Dallas — House concerts such as the one delivered by the Orchestra of New Spain Sunday evening are not only about the quality of the music. They’re about the deliciousness of the food and wine, the opulence of the hosting home, the charm of the other guests, and the plentitude of the other amenities such as valet parking. The Orchestra of New Spain’s most recent house concert excelled on all fronts.
Enika and Richard Schulze recently purchased and remodeled their Dallas home specifically with these house concerts in mind—they also host the Blue Candlelight concert series, among others—and the remodel was a rousing success. A large living area hung with gorgeous artwork is ideal for chamber music in an intimate setting, while a nearby dining room with resplendent silver walls is perfect for noshing and chatting before the music, at intermission, and perhaps even afterward. Both rooms have impressive views of the home’s garden and its outdoor statuary.
The food for this evening’s concert, catered by Tastefully Yours Catering of Southlake, was amazing. Frequently, these concerts feature food beforehand and desserts at intermission. This group did that tradition one better, with a cocktail (half) hour beforehand in which to enjoy some Spanish wine and hors d’oeuvres, including an exemplary caprese salad on skewers. At intermission, an actual meal was served, featuring a variety of tempting fare such as asparagus wrapped in phyllo pastry and extraordinary goat cheese and blueberry jam tartlets. For dessert, after the show, there were strawberries piped with mascarpone cheese. All but two offerings were vegetarian, and all were judged delicious by everyone present.
But this is neither a food nor an architecture review.
The music, still the evening’s main attraction, was provided by the Quartet Galant, a group of local musicians playing on period instruments. Members of the quartet frequently play in various local Baroque ensembles, including in Orchestra of New Spain’s larger group. Although we often think of the Baroque as being the only time period for which period instruments are appropriate, there is a growing trend toward performing Classical-era music on instruments we usually think of as “Baroque”—in the case of string instruments, this means gut strings, no shoulder rests or even chinrests, and those funky Baroque bows with the bow held much farther toward the tip than we usually see with modern equipment. Each of these differences creates performance challenges for the musician, making Baroque music an especial treat when it is played well.
And played well it was, Sunday evening.
The Orchestra of New Spain’s primary strength is presenting Metroplex listeners with music they would likely not hear otherwise. The Quartet Galant’s performance was no exception: it featured music from the Spanish music from the court of Aranjuez in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The best-known composer on the program was Luigi Boccherini, who, although Italian by birth, lived in Spain for his entire adult life, working for a time as a court composer. Boccherini was a cellist, so tended to write virtuosic parts for the instrument. The String Quartet in A Major performed by the Quartet Galant was no exception. The cello parts of the first movement, aptly styled “Allegro bizarro,” and third movement are so high that the fingering is actually beyond the end of the fingerboard, creating harmonics. Cellist Eric Smith, an early-music stalwart in the Metroplex, handled the part’s quirky difficulties masterfully.
Less well-known than Boccherini were the other two composers on the program, the violinist Gaetano Brunetti and the so-called “Spanish Mozart,” Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga. Although the Brunetti was slightly hampered by some pitch problems, as if the quartet were still finding its way in the unfamiliar room, the group soon found its bearings. The four musicians—University of North Texas doctoral students Veronika Vassileva and Leah Greenfield on violins, UNT music librarian Andrew Justice on viola, and Smith on cello—performed with energy and verve. Smith encouraged an informal atmosphere, telling listeners after the first movement of the Brunetti, “If you like it, you can clap.”
Juan de Arriaga’s musical output was limited, since he died just before his 20th birthday. But his Quartet No. 1 in D minor, one of three quartets composed when the Spaniard was just 16 years old, is a musical revelation. It retains a distinctively Spanish flavor in its harmonies and rhythms, especially in the third movement Minuet, even as it nods to late-Classical tradition. This is a composer whose music is well worth further exploration. The quartet, with their tight ensemble and remarkable tone on their period instruments, did the work justice, and gave listeners a wonderful opportunity to familiarize themselves with this seldom-heard music.
The ensemble finished with an encore of a lively Boccherini dance that was a crowd-pleaser to be sure, with percussive effects provided by Smith on cello.
House concerts are becoming justifiably popular as more patrons of the arts open their beautiful homes to arts groups and their audiences. They are typically a delightful, intimate musical experience, and Sunday’s concert was among the best of the lot.