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December 8, 2009

Weekend review roundup: guitarist Jason Vieaux, Juilliard String Quartet

In addition to catching the Mayor's Christmas Parade in Hampden -- I just had to see if a) the mayor turned up and b) what sort of reaction she would get -- I heard two excellent concerts.

On Sunday night, the Shriver Hall Concert Series provided a welcome opportunity to get acquainted with the most recent personnel of the Juilliard String Quartet, one of the best known and highest-standard brands in classical music for more than 60 years. (Photo courtesy of

Violinist Nick Eanet has only recently taken the first chair in the group; the start of his tenure was delayed when he broke his wrist while skating in Central Park a few months ago. He sounded thoroughly at home here, not just blending in with violinist Ronald Copes, violist Samuel Rhodes and cellist Joel Krosnick, but making richly detailed music with them.

There was a dynamic warmth to the performance of Mendelssohn's D major Quartet (Op. 44, No. 1), a sense of spontaneity in the beautifully molded phrasing. Same for Schumann's A major Quartet (Op. 41, No. 3). The slow movements of both works inspired particularly eloquent playing.

Spiritually, you could say that this was an all-German program, since the other piece, the Quartet No. 5 by contemporary Argentinean-born composer Mario Davidovsky, was inspired by Beethoven's Op. 132. It's not that you hear Beethoven clearly in the music, but Davidovsky makes you sense something of Beethoven's profundity in this score's masterfully communicative dissonance and wide range of tone coloring. The Juilliard ensemble made the work a taut, involving drama.

On Saturday night at the Baltimore Museum of Art, I heard a recital by

Jason Vieaux, a substantially gifted guitarist whose playing revealed equal portions of stylistic elegance and technical polish. Presented by the Baltimore Classical Guitar Society and drawing a sizable crowd, the program would have been memorable if it had contained no more than the few minutes needed for Vieaux to perform the Sarabande from Bach's Lute Suite No. 3. What the guitarist did in that short span of time was magical, creating a deeply lyrical poem from the subtly articulated phrases.

Gentle nuances accounted for several other highlights in the concert, including "Julia Florida: Barcarola" by Augustin Barrios (the closing measures of that piece were treated with the most exquisite tonal and rhythmic shading) and the "Evocacion" movements of Jose Luis Merlin's "Suite del Recuerdo." Vieaux's arrangements of Albeniz' "Sevilla" and Pat Metheny's "The Bat" also proved highly effective. The guitarist brought a great deal of virtuosity and atmosphere to Leo Brouwer's "El Decameron Negro."

For an encore, there was a disarming, smooth-jazz (in the best sense of the term) treatment of "Christmas Time is Here"; it seemed doubly satisfying on the night of the season's first snowfall.

To give you a taste of Vieaux's refined musicianship, I've attached a clip of a 2007 performance of that gorgeous work by Barrios that he played so tenderly at the BMA: 


Posted by Tim Smith at 5:49 AM | | Comments (0)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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