Best of the best, that’s what this 9-year running project is all about. The American String Project brings together string virtuosi from all over North America – many of whom are professors or concertmasters in famed music institutions and have played all over the world – to showcase special arrangements of challenging quartet and quintet pieces.
The 15-persons ensemble performed the quartet and quintet pieces – yes, a fifteen persons group – with perfect synchronization as though they were with one mind. For the musicians, it’s a rare occasion for them to connect with others of their caliber as players and performers; as for the audience, this is the once-a-year opportunity to hear music of the highest elite.
The Artistic Directors, Barry Lieberman and Maria Larionoff, decided this year to explain the music to the audience so to allow for better appreciation of this unique twist on chamber music. Before each of the 2 pieces, a select quartet or quintet from within the group would play examples from each of the movements to show the audience how the piece normally sounds like. The whole piece is then played to demonstrate the differences.
All aspects of the project are carefully decided for the highest quality. The instrument ratios are carefully decided to balance the addition of a double bass – which is very rarely used in quartets and quintets because it tends to overwhelm the other string instruments. The music are arranged especially for the American String Project by Lieberman. For those who are not familiar with the project, it could be strange to see 15 people come onto the stage when the concert is clearly listed having a Quartet and Quintet on the program.
The arrangements of the music pieces are theoretically intriguing but are yet completely natural to the ears. The pianissimo are delicate and precise as would expected from a quartet or quintet; and the fortissimo are rich and vibrant as though coming from a full orchestra, especially with the benefit of having a double bass. The many dynamic sequences never cease to amaze as the sound transforms from a small quartet to that of a full orchestra, or visa versa, all coming from the dedication the musicians paid to each other and to the arts of performing. The most mind-boggling part of the project is that the group performs without a conductor, which goes to show the level of connection shared by the passion and talent of the musicians.
This year’s American String Project concluded with its Sunday matinee concert on May 23. But for those curious or craving for good chamber music, check out their website at http://theamericanstringproject.org/ for information as well as some samples from past performances.