Spirited Quartet Salonnières at Millbrook’s Music Barn

Quartet Salonnières

by Antonia Shoumatoff

This performance at the Music Barn on Deep Hollow Road in Millbrook, owned by Stephen and Belinda Kaye, featured the charming Quartet Salonnières, a group of recent Julliard graduates. Their repertoire ranged from Beethoven and lesser-known Baroque composers to a more contemporary avant-garde piece by Quebec composer, Mathilde Côté. 

The group of emerging artists is known for playing early music. They came together during their studies in the Historical Performance program at The Juilliard School and were kindly given permission to rehearse at the Kaye’s townhouse in Manhattan during the last year’s pandemic when both performance venues and rehearsal spaces suddenly evaporated.

Sophia Shuhui Zhou, Pianist and Director of Chamber Music at The Stissing Center remarked: “Following the tuning tradition of the Classical Era, the quartet tuned their A string down to 430 hz, instead of the standard 440hz.  The audience can hear exactly what Beethoven heard at his time, which is vastly different from nowadays. They aspire to work with living composers on their period instruments and tuning, exploring the potential of unique sounds and sentiments. We should all be on the look out for their future projects!”

The group’s well-rehearsed ensemble work was strong, with two violins, one viola and one cello, and the violinists trading places per piece for first and second violinist and viola.  The timing demands of each piece was a perfect backdrop for their individual skills and qualities.

The literal pièce de resistance of the afternoon, were the last two movements of Beethoven’s lively “Razumovsky,” String quartet op. 59, no. 2, written in 1806, with its rollicking melodic refrain in the Presto which along with the Allegretto was played as the finale.  The piece was dedicated to Beethoven’s patron, Razumovksy, who had been the Russian ambassador to both Austria and Italy, stationed for many years in Vienna. Razumovsky, an accomplished violinist himself, was a cousin of the Tsarina, Elizabeth of Russia, and asked that a Russian theme be included in each of the three quartets of Opus 59 that he commissioned and that Beethoven dedicated to him. The piece requires masterful fret and bow-work, which the young quartet skillfully presented.

L to R: Majka Demcak, Aniela Eddy, Cullen O’Neill, Natalie Kress

The quartet played a movement of Anton Reicha’s String Quartet in F minor op. 94 no. 3.  Reicha, although a contemporary of Beethoven, is less well-known.  The Czech-born composer, who later resided in Paris, was a life-long friend of Beethoven’s and is more renowned for his wind quartets. His string quartets are obscure and the Quartet Salonnières had to dig into Baroque archives to unearth them.  The group is known for presenting little-known Early Music as part of the Gotham Early Music scene in New York City: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDWHILnrFBM

The piece by Mathilde Côté, who the musicians worked with at the Banff Music Festival, entailed searing and eerie sounds with the bow barely touching the strings.  The piece called, “La Nuit sur la Cord à Linge,’ which translates as ‘Spending the Night on the Clothes Line,’ is about a hangover and each bumping sound represents a drunkard being knocked off the line.

Music patron Stephen Kaye, said of the group: “They are young, daring and insightful. Their choice of Pleyel, and a  little known contemporary of Beethoven (Anton Reicha) shows the range of their explorations into the vast literature of music that they are willing to take on.”

Despite the damp weather challenges and a snapped gut string on a violin, the afternoon performance was lively and full of energy.  The Quartet Salonnières is comprised of musicians Majka Demcak of Slovakia, Aniela Eddy from Switzerland, Natalie Kress from D.C. and cellist Cullen O’Neill of Kalamazoo, Michigan.  They have toured nationally and internationally at music festivals and on stages from San Francisco to Vancouver and have been featured on New York’s WQXR’s classical music station. 

More of their music can be heard on their website:  https://www.quartetsalonnieres.com/videos

Antonia Shoumatoff

Journalist, author of forthcoming memoir Life at the End of the Line: Tales of the Harlem Valley.
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