The Spokane String Quartet opens its 22nd season this week with not only a presentation of works by Mozart, Beethoven and Bart & oacute;k, three major names in the string quartet literature whose works span three centuries, but also with two new members. The concert is set for Sunday at The Met.
Violinists Kelly Farris and Jane Ayer Blegen, long-time veterans with the quartet and the Spokane Symphony, return for another season of chamber music. Two new faces will join them this year: Leslie Faye Johnson, viola, and Helen Byrne, cello. Despite the recent personnel changes, Farris says the group is ready and looking forward to the new season.
"We're very comfortable with the communication," he says, explaining that adapting to new members is really not much different than approaching familiar works with a fresh perspective. "It's a great exercise for a quartet. Every time you come to a piece, you change it, even if you've done it before with the same people."
Cellist Byrne is a Spokane native who left town to attend Northwestern University and later returned to settle here. "She's been the assistant principal cellist with the Symphony for several years now," Farris says, "and she has played with the quartet in the past, when we've done quintets and sextets."
Johnson, the group's newest member, is still making the transition from Seattle to the Spokane area. A native of Chicago, Johnson had been in Seattle for about 10 years, says Farris. "She finished her doctorate there, after getting her first two degrees from Julliard," he says. "I met her there, doing chamber music, and invited her to come here to do a master class."
When Farris retired this past year after many years on the music faculty at Eastern Washington University, Johnson applied for the position and became his successor.
The program for this season's opening concert could serve as either an introduction to or a familiar review of the masterpieces of string quartet music. The three composers on the program are three pillars of the genre: Mozart, Beethoven and Bart & oacute;k.
"They are the giant names in each of three centuries," says Farris. "Along with Haydn, they are really the bedrock of the literature."
For the concert, the group has chosen the Quartet in G major (K. 387) by Mozart, a work from the 18th century, from the middle period of Mozart's output; the Quartet No. 1 by B & eacute;la Bart & oacute;k, dating from the early 20th century, near the beginning of the composer's career; and the Quartet in C major (Op. 59, No. 3) by Beethoven, an early 19th century work from his middle years. Although the three pieces span a wide range of periods and styles, each contains a fugue, a musical form in which a theme is stated by one voice or instrument then taken up by others and repeated with melody lines interwoven a few notes higher or lower.
Over the entire program hovers the figure of Johann Sebastian Bach, early master of the fugue and influence to all composers who came after. "Bach was the great contrapuntal writer of all time," Farris explains. "All the great composers studied Bach, and almost every composer who has ever lived since has tried to write fugues like Bach."
Farris points out that the three composers on the program each learned from those who came before. "Mozart made an arrangement of one of Bach's later fugues, and the Bart & oacute;k quartet has a line that's almost a direct quote from Beethoven. This program ties all the generations together."
In an effort to expand the quartet's offerings, the Spokane Chamber Music Association (SCMA) has embarked on an endowment campaign, with the hope of increasing the organization's annual operating budget by as much as 50 percent. An anonymous donor has agreed to match every donation made or pledged by the end of this year, up to a total of $100,000, so the SCMA is scrambling to meet the challenge. The additional annual funds would be used for educational outreach in the region, an expanded concert schedule and to increase the money available for the musicians and guest artists.
Ultimately, though, the goal is to bring live chamber music performance to a broader audience in the Inland Northwest. "The reason for the Spokane String Quartet is to make available the work of these composers, and to make it available in live performance," says Farris. "Seeing the music performed live is different from hearing recordings. Not better or worse, just different. It's amazing how many people become really interested in the music once they hear it live."
& & & lt;i & The Spokane String Quartet performs at The Met on Sunday, Nov. 19, at 3 pm. Tickets: $15; $12 seniors; $6 for children. Call: 325-SEAT. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &