Coaching pays handsomely for young guns of classical music

Lukas Schulze 

Copyright 1999 The San Diego Union-Tribune

August 23, 1999, Monday


Who says classical music is lost on the younger generation?

SummerFest La Jolla's Workshop Ensembles concert suggested otherwise.

Three young ensembles -- the Coolidge Quartet, Xando Quartet and Goffriller Trio -- showed their stuff at La Jolla's Sherwood Auditorium after days of intensive coaching from heavy-hitting SummerFest performers. From the way they played, it was a fruitful residency.

The groups put in hours with such internationally known figures as Janos Starker, Gilbert Kalish, Cho-Liang Lin and festival artistic directors David Finckel and Wu Han. It was an important opportunity, and a wonderful backdrop for last week's concert.

The Coolidge Quartet -- founded in 1996 and fresh from a Hong Kong tour   offered an ambitious set of pieces: Franz Schubert's "Quartettsatz," Stravinsky's "Three Pieces for String Quartet," and Beethoven's monumental " Grosse Fugue," Op. 133.

The group (Hasse Borup and Se-Yun Lee, violins; Stephen King, viola; and Amy Leung, cello) brought an impressive blending of playing styles to the single movement Schubert piece, imbuing the opening minor section with a dramatic fire, relaxing later into the lyrical second theme, reminiscent of Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony. Stravinsky's "Three Pieces," from 1914, are curious, delightful miniatures that include such stylistic features as ostinato, polymeter and extended harmonic palettes. The Coolidge Quartet showed the variety and control that helped accentuate the music's rarefied and delicate aspect.

The "Grosse Fugue" -- originally written as the finale for Beethoven's Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 130 -- was perhaps the most difficult and bizarre of the Coolidge's offerings. From the outset, this late Beethoven movement adopts a terrifying and exhausting tone, pushing classical style to its limits.

Any ensemble faced with performing the piece must bring a fearless stamina and energy to the stage. And the Coolidge handled it with an interpretive maturity not found in many older groups.

What was especially nice about this concert was the palpable sense ofcommunity in the audience. There was a refreshing informality circulating in the auditorium. One could sense the support for these young musicians in this important showcase of their talents.