Calder Quartet performs at University of Maryland

The Calder performed music by Stravinsky, Janácek and Schubert at the University of Maryland.
The Calder performed music by Stravinsky, Janácek and Schubert at the University of Maryland. (Calder Quartet)
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Los Angeles-based Calder Quartet was formed almost a decade ago, but its members still exude a callow hipness; their MySpace page lists "tupac, bob dylan, sun tzu, john milton, marvin gaye, sam cooke, frank sinatra, bill evans, snoop dogg, dr dre" as among their influences. They eagerly seek out alternative professional avenues, performing with robotic instruments, rock groups and "1-bit electronics," as well as mainstream modern composers Thomas Ades and Christopher Rouse. In short, they're cutting-edge.

This has almost certainly been good for their career (earning appearances on Leno and Letterman, along with several programming awards), but on the basis of Sunday afternoon's concert at the University of Maryland, one wonders whether it has given them a helpful context for rendering the great masters. In a thoroughly conventional program of Stravinsky, Janácek and Schubert, the Calder displayed good basic ensemble skills but a blurry, generalized musicianship, everything sounding the same.

The complex emotional states of Schubert's final Quartet (D.887) eluded them, with unwritten tempo gear shifts serving for "interpretation." Schubert's vast array of accents and expression marks slid by without differentiation, and the finale provided some uncomfortable moments for the leader's bow arm. Janácek's Quartet No. 2 was more in their wheelhouse, but even this study in romantic derangement has received more intense, variegated readings from old-fogy groups like the Guarneri and Juilliard quartets, with whom the Calder must expect comparisons if it's going to tour with this literature. Developing meaningful interpretations of the classics requires years of study and focus, but the Calder's heads appears to be elsewhere just now.

-- Robert Battey

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