Saturday night was the second Juilliard Young Artists and Their Mentors rogram at Zankel Hall (program information here). This program was the legendary Juilliard Quartet and eight student string players–four an established quartet, the Attaca, which opened the program with the Beethoven “Serioso” quartet, and four others who joined their teachers for the Mendelssohn Octet (for double string quartet). In between, the Juilliard played Ezequiel Viñao’s String Quartet No. 2, “The Loss and the Silence,” which had been commissioned for the quartet by Juilliard.
The Attaca’s Beethoven was wonderful. All four are excellent players, and as a group they play not only with technical command and precision, but also with energy and feeling. I felt they “got” the Beethoven more than Friday night’s string players had “gotten” the Brahms, and surely the fact that they are a group wich has beeen working together for some time makes a difference. Their cellist is definitely a “mover” and a face-maker, to a point that even I, who vigorously defended moving here and here, found it a bit much. My moving and face-making, more extreme when I was his age than it is now, used to aggravate some people, too, although then as now, audience members sometimes comment they “love to watch” me play, which makes me increasingly uncomfortable as I grow older.
The Viñao was a fascinating, fairly lengthy, significant piece. The Juilliard Quartet member’s don’t look like legends, just regular American guys. They play like legends, though, and it was great to hear another committed, excellently-prepared, full-blooded reading of a new work (as was the case with Tuesday night’s Higdon Percussion Concerto).
The Mendelssohn Octet was the real treat of the evening. It’s one of the great works of the string chamber music literature, and I’ve never before had the opportunity to hear a live performance (or if I have, it wasn’t a memorable one). I had forgotten until I read the program notes that Mendelssohn was only sixteen when he composed it. So as the performance progressed I went from being involved in the music, to admiring the playing to marveling at the genius which gave birth to the piece, and back again. The Octet is virtually a concerto for the first violin, and Joel Smirnoff was fantastic.
The hall was considerably more full than Friday night, about 90%, which was good to see, and all the performances where enthusiastically applauded.
Culinary note: After the concert, I went wandering down towards Times Square, having a difficult time choosing where and how much to eat. I ended up in an Italian place right next to the entrance to the Ed Sullivan Theater, home to Late Night with David Letterman. I was afraid it would just be a tourist trap was mediocre food, but I was by then hungry and the prices looked moderate (of course, everything was a la carte, so it ended up being more expensive that I initially expected). The food turned out to be quite good, especially the pasta, which was the most perfectly al dente spaghetti I’ve ever had.