Takács Quartet will play “Three Bs” plus one

Beethoven, Bartok, Beach and Barber part of the varied spring concert series

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Takács String Quartet
Amanda Tipton

The Takács String Quartet is offering music by “Three Bs” for their spring concert series in Boulder — in fact, “Three Bs” plus one.

These are not the traditional “Three Bs” of music history, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Beethoven is there, but alongside him will be the Hungarian Béla Bartók, the remarkable American composer Amy Beach, and another American, Samuel Barber.

These composers and others will be featured across three different concert programs, performed on Sunday afternoon and Monday evening pairs: Jan. 13–14, Feb. 10–11 and April 28–29. As they often do, the quartet has invited colleagues from the CU College of Music to join them on two of the programs; pianist Jennifer Hayghe in January and baritone Andrew Garland in February.

The guests bring with them pieces from outside the quartet repertoire. With Hayghe the quartet will play the Quintet for piano and strings by Beach in January. With Garland, the February program will feature songs with string quartet by Barber (Dover Beach) and Ned Rorem (Mourning Scene).

Beyond those pieces, the bulk of the music on the three programs will comprise six works from the quartet repertoire, two each by Haydn, Beethoven and Bartók, and the less known Edvard Grieg String Quartet.

Harumi Rhodes, the second violinist who joined the Takács Quartet last year, says, “In Boulder we do a lot of collaborations, because the faculty is wonderful and we love playing with them. When possible, we try to do something that we’re playing on the road, or that we’re about to record.”

That is exactly the case with the Beach Quintet, which the Takács will play again on tour in March and later record with pianist Garrick Ohlsson — who coincidentally will be in Boulder next week to perform Rachmaninoff with the Boulder Philharmonic (7:30 p.m. Jan. 19 in Macky Auditorium).

A talented pianist and composer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Beach was not allowed to perform professionally while her husband was living. She composed under the name “Mrs. H.H.A. Beach” until his death. She subsequently became known as Amy Beach and gained considerable renown as a pianist.

Before joining the CU faculty, and then the Takács Quartet, Rhodes played with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Musicians from Marlboro. She performed many works outside the standard repertoire, including the Beach Quintet.

“It’s lush and very Romantic and beautifully written for the piano,” she says. “I’ve played it quite a bit, which is ironic because here I am the rookie [in the quartet] and it’s the obscure quintet that I’ve played.”

She also knows Garland from her earlier chamber music career. “Andrew’s really wonderful,” she says. “I worked with him before he came to CU, so in the quartet I’m the only person who knows him well. When the quartet mentioned that he was in the books for this season, I was thrilled!”

If Rhodes has a head start on the other members of the Quartet for non-standard pieces, the same is not true for the rest of the programs. “These guys have been playing Beethoven and Haydn and Bartók like 80 times a season for the past 25 years,” she says. “For me, that’s the new endeavor.”

Bartók is particularly associated with the Takács Quartet, in part because the founders were all themselves Hungarian. But Rhodes sees the group’s identity as much more than nationality.

“I think it has more to do with the aesthetic of the group,” she says. “Over many, many years the group has established a sound that is specific to the Takács Quartet, and even with member changes that aesthetic hasn’t changed.

“It’s something that I think about all the time. I think about the sound of the group, I think about ways to enhance it. It’s not a matter of fitting in — it’s a matter of having a deep understanding and love for that core idea, and then taking responsibility to enhance it.”

Rhodes is particularly excited about the programming across the three concerts. The quartet pairs by Haydn, Beethoven and Bartók represent the greatest string quartets of the classical, early Romantic and 20th-century eras, with Grieg, Beach and the two pieces with voice expanding that core.

“I think it’s brilliant programming,” Rhodes says, while explaining that it was already in place when she joined the quartet. “It’s practical, aesthetically pleasing, intellectual, extremely emotional, it appeals to the music historian, it appeals to the person who knows nothing about music history — there’s so many layers and levels of programming that can reach so many different people.

“With works by Haydn, Bartók and Beethoven, that’s what makes that music timeless.”

On the Bill: Takács String Quartet. Grusin Music Hall, Imig Music Building, 1020 18th St., Boulder. Tickets: https://cupresents.org/series/takacs-quartet/