Outreach Event with Balourdet Quartet at the School of Science and Technology Discovery on January 22, 2024
January 22, 2024 was a dreary day in San Antonio. If you own an iPhone, you probably received a loud FLASH FLOOD warning at around 5:00AM. The question of whether the outreach event for the Balourdet Quartet would be cancelled certainly entered our minds – but to everyone’s delight, the four young musicians happily entered the School of Science and Technology Discovery at 8:48AM, and we led them to the cafeteria to quickly set up for the 200+ Elementary School students to come. While still a young quartet, Angela Bae (violin), Justin DeFilippis (violin), Benjamin Zannoni (viola), and Russell Houston (cello) have clearly been friends for years, and there is a powerful trust and confidence in their energy together. Speaking with them briefly as the students filed in, it was clear to me that even in their 20s, fresh off winning the esteemed Cleveland Quartet Award from Chamber Music America for emerging artists, they were already very experienced and totally comfortable with this kind of community engagement.
After a brief introduction, I passed Angela Bae (violin) the mic and she instantly grabbed the kids’ attention, introducing each member of the quartet and their instruments. They applauded with a special enthusiasm when Justin DeFilippis (violin) played an excerpt from Somewhere Over the Rainbow as an example of the violin’s sweeping lyricism. For their first major musical excerpt – Haydn’s String Quartet op. 33 no. 3 “The Bird” – Angela asked the kids to listen carefully and think about what animals they hear in the music (without giving away the title). After a beautiful, expressive rendition, the audience was eager:
They all clearly wanted to share their answers, so Angela exclaimed into the mic: “Gimme all your answers! Three, two, one, GO!” A cacophony of animal names filled the cafeteria, and she eventually quieted them down, assuring them they were all correct.
The Balourdet moved on to a vibrant Scherzo from a Mendelssohn Quartet that Justin likened to a sporting event. He described the movement as quick, full of energy, lots of counterpoint between the instruments, exciting small tunes or motives passed back and forth, dramatic sequences that take the music to unexpected places, and a ton of dynamic range, meaning the music goes to the extremes of loud and soft. The kids ate this movement up, bouncing up and down with the motoric rhythms and clearly shocked by the sudden shifts in dynamic and character. I began to worry about them getting rowdy, as a low hum from the crowd started to grow when the energy of the movement picked up again. But the movement ended, an applause broke the dramatic tension, and Justin introduced their final example, a beautiful slow movement from the same quartet.
“Here, Mendelssohn imitates the human voice, and can feel like a song to nature” he explained, describing the singing melody that would float above a rippling accompaniment. “Feel like you’re on a flowing river or a body of water… for me, this movement is like looking over the earth in all its beauty and saying ‘I love you.’” For this tender movement, the kids were quieter and attentive. To my surprise given their age (grades 1-5), many of the kids seemed quite moved.
We are grateful to Ms. Emylee Merta at the School of Science and Technology Discovery for reaching out to the San Antonio Chamber Music Society for this opportunity, and to the Balourdet Quartet for exhibiting such natural professionalism in their engagement at such a young age.
Submitted by Daniel Anastasio