Hearing visual art through Theofanidis' 'FIVE'

Monterey Herald

The word “synesthesia” came to mind last weekend while listening to the world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis’ “FIVE for string quartet,” played by the Miró Quartet at Carmel’s Sunset Center. A powerful composition, impeccably performed by the celebrated string ensemble, this new work stretched the senses in the manner of synesthesia, in which someone, for example, may hear light or taste colors of sound.The Theofanidis commission took us into a realm of hearing visual art.
In “FIVE for string quartet,” Theofanidis strives to musically transmit his experience of this potent transformative art to the listener in short intense movements named from Viola’s panels: Fire Birth, The Path, The Deluge, The Voyage and First Light.Before Miró took the stage, still images from the exhibit were projected briefly onto a screen, giving the audience fleeting visual impressions of the masterpieces. Then, when the images were gone, the quartet arrived to perform Theofanidis’ musical impressions of “Going Forth By Day.”
The score is passionate and complex, reflecting the composer’s exceptional vision and skill along with his deep commitment to the material. Miró masterfully executed the intricate conversations and synergies between the instruments in each movement. These strings delivered light, fire, water, birth, challenge and beauty to the mind’s eye, along with the poignancy of human striving.The still images served as a remembered pictorial key to the score, which helped the five movements come alive in the imagination as the music unfolded.
There was something unique about this convergence of notes, musicians and artistic intent that had some of us actively trying to hear the music as a visual experience. This proved a brain-bending and vivid undertaking that, among other things, made me regret not seeing the Viola installation.
Miró also gave gorgeous, supple and impressive performances of quartets by Haydn and Schubert. This foursome is a chamber music treasure. So is Theofanidis.
Díaz, a violist with an international reputation, is president of Philadelphia’s highly regarded Curtis Institute of Music. As the director of the institute, he takes his place in a lineage of renowned soloists who also served as heads of the school, including such luminaries as Josef Hofmann, Efrem Zimbalist and Rudolf Serkin.Diaz, who also teaches viola at Curtis, for 10 years held the position of principal viola of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He collaborates with leading conductors throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia. He has also worked directly with high-profile contemporary composers.
In addition to performing with major string quartets and pianists in chamber music series and festivals worldwide, he has toured as a member of the Díaz Trio with violinist Andrés Cárdenes and cellist Andrés Díaz.He founded Curtis On Tour six seasons ago, a successful international program that brings musicians together performing chamber music side-by-side with Curtis students and faculty and alumni of the school.Under Díaz’s leadership, the school has developed lasting collaborations with other music and arts institutions in Philadelphia and throughout the world.

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