The Dalí Quartet performed an imaginative program of Latin-American and classical compositions at the University Center for the Arts Wednesday night. The performance, as part of the ongoing Classical Convergence Series, explored the string quartet genre while connecting it to modern Latin styles and the surrealism movement.
The string quartet is a genre of classical music played by an ensemble of two violins, a viola and a cello. Having fallen out of popular favor with the deaths of the great classical composers Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert, this genre has had a resurgence over the last century in the music halls of Latin America and Spain. Composers of the Venezuelan El Sistema music education program, some of whom wrote Wednesday’s pieces, have been key to preserving the genre.
The Dalí Quartet is made up of musicians from Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the United States. Based in Philadelphia, the group tours the Americas giving performances and master classes with the goal of fostering student interaction and community engagement, staying true to the aims of the Classical Convergence Series.
The name, Dalí, invokes the spirit of famed Spanish artist Salvador Dalí, whose imagination and excellence the Quartet embraces as central to its art form.
“Angelica,” by Efraín Amaya, opened the program. There was almost no introduction beforehand, the quartet simply walked onto the stage with their instruments and began playing. Jesús Morales simulated percussive sounds by loudly plucking and slapping the strings and fingerboard of his cello. The two violinists Domenic Salerni and Carlos Rubio took turns doing solos with violist Adriana Linares accompanying. Derived from Venezuelan folk songs, “Aneglica” describes a jousting tournament followed by a salsa dance.
This modern piece was quickly followed with Schubert’s dramatic and highly technical “Quartettsatz” and four movements of Beethoven’s “String Quartet No. 2 in G Major.” The players displayed their virtuosity through difficult runs and quick octave jumps. At many times all players paused for several seconds before completing a verse perfectly in sync with each other, a feat difficult to achieve without a conductor. Important to note is the unspoken rule not to clap in between movements.
Next was “Four, for Tango” by Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla, marking the night’s return to a Latin repertoire. Here it became apparent why the players took up the name of Salvador Dalí. Sharp, violent flicks on the violin imitated cracking whips and Linares’ cringe-inducing viola pulls invoked buzz saws and creaky doors. Aside from the brief moments derived from Argentinian dances, nothing in this piece resembled something familiar from any other musical tradition. The surreal ending was reminiscent of the blood-curdling atmospheric music of horror movies.
After this frantic performance was the significantly more comfortable composition “String Quartet No. 1” by Heitor Villa-Lobos. This piece’s six movements all represent Brazilian folk elements. Four movements emulated Brazilian dances and romantic arias, while the other two, translated as “A Joke” and “Jumping like a Jumping Bean,” were more elated and bouncy.
The night concluded with the strange and surreal “Wapango” by Cuban composer Paquito D’Rivera. The few coherent moments were abruptly punctuated by drawn out segments of rhythmic plucking and random notes. Salerni would often play loud violin tremolos seemingly out of nowhere, while at one point Morales started playing his cello like a bass guitar. All players took turns running through elaborate solo scales with the other three playing what sounded like a speeding train. Despite the Dalí-esque chaos and confusion, there was a definite and oddly beautiful structure to it all.
Overall, this performance was amazing. As one audience member was overheard saying, “this is food for our soul.” Each player was a virtuoso in their right. It was obvious that they had all learned to finish each other’s rhythmic sentences through countless hours of training.
The Classical Convergence Series will be returning Nov. 11 with violinist Paul Huang at the UCA.