February 16, 2019
The Tesla Quartet:
By W. Gerald Cochran
The Western Piedmont Symphony presented its fourth, and final, Chamber Classics concert of the 2018-2019 season featuring the orchestra’s Quartet-in-Residence, The Tesla Quartet — Ross Snyder and Michelle Lie, violins; Edwin Kaplan, viola; and Seraphim Smigelskiy, cello — in the Drendel Auditorium of the Catawba Valley Arts and Science Center this past Saturday. It was also the final chamber concert for the Tesla Quartet, which ends its residency with the symphony after four years.
Since its founding in 2008, the Tesla Quartet has won a number of top prizes in international competitions. They have also performed regularly across the United States and Canada as well as internationally. In Hickory, in addition to the Chamber Classics concerts, they have served as principal chairs of their respective string sections in the Western Piedmont Symphony and have given numerous concerts in the local schools and in the community, visiting such places as nursing homes, hospitals, and retirement communities.
The program for this concert consisted entirely of string quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Beethoven wrote 16 string quartets, and can be divided in the early, middle, and late periods. This concert consisted of the last three quartets of the early period, Opus 18, Numbers 5, 4, and 6, which is the order in which they were composed. It was Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) who developed the basic format of the string quartet. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) then took the form to greater heights, and Beethoven completely transformed the genre, especially in his later quartets, writing music of unparalleled beauty.
Each of these three quartets is different. Number 5, in A major, is modeled very closely after the style of Mozart. Number 4, in C minor, is the only one of the six in a minor key, and features the great drama of which Beethoven was capable, especially in his works in minor keys. Number 6, subtitled La Malinconia (“Melancholy”), is in a very dark world. It has been speculated that it was at this time that Beethoven was starting to lose his hearing. Fortunately, the music does become lighter toward the finale.
The playing of these quartets held up to the high performance standards that the Tesla Quartet has set throughout their tenure with the Western Piedmont Symphony. They will doubtless go on the more national and international fame and are likely to rank among to top performers of chamber music.
As a final “adieu,” they played the third movement, Lento, from Beethoven’s sixteenth and last string quartet, Opus 135, a humble and sacred song that is dark and brooding. This quartet was written just months before his death and was his last complete composition.