As Bob Dylan so often pointed out, "the times, they are a-changin'."
In the midst of their 25th Anniversary Season, the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth has undertaken some major, if not radical, steps to reinvent themselves. Gone is Robert Davidovici, the only artistic director they've ever had (the point is made in their welcoming message that he was only responsible for "24-and-a-half seasons"). Further, there is a vocal change in their programming efforts to include the string quartet, which has been oft underrepresented in their ensemble choices in recent years.
As part of this new focus, the Chamber Music Society invited two string quartets to take part in the current season: the Miró Quartet, who gave a concert in September and the Amernet String Quartet, who offered up the latest program on the Society's schedule, performing a program of Beethoven, Shostakovich and Dvořák.
Based in Miami, the Amernet Quartet is currently in residence at Florida International University (which is also the home base of former director Davidovici). Formed originally in 1991 by students at the Juilliard School, the ensemble has a single remaining member Marcia Littley, the second violinist. The rest of the group is comprised of Misha Vitenson, first violin; Michael Klotz, viola; and Jason Calloway, cello.
The concert opened with Beethoven's Op. 95 Quartet in F minor, "Serioso," the final entry in what would prove to be the composer's "middle period." The work functions as a transition between Beethoven's last vestiges of Classicism and the burgeoning Romanticism of his late period. Throughout most of the work, the ensemble sounded ill at ease. The acoustics of the room at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth were not complimentary to the sound of the quartet; the drier sound seemed to rob the performance of its sharp edge at times. There were a few pitch issues, especially on Vitenson's part in the opening movement – though to be fair, the entire ensemble had difficulty keeping their instruments in proper tuning throughout the whole concert. At one point during an extended period of tuning, Klotz turned to the audience and joked by commenting that the temperature in Miami was 86 degrees on Friday.
Closing the first half was Shostakovich's Fourth Quartet, Op. 83. Composed in 1947, the piece did not receive its premiere until 1953 (though it was prepared for performance in 1950 before being shelved by the composer). The reason? Simply put, it was a case of wrong music for the wrong time. At the end of his life, dictator Joseph Stalin rejected the idea of abstract music in favor of music that glorified the Motherland of Russia. Shostakovich, who had been castigated for similar reasons before, decided that he would hold back works such as the Fourth Quartet until it was deemed safer to present. Stalin died in March of 1953, thus Shostakovich felt secure in presenting works that weren't as musically concrete. The performance of this work was more at ease than the Beethoven. The second movement stood out in particular, with the interplay between the four instrumentalists taking on a more poignant quality.
The final work of the concert was Dvořák's Quartet No. 12 in F Major, also known as the "American Quartet." Composed during a two-year visit to the United States alongside the Ninth Symphony and the Cello Concerto, the quartet is among the composer's most well-known works. Easily the highlight of the concert, the performance was marked by strong interplay between the four performers. The viola part is featured extensively in the work, and violist Klotz handled the work especially well, with a rich, even tone that fit in where needed but could also take the lead when required.
The Society took a big step forward with its decision to open the programming repertoire to additional ensembles beyond their normal piano-based instrumentation. Now, it will be up to the new artistic director, who will be selected in the coming months, to continue the blossoming trend and expand it further. Programming the Amernet Quartet is a good first step; let's see what comes next.