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Balourdet Quartet Performing

New Understandings

What can be done with a chilly, rainy Sunday afternoon? Well, you could just stay home and watch football on TV. How fun is that? Alternately, you could venture out somewhere on the freeways and see how many poor fools had driven themselves into ditches. There’s always the Museum of Art or the McNay or the Witte, but they tend to be marble-cold, have you noticed? How about some music, performed by some chamber musicians? Chamber music? Isn’t that fusty? Four or five tuxedo-clad elders sawing away on equally elderly stringed instruments; well, at least you’ll get a nap!

Or how about four energetic young musicians performing, yes, some familiar music but as a spirited conversation, as sparkly as violinist Angela Bae’s glittering shoes! And, for good measure, how about a composition by a contemporary artist, written for this amazing quartet and perfectly suited to their quirks? Violinist Justin DeFlippis said that the goal of their performance of composers such as Mozart and Beethoven is “understanding their language.” Not only did the Balourdet understand the language, they translated it in such a way as to create new understandings. And they opened a door to a different language while they were at it: the very non-fusty take on the great composers by Karim Al-Zand, a modern composer with a wicked sense of humor. His “Strange Machines” imagines self-sustaining music boxes or automata with minds of their own.

There are a lot of non-fusty adjectives to describe this rainy Sunday’s performance. Two that immediately come to mind are “crisp” and “bright.” The Balourdet (violinists Bae and DeFilippis, violist Benjamin Zannoni, and cellist Russell Houston) has just earned Chamber Music America’s 2024 Cleveland Quartet award, no small feat for a group so young in age. I suspect the Balourdet was awarded not only for the excellence in performance but perhaps as much for their excellent understanding of tempo and melodic intricacies. When I opened the program and saw they were to perform Mozart’s String Quartet No. 15, my thought was “been there, done that.” Wrong! Once they were a few phrases into the allegro, my mind’s eye saw a piñata, filled with Mozart’s beautiful ideas and the wonderful colors you seldom experience.

By the time the Balourdet reached the Beethoven String Quartet No 7, I was convinced that chamber music is in good hands. Right to the last, unusually joyful notes of the “Theme Russe” allegro movement (which can be anything but allegro, even lugubrious), the Balourdet never lost their spirit of a fresh take on some very old chamber music. Fusty? Not at all! Okay, you could have just stayed home, wrapped in a blanket, your eyes glued to the television and your brain on “Pause,” but if you ventured out to experience the Balourdet, you have overcome the rainy January blahs with your very own mental piñata.

On March 3, SACMS welcomes back some friends, the Jupiter String Quartet – and you know there is another treat in store. Trinity Baptist, 3:15 pm, and maybe it will feel like Spring!

E Doyle