For my concert critique I went to see The Kontras String Quartet - Concert Critique introduction. They performed in a room at Saint Mary’s School. The room was beautiful with paintings of composers all over the walls and eighteenth century décor. The audience was composed of approximately 50 people, as I do not believe the room could hold many more, and was mainly comprised of mature ladies and gentlemen. They were educated musical listeners with a lighthearted attitude. The quartet was built with four ladies and gentleman, all from different countries. They explained during the show that they try to play music from their home countries, so the concert was arranged with pieces from Russia and Japan.
The first piece was “String Quartet in E-flat, Op.33 No. 2” By Franz Joseph Haydn. In the program joke was written in quotations beside the name of the song, and after hearing it, I understood why. It begins with a grand pause, and I have to admit I wondered if it was over. Then, there are rests about every two bars, almost as if tricking the audience again and again to contemplate weather the piece had ended. The rests then get longer as the song goes on, which turns out to make the ending very amusing. The texture was polyphonic, playful and carefree. The tempo is constantly changing throughout the piece, adding to the light, chiasmic, and joking feel. The dynamics also changed frequently and this was a major part of the piece. Without the constant crescendos and diminuendos, the audience would not be able to understand the teasing nature of the music. There is definitely a theme of variation in this piece where sonority is again changing within the piece. Since this was a quartet, many string techniques were used during the course of the music, including vibrato, glissando, and trills. The finale is a crisp rondo, alternating with contrasting themes, making the final joke. At the end of this piece the audience was full of laughter.
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The next piece was “Four Japanese Folk Songs, No.2 for String Quartet” by Hajime Koumatsu. The first of the four songs was “Yagibushi”. In western culture, we practice music with seven notes; however in Japan they only use five notes. This song sounded very cultural, as if it was festive music. It had an upbeat, fast tempo with a polyphonic texture and consisted of reoccurring crescendos and diminuendos. Pizzicato or plucking of the strings was also exhibited in this piece often. This added to the cultural and festival sound and feel of the music. The second song was “Nambu Ushioi Uta”. Right at the beginning of the song I noticed vibrato. The music started off beautifully slow in a high pitch. Then the tempo continued to change throughout the rest of the piece, alternating between slow and fast. Overall, the feeling of the music was sad and secluded. The sonority was major for much of the piece, with a polyphonic texture. The third folk song was called “Otemoyan”. This entire song was plucked on the violin, viola, and cello. This gave the song a unique sound that I personally had never heard before. The tune had a comical and playful feel which complemented the pizzicato. Even so, the texture was still polyphonic with interwoven melodies. The last song in the set was titled “Aizu Bandaisan”. This felt like dance folk music with a mostly fast, allegro tempo but the song did slow down at certain times. Parts of the song sounded like side effects, like someone was riding a horse in a movie. This song included different textures, and was unlike any song I has ever heard before. Many string techniques were used in this song such as vibrato, glissando, trill, and tremolo.
The final song was “String Quartet in E flat Major, No. 9, Op. 117” by Dmitri Shostakovich. This song explored lower sonorities and dark colorations. This piece reminded me of life; it was happy and lively, sad and somber, dark and scary all in one. It took me on an emotional rollercoaster, and really had me contemplating what this song was about, what did the artists and performers want to portray from this? This song had sharp attacks of pizzicato and relentless rhythms. Although the sonority is mostly major, it took a moment for that to come on, and shifted slightly through the piece. This soulful, life-changing piece included many fluctuations in pitch and playful, brutal vibrato. At some points the tone even seemed sarcastic. The tempo and dynamics were ever-changing, from soft and slow to very loud and crazed. The Kontra Quartet had wonderful intonation, and amazed me with their ability to play off each other. The techniques in this piece included tremolo, trills, pizzicato, vibrato, and glissando. This fierce, yet delightful song was by far my favorite.
To my surprise, I really enjoyed the concert. At first I was a little sleepy from listening to the quartet, but through after opening my mind the music inspired and intrigued me. The performers seemed very comfortable with themselves, each other, and performing the music. The musicians would often tell us information about the song and its history before each piece began. The quartet was well-rehearsed and educated; you could tell they love music and sharing their talent with the audience. The part I remember the most is at the end of the first piece by Franz Haydn, the rests were gradually growing larger and the audience was amused by this musical pun. They were actually giggling out loud, and at the end of the performance the whole crowd was caught in laughing. I perceived this as weird and untraditional at first, because I thought you were supposed to sit there, listen, and be quiet. I never would have imagined the performers and the crowd could have such a connection. I did not think I would enjoy this concert as much as I did. I am grateful for the opportunity to have witnessed some remarkable music by superb musicians.