal for the many Cuban-themed performances that are regular attractions.
With waiters walking from table to table bringing food and drink and with dishes and glasses clanging, it may not have been an ideal concert venue for Brahms, Staniland and Ligeti, yet it did provide an exciting and friendly change from Walter Hall for the regular attendees of the Festival. I met a group of three at my table, one a regular who came with her two sons from out-of-town. I asked the one son sitting beside me if he was a musician and he turned out to be a musicologist from University of Montreal. There was an immediate connection. The sold-out show told me that people were ready to trade in the wonderful acoustics of Walter Hall for a dinner and show in a room that required the strings to be amplified. I wasn't sure whether the applause between movements of the Brahms was the alcohol applauding or new concertgoers attracted to the dinner/show experience.
The Rolston String Quartet did not disappoint. One might have thought that they would have chosen a light-hearted program for the Lula Lounge venue, but not these artists. They chose masterpieces of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries that challenged the audience to listen intently. Their confident, energetic approach to their music-making was evident from the beginning and throughout. They chose works that have been staples of their hectic touring schedule of this past spring and summer. In the past three months, they have travelled to Oregon, Alberta, North Dakota, Maryland and Pennsylvania, as well as centres throughout Ontario. Their tour continues in August with visits to Parry Sound’s Festival of the Sound, Ottawa’s Chamberfest, Collingwood, Banff, Montana and North Dakota.
Rolston String Quartet takes on the Lula Lounge
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Rolston String Quartet: Hezekiah Leung, Luri Lee, Emily Kruspe and Jonathan Lo;
Photo credit: Bo Huang Photography