Veronika String Quartet demonstrates art of breathing, silence

Oct. 29, 2012

April Wefler
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Here are two words I never thought I would hear in the same sentence: “kumquat” and “rubber baby barn car,” spoken so fast it might as well be one word.

Yet, during GOCA 121’s Messis Autumni, “Church Car” took these words and made it into a melody of sorts.

Messis Autumni, an Oct. 22 concert, was the first in a series of collaborations featuring the Veronika String Quartet, founded in Moscow in 1989.

The concert opened with “Church Car,” one of the most fascinating pieces of the night, a song composed in the 1980s by Charles Amirkhanian.

Two people repeated different words over and over and made a melody mainly out of the words “car,” “box,” “kumquat” and included many “bang” sounds as well.

“Church Car” was followed by two pieces from the Veronika String Quartet. In the first, Anton Webern’s 1906 “Rondo for String Quartet,” there was slight squeaking from the instruments, perhaps purposely. The piece was beautiful overall but, in some places, a tad grating.

“Rondo for String Quartet” included a lovely cello solo, performed by Scott Kluksdahl, who made his debut with the San Francisco Symphony. His solo was followed by the first violist and then two violinists.

The musicians, especially the first violinist and the cellist, were deeply involved in their playing, adding another element to the music. They felt the passion and despair in the piece.

After the Veronika String Quartet, members of the Ensemble Peak Frequency and members of the quartet performed “Infinito Nero,” which began with the sounds of church bells, followed by a breathing-type sound.

The breathing was followed by silence, then more breathing (played by flute and clarinet) and more silence, and it continued like this for some time.

Eventually, the singer speaks up, startling the crowd, which expected more silence and breathing.

The other instruments played a little, but they only became noticeable if the singer reached a high pitch.

The “Infinito Nero” might have been some kind of nightmare or internal struggle because the singer talked as well as sang, and what she said (it was incomprehensible) sounded like she was fighting with herself.

Later in the piece, the percussion made the sound of a beating heart, which also gave the impression that the piece might have been about a nightmare. At times, it was slow and unsettling, though largely dramatic.