The Larks are not just another pretty string quartet.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
The Lark Quartet may be easy on the eyes, but don’t let their good looks fool you—the foursome also happens to be composed of very serious musicians unafraid to play music that’s decidedly not pretty.
Opening their concert Friday night at the Sunset Center in Carmel, the New York City-based group will perform Mozart’s Dissonant Quartet. “It’s about 200 years ahead of its time,” says Astrid Schween, the quartet’s cellist. “It doesn’t try so hard to be pretty. It’s actually like the title says—extremely dissonant. It’s odd and romantic and somehow it seems very relevant to me today given what just happened with the election.
“To hear music like this really describes a certain distress and unease. And it is also bouncy, wonderful Mozart in certain sections, but it’s definitely pushing the limits. It’s got some urban blight in there.”
Schween isn’t sure whether Mozart—a hard-partying musical child prodigy who died broke at age 35—was trying to express any political frustrations of his own when he wrote the piece, but she is aware of the reaction to the work. “People thought he’d lost his mind. ‘cause the whole opening section, it just sounds like the instruments are almost lost. Now, to a modern ear it’s like, oh, how cool. But at the time I think it was probably very threatening and unnerving to hear a composer take that kind of a chance. The dissonances are right there in your face.”According to Schween, Mozart’s in-your-face dissonance was par for the course.
“He had a real sort of kiss-off attitude sometimes,” she says. “He didn’t always please his bosses and it didn’t bother him that much. He was more interested in writing music that he believed in and thought was right and true and beautiful and I don’t think he listened very carefully to what patrons asked of him. He was very much a rascal.”
The Larks will also play Beethoven’s and Dvoˇráck’s E-flat Major Quartets to round out the evening.With 15 years under her belt, Schween is the longest-reigning member of the group, which was formed 19 years ago. The quartet now includes violinists Deborah Buck and Maria Bachman and violist Kathryn Lockwood. The group has 12 CDs to their credit, including works by modern composers such as Alfred Schnittke, as well as works by Handel, the father of the string quartet. The quartet’s name is taken from Handel’s piece of the same name about the song the high-flying lark sings when it reaches cruising altitude.
Earlier in their career, the Larks emphasized performing in competitions and won many, such as the prestigious Shostakovich Gold Medal in 1990. Like the other members of the quartet, Schween also teaches (at the Julliard School of Music and at U-Mass) and performs on her own.
While the Lark Quartet’s repertoire still includes plenty of traditional, early classical music, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell that by their packaging—especially the group’s Charlie’s Angels-inspired logo.
“We realized that that was a little bit of a chance,” says Schween. “But the music world is very jammed with people trying to get bookings and when our friend came up with the logo we were like, ‘that’s kind of cool.’ It’s different. It doesn’t have any instruments in it.”
And if audiences don’t immediately pick up that the Larks are a classical string quartet from their photos, that’s fine with Schween too.
“It indicates our own break with the establishment of chamber music, which is traditionally four old guys in suits and the sort of stuffy overtones,” she says. “Maybe by looking at this picture people will get the idea that there’s a certain amount of fun in us and a refreshing take on things. We don’t want to appear to be just another version of the same thing.”
The Lark Quartet performs at 8pm on fri at the Sunset Center, San Carlos and 9th, Carmel. $25/adults; $10/students. 625-3637.