I love chamber music up close. This is music that was really written to be listened to in intimate environments. So a string quartet program in a large hall feels pointless to me: I want to feel like I’m at arm’s length from the musicians, where every sound and musical gesture is a close-up. So when I won free tickets to a string quartet concert in a private home in Winnetka, it seemed like the perfect event. This was a fund-raising event for the Pilgrim Chamber Players, at the home of one of their board members, James Stone. The music was provided by the Aizuri Quartet, a young, rather recently formed ensemble in residence at Ravinia this summer.
The quartet played part of Haydn’s Quartet in B-flat (Op. 64, No.3), Anton Webern’s Langsamer Satz (1905), and the third of Beethoven’s Razumovsky quartets, (Op. 59, #3). The playing was uniformly excellent, and ensemble and connection among the players equally fine. While violinists Miho Saegusa and Zoë Martin-Doike were excellent, I was drawn to the chocolately timbre of Ayane Kozasa’s viola, and the animated performance style of Karen Ouzounian, cello. Ouzounian, in particular, never seemed to look at her music, because she was so busy making eye contact with her fellow players. I often felt that it was her constant attention that kept the ensemble together.
I’ve posted video of the two most memorable moments: the lush romanticism of the Webern work, and the driving fugue of the Beethoven finale. Officially, I’m a late Beethoven kinda guy. I love the last 5 piano sonatas, and the last 5 string quartets, and usually I find myself put off by the “heroic” period Beethoven. But again, chamber music is such an intimate form, it was impossible not to get caught up in the energy and drive of this music, sitting, as I was, at arm’s length from the performers. Exactly where I wanted to be.