Saturday, January 31, 2009

Saturday morning Zen

St. Paul, Minnesota

James Sewell, a choreographer friend, wrote several years ago that he loves "to watch how musicians move when they play. They perform an expressive dance." He would have enjoyed watching the four energetic members of the Enso String Quartet.

Violinists Maureen Nelson and John Marcus, violist Melissa Reardon, and cellist Richard Belcher moved in the groove this morning when they performed Mendelssohn's String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor. Their efforts did not disappoint the audience of 100 in The Music Room at the SPCO Center in downtown St. Paul. The occasion was a free, 9am concert to help celebrate the 50th birthday of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Marcus employed the greatest amount of footwork, and his dynamic eyebrows are a match for those of Reardon who seemed to have the most engaged facial expressions. Nelson had the most articulated and commanding upper torso, and one would not want to mess with her stiletto heels. Constrained by his cello, Belcher poured great energy into his fingerings.

Inspired by Beethoven, Mendelssohn provided the romantic raw material – composed at age 18! – with which the quartet delivered a rich and passionate finished product. There was no way to discern that they had just learned the piece this week. It was a great 20 minutes to be alive!

In one of the SPCO's fine traditions, new music also was included on the program. The composer, violist, and arranger Ljova (Lev Zhurbin), born in Moscow in 1978, hails from an artistic family. His father, Alexander Zhurbin, is a Russian composer for film and musical theater, and his mother, Irena Ginzburg, is a poet, writer, and journalist. Ljova originally scored "Bagel on the Malecón" and "Ori's Fearful Symmetry" for five violas. Here, they were arranged for string quartet, both embodying a klezmer air.

The Enso String Quartet, formed in 1999 when the four principals were at Yale University, is serving in the SPCO's Young Artists Program. Collectively, its members have several degrees from Yale, the Curtis Institute of Music, The Juilliard School, the New England Conservatory of Music, the University of Canterbury, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

The ensemble's name, enso, is derived from the Japanese Zen painting of the circle which represents many things: perfection and imperfection, the moment of chaos that is creation, the emptiness of the void, the endless circle of life, and the fullness of the spirit.

Against a clear sky outside the SPCO Center, the sun shone brightly on the ice sculptures in Rice Park, created for the St. Paul Winter Carnival. "Fountain of Unicorns," by Chris Swarbrich and Greg Smotzer, took first place in the ice carving competition. Photos here.

Enso String Quartet photo by David Mehr (l-r): Richard Belcher, Melissa Reardon, John Marcus, Maureen Nelson.

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