With wide eyes and a huge smile, Richland music professor Melissa Logan swung open the doors to Fannin Hall on Feb. 28, and gushed her greeting to the waiting noontime recital class. "Come on in!" she sang out. "You're in for a real treat today. I've heard this group in rehearsal and they're awesome!" How very right she was.
Already seated on stage was the Cézanne String Quartet, the Peak Fellowship ensemble-in-residence at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. Its members are Eleanor Dunbar, violin, Lauren Densinger, violin, Steven Juarez, viola, and Elizabeth White, cello. The quartet is named after the French impressionist painter, Paul Cézanne. The first piece the group performed together was written by another French impressionist, Claude Debussy.
White made some introductory remarks about the first work, Benjamin Britten's "String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op.25." Then the ensemble held the audience spellbound while demonstrating what happens when 16 strings stretched over four old wooden boxes are aggressively agitated by four well-practiced, proficient professionals. The Britten quartet was both demanding and interesting because it called for so many unusual string techniques.
During the Q-and-A session, the performers were asked what advice they could offer to music students about practicing.
"Think of your metronome as you would a wise parent who is telling you what to do," suggested Juarez, smiling. "When you practice, go straight to your weakest spot in the score," added White. "Play slow at first so you can play faster later," said Densinger, nodding her head as some students sighed in agreement. "Forget about how many hours you put in," said Dunbar. "Your practice time is more about quality than quantity."
Another question focused on physical requirements playing. The players responded differently depending on habits and preferences. "I'm not much of a mover," admitted Juarez. "But I am," said White, "because I'm small for a cellist, and I feel I need to show the others what I intend to do."
Dunbar then observed that each group tends to have its own body language.
"An audience listens with its eyes," she said. "People come to concerts not just to hear the music but also to witness and enjoy the interactions between the musicians as they trade information silently."
White then introduced Mendelssohn's "String Quartet No. 6 in F Minor, Op. 80." It was written near the end of Mendelssohn's life shortly after the death of his beloved sister, who was also a composer. White noted that the piece is written in a minor key and thus is very dark but also immensely beautiful.
As the players bent to their tasks, the students concentrated on what they had just learned. Then at the end they gave both the piece and its performers the rousing accolades they deserved.