USCB Chamber Music returns on Sunday, December 10, 5:00 pm with a program spanning 350 years, from mid-Baroque to the present. Artistic Director, pianist, and host Andrew Armstrong reveals another facet of his irrepressible personality with a short solo-piano work of his own composition. Also on display is his keen ear for talent; he will be joined by the Barbican String Quartet, a youthful, extraordinarily-talented ensemble specially brought to Beaufort from across the pond. It will be a program of humor, Baroque mastery, twentieth-century intensity, and Romantic-period warmth and celebration.
The program begins with “She Fell for a Flyfisher,” a work that composer Armstrong describes as a “highly programmatic… Romantic tale of Love, Venture, and a Mischievous Fish.” What more could a Lowcountry concertgoer ask for than a descriptive piece involving passion, an incident combining excitement and daring, and the perfect culmination of an angler’s cast? Moving from theatrical charm to free-form counterpoint, Henry Purcell, one of England’s greatest composers, will be represented with his four-voice Fantasia No. 8, from 1680. This short, episodic work of imagination and meticulous craftsmanship ranges across prayerful meditation to dance and back.
One of Purcell’s staunchest admirers was twentieth-century composer Benjamin Britten who adapted, 250+ years later, a number of Purcell’s viol compositions for modern string quartet. Britten brought his respect for this earlier tradition into the four-movement String Quartet No. 1, op 25, which is next on the program. It was commissioned and written in the United States during 1941, an uneasy and momentous time for the young composer. He traveled to the United States prior to WWII in part because of the difficulty of his strict pacifist stance and hostile reviews of his music. (At the outbreak of the war Britten sought to return to his homeland. He turned for advice to the British embassy in Washington and was told to remain in the US as an artistic ambassador.) The Quartet has sections of Baroque-like imitation and textural clarity within a “tense and restless character” which ranges from moments of high apprehension to ethereal motionless. It is now acknowledged to be “a significant milestone in Britten’s composing career” and a gripping account of the composer’s emotional turmoil.
Following intermission, the concert concludes with Piano Quintet in A Major, Opus 81 by Antonin Dvořák. This work, brimming with the joy and fullness of life, is a mixture of Dvořák’s tuneful lyricism, warmth and easy familiarity. The flavor of Czech folk song and dance abound but he does not literally quote ethnic music; all melodies are Dvořák’s own creations in authentic folk style. An almost orchestral palette of color draws the listener into a welcoming atmosphere of hearth-fires flickering, friendships renewed, festive dancing, and comforting memories.
The Barbican String Quartet—Amarins Wierdsma, violin, Kate Maloney, violin, Christoph Slenczka, viola, Yoanna Prodanova, cello—has created an original voice on the chamber music scene, delighting audiences with intimately powerful performances and virtuosic ensemble playing. Currently this international group (who boasts 4 nationalities and a total of 7 languages between them) is based in London and Munich. It recently celebrated a first prize win at the 71st ARD International String Quartet Competition, third prize at the Bordeaux International String Quartet Competition, and first prizes at the 2019 Joseph Joachim International Chamber Music Competition and 2018 St Martin in the Fields Chamber Music Competition. The 2022/2023 season has been an exciting time for the Barbican Quartet as they recorded and released their debut CD and toured in Germany, France, Holland, Switzerland, Italy, Canada and the USA.
Artistic Director, pianist, host, and vessel of boundless energy and insatiable curiosity, Andrew Armstrong has been praised by critics (and lowcountry audiences) for his passionate expression and dazzling technique. His performing credits stretch across continents and genres from performing concertos with orchestra, chamber music with distinguished colleagues, and solo recitals. Andy has delighted audiences with his informative banter and infectious joy for making music with, rather than for, people. He views the audience as an essential teammate in the act of recreating music and bringing it to life. Andy has seen the light and now considers Beaufort a home-away-from-home. Lowcountry classical-music fans have returned the favor with warm and sustained applause for his brilliant artistry and generous humanity. Touring is an essential aspect of his professional obligations and one of its benefits is that his eye for talent can roam far and wide. Thus, two years ago in Europe he came across the Barbican String Quartet, knew that he wanted these polished and spirited musicians to come to Beaufort, proposed the idea, and now they will perform for us on December 10.
String quartet playing is one of the most human forms of artistry. It requires communication, flexibility, technical command, deep-level understanding, and the magical ability to translate human emotion into acoustic sound and, upon reaching the listener’s ear, relocate its undiluted essence directly into the soul. In a world that is becoming increasingly polarized, the Barbican Quartet is a shining example that individual differences can be celebrated and combined to create something beautiful, complete in itself, and profound. Experience the affirmation of life provided by Andrew Armstrong and the Barbican Quartet. Don’t miss the opportunity to hear a superb ensemble on the cusp of greatness. There are three ways to enjoy the concerts: In-Person and virtually by Live-Stream and On-Demand. All virtual concerts are professionally produce, creating great viewing opportunities. On-Demand is accessible four days after the concert and available to view at your leisure for three weeks. For concert, event, or ticket information, go to www.uscbchambermusic.com or call 843-208-8246, Monday through Friday. The 44th season’s opening concert is Sunday, December 10, 2023, 5:00pm at the USCB Center for the Arts, 801 Carteret Street in the downtown historic district.