Reviews and recommendations are unbiased and products are independently selected. Postmedia may earn an affiliate commission from purchases made through links on this page.
It’s rare for Edmonton audiences to get a second chance at hearing new classical compositions played live, let alone to hear them played by completely different musicians.
But the acclaimed Juno-winning New Orford String Quartet, with Edmonton-born Andrew Wan on first violin, is bringing the Edmonton Recital Society not only two of the classics of the repertoire, but also two fine contemporary pieces recently introduced in Edmonton in rather different circumstances. The concert happens Friday at MacEwan University’s Muttart Hall (10050 MacDonald Dr.)
The New Orford Quartet has been a regular, and popular, visiting ensemble, appearing with the Recital Society in 2013, and the Edmonton Chamber Music Society that same year.
They were originally scheduled to return here in December 2020, in pianist’s Sarah Ho first season as artistic director of the Edmonton Recital Society.
“We are so excited to be able to have them back. Our mandate is always to have artists that have ties to Edmonton, and Andrew has such a huge support crowd here,” says Ho. “This concert is a chance to hear a world-class, Juno award-winning chamber ensemble, up close and personal, in a smaller venue. You will be able to see their faces, their expressions, hear them breathe and feel the music so vividly”.
Since that original scheduling, the quartet has a new violist, Sharon Wei, herself a 2021 Juno winner with the piano quintet Ensemble Made in Canada. Edmonton last heard her with the Ensemble at the Summer Solstice Chamber Music Festival in 2019.
The concert being played this weekend opens rather unexpectedly, given the blend of elements of tango, jazz, ballroom and classical music that is Tango Ballet for string quartet, by the 20th-century Argentinian tango maestro, Astor Piazzolla.
“It’s a kind of a departure from what we usually play,” says Wan, “but the more and more we perform it, the more we love it.”
Next is Strum for strings by a New York composer increasingly getting international attention, Jessie Montgomery. Originally envisaged for string quintet, it has also appeared in orchestral versions and in this version for quartet. It was introduced to Edmonton by the Viano String Quartet in March.
“It obviously draws on an American folk idiom, but as its name suggests, it has pizzicato elements,” explains Wan. “It’s a little unusual, but actually links rather well with the Piazzolla.”
Of special interest is The Raven Conspiracy by Canadian composer Carmen Braden. Ravens have long been one of Braden’s favorites: “Ravens hold special roles in Canada’s north: trickster, companion, troublemaker. The word for a group of ravens is a conspiracy.”
The evocative, three-movement work follows the life of the raven but also draws on the bird’s place in mythology and history. It was introduced to Edmonton by members of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (including friends of Wan) in a COVID-19 restricted concert in July 2021, and recorded for YouTube.
In that performance, Braden did the linking narrative. Here the New Orford members will themselves be reciting the text.
The concert ends with two favorites of the string quartet repertoire that need little introduction. Barber’s meltingly beautiful Adagio for Strings, played for the funerals of FD Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Albert Einstein and Princess Grace of Monaco, is usually heard in its version for string orchestra. But it is actually the second movement of his String Quartet No. 11, and here’s a chance to hear that more intimate original version.
Dvořák’s String Quartet No. 12, Op. 96, known as the American Quartet, is one of the best-loved of all classical compositions. It was written in 1893 in Iowa during the composer’s tenure as director of New York’s National Conservatory. In spite of its title, it is imbued with the sensibilities and the landscape of his native Czechoslovakia rather than those of the USA, though Dvořák did include the song of an American bird he heard while composing.
It was the very first quartet Wan ever learned, and he’s looking forward to his visit home.
“The playoffs have started. We’ll have good weather, hopefully. Everyone is really excited,” he says.
Another Montgomery work, the Rhapsody No. 1 for solo violin, will be included in the final concert of the Recital Society’s season on May 28. Edmonton-born violinist, Jessica Linnebach, now associate concertmaster of the National Arts Orchestra and one of the youngest Curtis Institute graduates ever, will be joined by childhood friend Ho on the piano.
They will also be playing Romance by the pioneering American female composer Amy Beach and Prokofiev’s dark and powerful Violin Sonata No. 1 at Holy Trinity Anglican Church.
New Orford Quartet
Where: Muttart Hall, 10050 MacDonald Dr.
When: May 13, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $35at edmontonrecital.com