The Fort Worth Amon Carter Museum’s auditorium was the setting for a pair of auspicious musical events on Tuesday night. A debut concert by Fort Worth’s Wyeth String Quartet also marked the beginning of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchesta’s annual festival, which this weekend honors the works of American composers Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and George Gershwin.
The collaboration between symphony orchestra and museum was a fitting tribute to the relationship between great American music and great American visual art. Formerly the Fort Worth Symphony Quartet, the Wyeth Quartet (composed of FWSO principal string players Michael Shih, Adriana Voirin DeCosta, Laura Bruton and Karen Basrak) was newly renamed to pay homage to the art of the Wyeth family: N. C., Andrew, and Jamie, whose works are housed in the nation’s most significant collections of American art, from the Amon Carter itself to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The absence of a printed program provided a welcomed opportunity for quartet members (specifically Shih, DeCosta and Bruton) to offer oral programming notes throughout the evening, lending the performance a mood of casual intimacy and bridging the divide between artist and audience. Opening remarks by Amon Carter museum director Andrew Walker and the Fort Worth Symphony’s music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya were followed by an eloquent reading of the Samuel Barber String Quartet (best known for it’s interior movement, the popular and iconic Adagio for Strings) which explores a full spectrum of artistic mood, from rhythmically aggressive abstractions in the outer movements to elongated lines of plaintive spirituality in the adagio. Most often played by a full string orchestra, it was a joy to hear the adagio performed in its original incarnation, a much more intimate, and arguably, moving experience. In this movement especially, the Wyeth’s Quartet’s true virtuosity shone through, as individual sounds dissolved into unified ones, and breathtakingly soft pianissimos and hymn-like chords were transporting and prayerful in their effect.
In A Night Piece by Arthur Foote, the quartet was joined by FWSO principal flutist Jan Crisanti. This little known but affectingly melodic piece allowed for lovely lyrical interplay between Crisanti and Shih, who both demonstrated exquisite suppleness of phrasing and beauty of tone, and were expertly supported by their colleagues DeCosta, Bruton and Basrak.
The final piece, the Phillip Glass String Quartet No. 5, provided an effective ending to this wonderful evening of chamber music. In this five movement work originally commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, an expressive first section gives way to a variety of moods, textures and colors seamlessly woven together into a tapestry of driving rhythms and pulsing sounds, by turns haunting, lyrical, and even locomotive. All five movements were played without much pause, producing a subtle shifting of gears from movement to movement and allowing the piece to be experienced as a continuous whole. The longest piece of the program, it never felt so in the capable hands of the Wyeth Quartet, as each player provided the requisite energy and verve, making the Glass the highlight of the program. The concert ended with a lively encore: an energetic interpretation of George Gershwin’s I’ve Got Rhythm, which gave quartet members a chance to test their jazz ‘chops.’ The result: a swinging success.
Rarely does the city of Fort Worth get the opportunity to enjoy string ensemble playing at such a high level, and one can only hope that this stellar debut of the Wyeth Quartet is only a precursor of even greater things to come. A fine group of individually talented musicians, the Wyeth performs with an impressive combination of virtuosic ability, passion for music-making, and style.