Calidore Quartet Launches New CD at Colburn School

Calidore String Quartet
All Things Strings

By Laurence Vittes 

To celebrate the launch of their first CD, the Calidore Quartet (violinists Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violist Jeremy Berry, cellist Estelle Choi) returned to the Colburn School in Los Angeles where it all started in 2010.  Named after the state in which they were  formed and its shining promises of gold, the three Americans and one Canadian played an invitational mini concert at intimate Thayer Hall to show their appreciation to family, friends, supporters and the Colburn community. 

The new CD,  which will soon be available through iTunes and Amazon, is a straight and serious dose of two major repertoire pieces with which the Calidores have become associated, Haydn's String Quartet op. 76 No. 3, "Emperor," and Mendelssohn's Quartet in A minor Op. 13. Their concert Saturday night was a frothier affair dominated by Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw's Entr’acte, but still in every bar there was a unanimity of thought and an equality of voices that gave their music making line and movement.

Entr'acte is structured like a minuet and trio, which Shaw describes as "riffing on that classical form but taking it a little further. I love the way some music like the minuets of Op. 77 suddenly takes you to the other side of Alice’s looking glass," she said, "in a kind of absurd, subtle, technicolor transition."

The impression was of a magical ten minutes of theme and variations in a 6/4 beat, rich in imaginative events taking place over a shifting tide of transcendent ambiguities, painted with a wide variety of brush strokes and occasionally illicitly close harmonies; the miraculous ending begins after an arpeggiated episode for the violins leading to the music's last riff, an extended passage for cello, entirely pizz. 

Entr'acte, which Shaw has already adapted for string orchestra–it would mean an incredible tour de force for even a small section of cellos–was written in 2011 after Shaw heard the Brentano Quartet play Haydn’s Quartet Op. 77 No. 2; she was particularly impressed by the Brentano's "spare and soulful shift to the D-flat major trio in the minuet." If she hears what the the Calidores did with her Entr'acte Saturday night, Shaw might have been inspired again. 

Perhaps the strongest measure of Entr'acte's hold over the audience was that it came after a tremendously exhilarating, whiz-bang reading of the "Furiant" third movement from Dvorak's Piano Quintet Op. 81 for which the Calidores were joined by "special surprise guest" Jean-Yves Thibaudet, currently a Colburn School Artist-in-Residence. 

The Calidores had opened the concert with the heady first movement of Ravel's Quartet in F major, perhaps as a nod to Guillaume Sutre, first violin of the Ysaye Quartet from 1996 to 2014, who had co-produced their recording and has been a valued mentor and coach. Their playing was not noticeably French in style but developed organically out of the music's voicing and structure, its movement and coloristic devices. As it was to be for the whole concert, the seemingly spontaneous plasticity of the Calidore's playing provided an absorbed, eloquent dimensionality in which to operate. 

Festivities concluded with all four movements of  the Mendelssohn Quartet in A minor Op. 13 which is on their CD and which was the piece the Calidores played through at their first meeting. In concert, they folded in the influence of Beethoven's Quartet in A minor Op. 132 which had been composed two years earlier in 1825, without letting it predominate, and emerged with a reading which encompassed both the gentle sentiment of Mendelssohn's character and the prodigal virtuosity of his writing.

It will be interesting to see what the Calidore Quartet find at the end of their current rainbow, a two-year residency at Stony Brook University under the tutelage of the Emerson Quartet. It will be a time of increased performing and recording opportunities, intense musical flowering, heightened critical scrutiny and–hopefully–many happy returns to Colburn.