If you’ve never experienced a Montclaire String Quartet concert, you’re missing out. While I love the fullness and power of a large orchestra, the intimacy and high level of communication between a chamber group can be so lovely to watch and hear. Performing in the Erma Byrd Art Gallery at the University of Charleston overlooking the state Capital, beautiful music topped with beautiful scenery just can’t be beat. 

Before I delve into what they’re playing, here’s some history on the group:
The Montclaire String Quartet, MSQ for short, is comprised of principal players within the West Virginia Symphony orchestra. What that means is that they are the “leaders” of their respective sections. Anton Shelepov (violin) is the concertmaster, Cristian Fatu (violin) is the assistant concertmaster, Bernard Di Gregorio (viola) is the principal violist, and his wife Andrea Di Gregorio (cello) is the principal cellist. MSQ has dedicated this 15-16 season to celebrating composer Dimitri Shostakovich’s 110th birthday! 

MSQ hit two birds with one stone for this concert, it’s actually Haydn’s 284th birthday (3/31/1732), too! No pun intended, they’ll be performing his String Quartet in C Major, nicknamed “The Bird”. Known as the “Father of the Symphony” and “Father of the String Quartet”, composer Joseph Haydn was one of the most influential and prolific composers of the classical era. The piece is, you guessed it, reminiscent of birds. Filled with trills and twitterings, you might find yourself wanting to tweet about it. 

Up next is George Gershwin’s “Lullaby for String Quartet” composed in 1919 on keyboard, but then scored for string quartet. It has colorful harmonies & syncopated rhythms that are somewhat bluesy, with some suggestion of ragtime. His brother, Ira Gershwin wrote of the piece, “It may not be the Gershwin of Rhapsody in Blue, but I find it charming and kind.” Check out a clip from rehearsal at the bottom of this post!

The finale of the concert and 15-16 season will end with one of Shostakovich’s best known works: String Quartet No. 8. If you’ve never heard a Shostakovich piece, this one pretty much encapsulates all of the characteristics of his style: biting irony, desperate humor, obsessive repetition, and let’s not forget bleakness, agony, and despair. Can’t you just hear the birds chirping? Ok, bad joke. Shostakovich was a Russian composer who was frequently at odds with the Soviet authorities. Written in only 3 days (<-- what?!) in 1960, he had just given in to strong pressures to join the Communist Party, and this quartet has been said to be in the nature of an obituary for himself as he contemplated suicide, but he had dedicated the piece to the “victims of fascism and war”. 

The Montclaire String Quartet’s final concert this season will be at 3:00 pm on Sunday, April 3rd at the University of Charleston Erma Byrd Art Gallery. Tickets can be purchased here or at the event and are only $12 for adults and $6 for students.