Viano’s live modeling to Shalin Liu
The young Viano String Quartet arrived at the Shalin Liu Performance Center this weekend with his house name, his recent victory at the Banff International Competition and his residency ensemble status at the Curtis Institute of Music. Through art framed by experts, Viano tamed Dvořák and American works.
What was it like going back from online gigs to live gigs? Instead of staring at a screen in the security of my studio, I took the masked and socially distanced risk of being there in person. Various factors have reduced this experience to the same level as online concerts. With Shalin Liu’s magnificent floor-to-ceiling window behind them, only the silhouettes of violinists Wang and Hao Zho, violist Aiden Kane, and cellist Tate Zawadiuk could be seen by spectators. [plans to install transmittance-controllable LCD panels for cutting glare apparently fell victim to cost cutting]. Later, when the stage lights appeared as the overcast sky darkened, serious faces emerged from the shadows, but with no camera angles, quick close-ups, or instant replay.
Viano began with the success of Jessie Montgomery’s string quartet, To scratch. The sparse, half-masked audience thundered their reception of the rhythmic work of 2006. No wonder the play quickly elevated Montgomery to stardom and has since been widely performed. After their spectacular strumming performance, violinist Lucy Wang said she wanted to get up and dance. There were some pungent moments, too, and Viano’s enthusiasm matched Montgomery’s embrace for black-American vibes perfectly.
The homemade name Viano “was created to describe the four individual instruments of a string quartet interacting as one. Each of the four instruments begins with the letter “v”, and like a piano, the four stringed instruments together play both harmony and melody, creating a unified instrument called “Viano”.
Unified, they were in the now popular Andante Moderato of Florence Price’s string quartet in G major.. His Americanisms have not entirely survived. African-American church and dance hall songs throughout the short movement instead nodded to Viano’s unusually dexterous take.
Rockport Chamber Music Festival artistic director Barry Shiffman, dressed in Friday Casual, curiously contrasted Viano’s formal look and style. Words of welcome and thoughts on the music expressed in low key. A violin and viola doubler himself, Shiffman noticed the idiomatic writing for the string quartet of all the composers on the program, each of whom had played a string instrument. It was enlightening then to hear him describe the music of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw as showing superior craftsmanship.
Shiffman’s keen sense was perfect for Evergreen, Shaw’s 2020 string quartet in four movements: “Moss” as treble harmonics; “Stem” as the basic bow; “Water” in pizzicato; and “Roots” as the underlying ostinato. Shaw’s craftsmanship and Viano’s art were another good fit. Where Montgomery is To scratch looked at realistic musicality, Shaw’s Evergreen imagery required, its motion titles only hint at life beyond fine surfaces.
Shiffman also invited us to stay ten minutes after the concert to ask Viano questions. Mine was: are you still mentored or are your performance decisions pretty much your own?
To conclude their supercharged show, Viano continued with String Quartet No. 13, Op 106, in G major, Op. 106 by Czech master Antonín Dvořák, in his own brand of modeling. Does this “old” music need updating, given the flavors of the day, like in Shaw’s writing? Looking more like an orchestra than a piano, Viano needs to tone it down, turn to a wider range of expression, and focus less on accuracy and extremes of amplitude. Their reading of Shalin Liu’s acoustics failed, flooding us with too much sound, but violist Kane offered moments of lyricism, and the quartet sparked passion in the last part of the main theme’s third movement and its songs. rapid directional changes.