July 8, 2020

Princeton Summer Chamber Concerts Opens Online Season with String Quartet Performance

By Nancy Plum

Despite the closing of performance halls in the area, Princeton Summer Chamber Concerts was not about to let its 53rd season go by. The long-standing presenting organization, which usually stages four chamber concerts in the month of July, has designed a series of “Chamber Music Wednesdays,” in which the performers scheduled for Richardson Auditorium this summer are featured in online mini-concerts. 

In the interest of giving area audiences something to look forward to each week, Chamber Concerts has created five Wednesday night offerings which include not only musical presentation, but also the additional elements of history, analysis, and demonstration. The first of these online performances took place last Wednesday night, featuring the young and innovative Diderot String Quartet.   

Founded in 2012, the Diderot String Quartet was named after 18th-century French philosopher Denis Diderot, also an enthusiast of the courtly and galante music of the Baroque Italian composer Luigi Boccherini. The ensemble prides itself on taking a “fresh approach to the works of the 18th and 19th centuries,” bringing a shared background for historically informed performance and a passion for the string quartet genre to every concert. For Wednesday evening’s online concert/demonstration, violinists Adriane Post and Johanna Novom, violist Kyle Miller, and cellist Paul Dwyer shared with listeners how the ensemble came together; Post, Novom, and Dwyer met at Oberlin Conservatory, later adding Miller to the Quartet via the Juilliard Historical Performance program. All four of these musicians were interested early on in period stringed instruments, historically informed performance, and whether music from any time period could be played on instruments made in the 18th century.  

In an informal manner befitting these unusual concert times, each musician of the Diderot Quartet tackled an element of historical performance practice. Violinist Novom addressed considerations of style and how players and composers would have expected to perform and hear music in the Romantic style of the 19th century, especially regarding tempo rubato, a performance technique translated as “stolen time.” Novom discussed various types of rubato and the hierarchy of repeated notes, demonstrating various styles. Violist Kyle Miller tackled the issue of portamento di voce (“carriage of the voice”), a performance technique popular at the beginning of the 19th century. Portamento involves sliding between notes and was so popular that performances from that time period featured both singers and instrumentalists “sliding all over the place,” as Miller described. The practice became so out of hand that detractors compared the technique to the mewing of a cat. Violinist Adriane Post and cellist Paul Dwyer demonstrated melodic aspects and phrasing of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which the audience was able to hear in an archival recording of the Diderot Quartet playing the second movement of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, known as the “Dissonance” quartet.  

Moving live performance to online presentation requires technology with which ensembles and presenters may not have had to deal with in the past. Despite a few technological glitches, the presentation of the Diderot String Quartet by Princeton Summer Chamber Concerts was short and appealing, aided by the informality and personalities of the players, combined with their firm interest in providing the audience with some entertainment and education. Following the live presentations, performances are on a continuous loop and can be accessed on the Chamber Concerts website, enabling audiences to go back and hear something again.  The format may be far from ideal, but throughout July, fans of the Summer Chamber Concerts will be able to get a taste of what these imaginative performers will provide when they are able to return to Princeton live next summer.  

Princeton Summer Chamber Concerts will present its next “Chamber Music Wednesdays” performance on Wednesday, July 8. Featured will be pianist Clipper Erickson, who will perform music of American composers of African descent, with particular focus on the music of Canadian-American composer Nathaniel Dett. The video concert will launch Wednesday, July 8 at 7:30 p.m. on the Princeton Summer Chamber Concerts website: www.princetonsummerchamberconcerts.org.