Arianna Quartet Performs Peruvian-Inspired String Quartet Sunday

Above: The Arianna String Quartet performing the first movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet in G, Op. 18, No. 2.

Composer Gabriela Lena Frank says she’s most at home “wearing Birkenstocks” in Berkeley, California. Even so, the American-born composer of Peruvian-Chinese-Lithuanian-Jewish ancestry says her South American heritage always beckoned in the Peruvian-Chinese cuisine her mother cooked as Frank was growing up and in the Peruvian music she heard around the house.

As a kid learning how to play the piano, Frank said in a recent phone interview, “I would try and make my Beethoven sound a little more Peruvian by adding flourishes that the guitar players might use, or accents in a way that was reminiscent of what pan pipe players might do.”

The unique sounds of Peruvian music would later find their way into Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout, part Peruvian travelogue, part family history recounting in the genre of the string quartet Frank’s first trip to her mother’s homeland. The Arianna String Quartet will perform Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout, along with Beethoven’s String Quartet in E flat, Op. 74 “Harp,” and Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 3 in E flat, Op. 30, Sunday, Nov. 18, at 3 p.m. in the Columbus Museum of Art’s Cardinal Health Auditorium. The concert is presented by Jefferson’s Signature Series.

Arianna Quartet violinist Julia Sakharova says the program for Sunday’s concert reflects the quartet’s commitment to performing programs of diverse repertory. The Beethoven quartet is a staple of the quartet repertoire, and Sunday’s performance of it comes in the midst of the Arianna’s multi-year project to record the complete string quartet of Beethoven. The Tchaikovsky quartet adds a rarely performed late Romantic work to the mix. The six movements of Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout venture swiftly into the present day and bring with them a palette of sounds unusual for a string quartet.

“For the quartet what makes it really fun and exciting is to explore the different sounds we can make on violin, viola and cello,” Sakharova said of Leyendas. “Each movement depicts certain instruments. The title of (the first movement) is “Pan Pipes” (“Toyos”), their native flutes. So we were exploring what would be the best way to capture that sound. In other movements (Frank) would make us sound like percussion instruments, or in another movement she would make us sound like yet another pan pipe. And I think, personally, that’s what makes it very exciting, to try to find out what your instrument can do.”

For Frank, 40, the string quartet genre was always a blank slate, a genre that could accommodate and convey any type of musical language. Frank says the first string quartets she learned were those of Hungarian composer Bela Bartók. In composing her first string quartet – “a tiny little thing,” as she describes it now – as a teenager, she never felt any limitations on what the genre could convey.

“Bartok is a hero for me, the way the he really went into the gypsy culture of eastern Europe and elsewhere and incorporated this into his six monumental, pioneering string quartets,” Frank said, “So I was able to sidestep this feeling that string quartets have to be cut in a Beethoven mode or a Mozart, Haydn, Brahms mode.”

Today, Frank says writing string quartets is in her DNA, so much so that she and the members of the Arianna String Quartet – which will give the South American premiere of Leyendas this January in Brazil – are discussing details for a future collaboration. And for Sakharova, Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout exhibits the best of string quartet writing in a work that, she says, audiences enjoy.

“I think even though modern compositions can create some difficulties for the audience to interpret, this particular work speaks for itself because it’s so well written that the right execution makes it really exciting for the audience,” Sakharova said. “It’s in six movements and each one of them is so different from the others. You just discover this world of different sounds that you haven’t heard before. So I think audience members can actually look forward to this particular work.”

The Arianna String Quartet performs Gabriela Lena Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout, Beethoven’s String Quartet in E flat, Op. 74 “Harp,” and Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 3 in E flat, Op. 30, Sunday, Nov. 18, at 3 p.m. in the Columbus Museum of Art’s Cardinal Health Auditorium. More information at Jefferson-Academy.org. 

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