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ISSUE 119 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/5/2006

Maia Quartet Thrills

By Emily Koester
Contributing Writer

Friday, May 5, 2006

Last Saturday night, the respected Maia String Quartet made their first appearance at St. Olaf in eight years. Although only a small crowd gathered to commemorate the occasion, the Maia Quartet played with vigor and accepted a well-deserved standing ovation.

Maia opened with Haydn's “String Quartet in G Minor,” a quartet appropriately nicknamed “The Rider.” The first movement opened energetically, alternating between galloping intensity and a gentle minor mood.

The movement's lively ending was sharply contrasted by the slow, savory opening of the Largo, in which suspended notes gained warmth and intensity without losing their slow dignity.

In spite of a few falters and a slightly garbled scale by the first violinist, the quartet made the most of the movements' rich mood. They began the Finale at a sprint's pace: Park's solos soared to sky-scraping heights, while cellist Hannah Holman's hair flew with every emphatic note.

A special highlight of the evening was “The Icefield Sonnets” by Pierre Jalbert. Jalbert, a modern composer personally acquainted with the members of Maia, composed this piece based on three short poems by Anthony Hawley. These poems depict cold weather in a slightly different way, and the players brought out these different perspectives in the three sections of the piece.

The somberness of the first movement was a shock after the Haydn's upbeat style. However, the movement effectively expressed the grimness of a winter day. Jalbert's use of sharp dissonance was reminiscent of a biting winter wind, while the slow, slippery violin solos suggested the gleam of ice.

The second movement used hollow-sounding pizzicato to create rhythmic patterns with wintry, shaking trills and scales that ascended and descended like gusts of wind. The third movement highlighted the heavy bass notes of cellist Holman and violist Elizabeth Oakes, but ended on a piercing high note that left attendees motionless.

The evening ended with a conventional piece: Beethoven’s “Quartet in E Minor.” The first movement was punctuated by sudden, whimsical pauses in the music, during which the quartet would breath audibly in unison before resuming. The next movement featured lullaby-like, rocking rhythms that dwindled into silence, which contrasted nicely with the delicate rapidity of the third movement.

The last movement opened in a major key, a refreshing change after pervasive minor themes. Its bold fortes were peppered by darker moments, with seamless transitions between each mood. The performers ended the piece with bows flung exuberantly in the air.

Despite the small turnout, the Maia Quartet played with undampened enthusiasm. Perhaps the little crowd in Studio A was appropriate. The close audience seemed to be a reflection of the performers' intimate understanding of each other and, more importantly, of their music.

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