This past weekend was an eventful one around Southern California, particularly at two of its most iconic venues. Dodger Stadium was ramping up to host the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and all of its related pre-game festivities, including the celebrity softball game and the Home Run Derby. Over at the Hollywood Bowl, the Los Angeles Philharmonic kicked off the classical music summer season celebrating the venue’s 100th anniversary by performing a virtual-reality-infused rendition of Act 3 of Wagner’s Die Walküre, simultaneously (1) a callback to the days of yore when the full opera was performed replete with valkyries on horseback charging down the hills and (2) a tease of a whispered potential Ring cycle by Gustavo Dudamel and company.
Meanwhile, the New Hollywood String Quartet was at yet another historic Los Angeles venue, complete with their own all-star guests and references to past events, albeit at a much more intimate scale. Their “Summer of Beethoven Chamber Music Festival” ran Thursday through Sunday at the stately Doheny Mansion on the campus of Mt. Saint Mary’s University in conjunction with The Da Camera Society. Sunday afternoon’s final concert may not have been as splashy as the other, bigger local events mentioned above, yet despite this, it was a musical home run.
Violinist Roger Wilkie and pianist Rodolfo Leone led off the concert with the Violin Sonata No.9 in A Major, “Kreutzer”. They took a decidedly middle-of-the-road approach, choosing to forgo any excesses of dynamics or tempi. This, combined with Mr. Wilkie’s physically reserved performing style might have disappointed those wanting a more flamboyant interpretation; however, the duo simply let Beethoven be Beethoven, bringing to bear technical mastery and superb musicality to serve the composition as it wound its way through different emotions without feeling the need to underline or dwell on them. Mr. Wilkie’s tone was warm and his skill and accuracy were impeccable even in the most difficult passages. Mr. Leone was an ideal partner, sensitively complementing the violinist at all times without ever overpowering him and adding his own elegant and nuanced style when given the opportunity.
The Septet in E-flat Major filled the second part of the concert. The musicians, with NHSQ violinist Rafael Rishik and LA Phil Principal Clarinet Boris Allakhverdyan leading the string and wind cohorts, respectively, took a similarly straightforward approach, and again, it proved to be rewarding. The six movements unfolded organically, with various combinations of instruments blending seamlessly while individual lines still managed to shine through. The seven players were terrific, attentive to each other’s phrasing and clearly having fun throughout, most notably in the work’s rolicking finale, always demonstrating beautiful tone and rich timbre.
Throughout it all, the audience members were attentive and appreciative, keeping coughs to a minimum and holding their applause between movements yet unleashing them loudly and appreciatively at the end of both pieces.
The Doheny’s Pompeian Room proved to be a wonderful setting for the concert. The acoustics were kinetic and transparent, yet warm, flattering all the instruments in both high and low registers. Despite the large amount of marble, there were no echoes, even under the central Tiffany glass dome. Patrons remarked that the clarity extended to the various adjacent rooms and alcoves into which the audience spilled. The entire experience was so positive that Robert Brophy, NHSQ violist, made it clear that the ensemble would definitely be returning. I look forward to it.
New Hollywood String Quartet: July 17, 2022; The Pompeian Room of the Doheny Mansion (Los Angeles)
Roger Wilkie, violin
Rodolfo Leone, piano
Boris Allakhverdyan, clarinet
Kenneth Munday, bassoon
Laura Brenes, horn
David Grossman, double bass
Rafael Rishik, violin
Robert Brophy, viola
Andrew Shulman, cello
“Summer of Beethoven Chamber Music Festival” (Concert #4)
- Violin Sonata No.9 in A Major, Op.47 “Kreutzer”
- Septet in E Flat Major Op.20
Photos by CK Dexter Haven