One of the great places to hear chamber music during the summer is at the Music Academy of the West, in the sleepy town of Montecito up the coast from Los Angeles.
This was demonstrated in a once in a lifetime concert by the Takacs Quartet who put their musical principles and processes on display for a sold-out audience in the intimate confines of Hahn Hall on Wednesday night, June 18. It was halfway through the first week of the Academy's 67th season, which ran through August 9.
The Takacs Quartet: Edward Duisenberre, Karoly Schranz, Geraldine Walther, Andras Fejer. Photo by Patrick Ryan
The day before, the Takacs had led a master class discussion with four ad hoc student quartets who had prepared for their class with hard study and nervous anticipation, then performed with courage and inspiration. The students and a surprisingly large public audience listened carefully to every word the Takacs said, as when violist Geraldine Walther encouraged the students "to look like you're having fun!"
When the Takacs took the stage for their concert Wednesday night, all in black and Walther's gown overlaid with silver filigree, they backed up their words with action.
They played Beethoven's Quartet Op. 59 No. 2 as if they had worked hard with Beethoven beforehand to get clear all the essential points. As the Takacs had told the students in their master class, they keys to finding Beethoven lay in their belief that every note, every rest, every musical decision they made, was essential to realizing the perfection of Beethoven's design.
And while it was sensitive to mood swings and beautiful melodies, once they switched into high gear at the first movement repeat every measure was an exhilarating voyage of discovery in a sleek, fast car.
The only place they disregarded their own instructions was in the riotous center section of the "Allegretto," where they did not look like they were having fun.
The Takacs next played the "Adagio" from Barber's String Quartet, Op. 11; it was an unusually rapt performance in which the music's hushed intensity was punctuated by audible intakes of breath through first violinist Edward Duisenberre's lips after the longer rests. Similarly whooshed intakes of air accompanied cellist András Fejer's nearly superhuman ability to articulate and maintain long lines of slowly moving notes, expressing the transfixing inevitability of grief. The Takacs' long reading of the last chord's dynamic hairpin marking brought with it welcome waves of consolation and relief.
After intermission, Takacs were joined by Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra principal bassist Nico Abondolo for a transcendent performance of Dvorak's Quintet for String Quartet and Double Bass Op 77.
The work is not programed much outside of festival settings, but Takacs and Abondolo made it clear that the Quintet is a work of consequence in the composer's artistic life and a signal contributor to his artistic development.
In four spacious movements that together last more than half an hour, Dvorak pour his heart into music that matched Brahms for sheer luxury of invention and scrumptiousness of sound; once you have heard the inexplicably obscure, incongruously sublime Poco Andante, it will remain with you always as an irreplaceable treasure. And once you have heard the Poco Andante delivered by Takacs and Abondolo with such perfection of technique, integrity of feeling and genuineness of expression, you may believe that Dvorak wrote the music for you.
There's more East Coast on the Academy's West Coast future. Under terms of a four-year partnership, selected Music Academy Fellows will train and perform with New York Philharmonic musicians and Music Director Alan Gilbert, in both Santa Barbara and New York. To celebrate the the Music Academy's 70th anniversary in 2017, the New York Philharmonic and the Academy Festival Orchestra will play a joint concert.
Glenn Dicterow, the newest addition to the Academy's star-studded faculty, also has a New York connection: New York Philharmonic concertmaster for 34 years, and holder of the newly-created Robert Mann Chair in Strings and Chamber Music at USC Thornton School of Music. Dicterow's responsibilities included individual lessons for selected Academy students, chamber ensemble coaching, performing on the prestigious Tuesday night concert series, and spearheading a String Leadership Studies Program for promising concertmasters and section principals.