Celebrating classical & contemporary

A dynamic performance by the Ambrosia Quartet emphasizes the diversity and beauty unique to four string instruments

Monday night in Peebles Theater (Jan. 27) featured the music of the Hampton Roads Ambrosia Quartet: four musicians who formed a bond through their love for chamber music.

Since 2002, violinists Simon Lapointe and Mayu Cipriano, along with violist Beverly Baker and cellist Rebecca Gilmore have performed both classic and contemporary works for Arts Festivals, Symphony Orchestras and other notable events. 

Their program at CNU featured Haydn’s String Quartet in G Major, Opus 77 and Brahms’ String Quartet in “C Minor Opus 51, No 1. Additionally, they performed a piece by contemporary composer Caroline Shaw called “Entr’acte” (2011). 

Perhaps fitting for the celebration of Mozart’s Birthday (Jan. 27, 1756), Gilmore provided a short background of ‘Papa Haydn (a personal and musical mentor of Mozart) and spoke on her group’s passion for the string quartet pieces. 

Their fluid and synchronized instrumentation embodied the intimate communication unique to chamber music – where a small group enables each musician to ‘conduct’ the others and adjust their techniques throughout the piece accordingly. 

Such an arrangement contrasts the conventional appearance of classical music or opera, where a conductor using grand gestures guides a large orchestra to perform in synchronization. 

Haydn’s chamber music, along with some of his notable concertos embrace the technique of a lead musician conducting or a group collaborating together in a “conductorless orchestra.”

Departing from classical genre for about twenty minutes, the group’s performance of “Ent’acte” (2011) employed the more modernist technique of ‘bow swishing’ where whispering sounds from each string instrument contrast the power of all four instruments playing legato for most of the song. 

There were a surprising amount of measures in Shaw’s piece that required only ‘pizzicato’ (string plucking), which the group performed in perfect unison. 

For the finale, Gilmore introduced Brahms’ String Quartet in C Minor, promising the audience a good performance despite the piece’s reputation as “tragic.” 

The Ambrosia Quartet played all four movements, ranging from slow to fast tempo and creating a variety of moods despite retaining the same key signature. 

Gilmore also noted that Brahms took years to write his few string quartets that were published, spending an exorbitant amount of time working on and destroying his drafts. 

The Ambrosia Quartet has a diverse repertoire and has even performed interpretations of various works; however, their name has classical roots in Greek mythology. “Ambrosia” is the food or drink of the gods. 

Perhaps, the beauty of their musical performances can become so vital to their listeners in the same manner as food and drink – only the audience can tell.

~Kristen Ziccarelli, Staff Writer~

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