Magazine article Strings

If Memory Serves

Magazine article Strings

If Memory Serves

Article excerpt

Still in school and studying at the Aspen Music Festival years ago, the Chiara Quartet-violinists Rebecca Fischer and Julie Hye-Yung Yoon, violist Jonah Sirota, and cellist Gregory Beaver-experienced a seminal moment: observing a musical conversation between the Takacs Quartet and Muzsikas, a Hungarian folk ensemble. The two groups performed Bartok and Hungarian folk music back and forth-an exchange that "opened up the possibilities of what music like this can sound like, and how it affects people," Fischer says. "[Bartok] has been very familiar to me and for our quartet-[his] music has felt like home in a sense," she says. "It's one of those things in a lifespan of a quartet-it's one of those wonderful projects that one gets to do, play cycles of composers' work."

Performing and recording Bartok's complete cycle (available now on the Azica label) is a milestone for the Chiara. They also performed it from memory-a feat the quartet has done before with the Brahms cycle in 2012, and with works by various composers including Haydn and Gabriela Lena Frank-at the Ravinia Festival on September 7 and 8.

Folk and oral tradition play interesting roles in memorizing Bartok's work, Fischer says. Many of the pieces Bartok transcribed were originally passed down through oral tradition-with the music changing ever so slightly from one generation to the next. Which begs the question: Does the memorization process allow for the spirit of improvisation?

"In a sense, the goal is to improvise on the music, or to feel close to that improvisational process," she says. "When we were first playing and memorizing the quartets, there's a stage where you feel like it's about the memory. We're always trying to get away from the score and the detail-oriented nature of memorization so we can be freer to feel spontaneous with it-to feel like we can improvise, even if we're really still just playing the notes. …

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