Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, four Northwestern University cello students formed a new chamber music ensemble which gave its first public concert on Saturday. This performance demonstrated the musical possibilities that such an unusual ensemble formation can offer, as long as very talented musicians wield the bows and pluck the strings. Members of Haden Kay’s Galvin Cello Quartet, Luiz Venturelli, Sydney Lee and Sihao He showed off this talent on Saturday night in Evanston.
Like all stringed instruments, the cello has a wide range that players can use to make different sounds, but only two strings can be struck simultaneously. With four cellos, eight strings can be strung at a time, and the entire scale and tonal variety of the instrument can be heard simultaneously.
In addition to the staging possibilities, as most chamber ensembles do, this quartet lines up with the cellist playing the main melodies and higher notes of a work to the left of the audience. Quartet members change seats after each act, giving each player the opportunity to bow / snatch the main melodies at least once during the concert.
These four cellists are all under the tutelage of Hans Jørgen Jensen, professor at the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern. They also received instructions from the late cellist Lynn Harrell, a close friend, mentor and performance partner of pianist Victor Santiago Asuncion, the organizer of the Evanston Chamber Music Festival, who hosted the concert.
Describing what she learned from Harrell, Sydney Lee mentioned how Harrell would stress the importance of “singing with the cello”. This practice was repeated frequently on Saturdays, where the emphasis was on pure sound with remarkably low timbre.
To open the concert, Asuncion accompanied three of the four cellists on the piano. The first was the astonishing Arpeggione Sonata in A minor by Franz Schubert. Schubert wrote this piece for the arpeggione, a bowed guitar-like instrument that no longer exists. It has been transcribed for many other instruments.
Haddon Kay played the first move and Luiz Venturelli played the middle move and the final. Despite a few squeaks and missed runs, Kay and Venturelli performed beautifully, especially Venturelli’s pure singing tone used in the middle movement. Adagio. The support from Asuncion has been delightful throughout.
Sydney Lee then joined Asuncion for Igor Stravinsky Italian Suite. With the help of Gregor Piatigorsky, Stravinsky arranged this excellent five-movement work for cello and piano from his ballet score for Pulcinella. This offered Lee the opportunity to shine in a virtuoso performance.
After the duets, the entire quartet took to the stage. The repertoire of music written specifically for this ensemble is tiny, with only a few pieces and several transcriptions. A composer who has written cello quartets is Luigi Forino, whose Préghière for the Cello Quartet in G major, Op 27 No. 3 featured Haddon Kay. It is a slow and thoughtful work that exploits all the auditory potential that a cello quartet can offer.
Sihao He took charge of a transcription for cello quartet by Richard Wagner Feierliches Stück of Lohengrin, arranged by Grutzmaher. YouTube has a wonderful video of the Galvin Cello Quartet performing this work starting in September.
The Galvin Cello Quartet’s interpretation of two works from David Popper’s program is also available on Youtube:
This concert was part of the Evanston Chamber Music Festival hosted by FilAm Music Foundation, an organization dedicated to encouraging Filipino classical musicians through scholarships and performance opportunities. Under the leadership of pianist Victor Santiago Asuncion, the FilAm Music Foundation has been hosting chamber music concerts since fall 2018.
The next festival concert is Music of the Baroque & Christmas Carols, Saturday December 11 at 4 p.m., Evanston History Center, 225 Greenwood St., Evanston. Click on here for more information.