String quartet dazzles Hotchkiss Library

Ivalas String Quartet

Matthew Kreta

String quartet dazzles Hotchkiss Library

The Guild at Hotchkiss Library presented the Ivalas String Quartet in collaboration with Music Mountain Sunday, Feb. 18.

It was immediately apparent that the members of the quartet have a perfect understanding of each other as performers. Comprised of Reuben Kebede and Tiani Butts playing violin, Pedro Sánchez playing cello and Marcus Stevenson playing viola, the quartet would make constant movements, eye contact and audible breathing to guide and communicate with each other. This made their complex program sound effortless, even though their selections certainly sounded difficult to navigate.

The four made use of a wide variety of techniques unique to string instruments such as harmonics, a bright and high-pitched whistling sound explained to the audience by Butts before the second piece and pizzicato, where performers deftly pluck the strings of their instruments rather than glide over them with a bow. Helping this virtuosity were the surprisingly good acoustics of the Hotchkiss Library, with the sound bouncing along and off of the wide lobby and plethora of books.

The first selection was one of Haydn’s final string quartets, String Quartet in F Major, Op. 77 No. 2. Consisting of four movements, this piece quickly engaged listeners with the familiarity of a prolific composer.

Much of this quartet sectioned the performers in pairs, playing small duets together. Ivalas brought great expression to the composition, leaning heavily into well executed ritardandos and accelerandos.

A highlight of this piece was its third movement, the andante. Containing a much slower tempo than the rest of the piece, it allowed the performers to truly explore its beautiful melodies and let them linger in the room.

The second piece was introduced by Butts as a composition by a friend of the Ivalas Quartet, Carlos Simon. The piece, titled “Warmth from Other Suns,” has three movements and was composed in 2020. It was based off of a book of the same name by Isabel Wilkerson, which details the story of three African Americans migrating north from the American South.

The first movement, “Rays of Light,” had beautiful use of the harmonics technique, as well as long sliding notes that captured the image of light peeking through the cracks. The second movement, aptly named “Flight,” depicted a dangerous and thrilling chase with its extremely quick tempo and flurry of notes across every instrument.

The performers slowly traded volume across themselves through this movement, shifting the sound from the left to right side of the room meticulously and precisely. The final movement, “Settle,” slowed the pace significantly and marked the end of the journey, yet still contained a few clashing harmonies that left the future hopeful but uncertain.

The final piece performed was String Quartet No. 2 by Eleanor Alberga, a Jamaican composer currently residing in the UK. This piece was also composed recently, in 1994. It was defined by its constant shifting in tone and feeling, intense and charged one moment before calming and exploring slow, wide harmony.

One section of this piece showcased all four members of the quartet plucking their strings in pizzicato for an extended period. Ultimately, this piece’s constant changing captured just how talented the Ivalas Quartet is, and was an excellent capstone to the afternoon program.

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