When: Wed., Sept. 7, 6 p.m. 2016
Ditching reams of sheet music and playing a piece of classical music from memory requires intense practice and commitment, but that’s exactly the modus operandi to which the Chiara String Quartet has devoted itself. A couple of weeks ago the ensemble released the two-disc Bartók by Heart (Azica), which features performances of all six string quartets composed by the brilliant Hungarian Bela Bartók. A cynic might scoff at such an achievement and chide it as a show-off move—regardless of how passionately and precisely the group plays the works—but there’s no question that internalizing music this way presents an opportunity to transcend the notes-on-paper translation, reaching for something more profound and human. Chiara cellist Gregory Beaver notes in the album’s press materials that “many of the devilishly difficult passages in his music became natural when performed without printed music.” Indeed, the Bartók quartets are some of the most daunting pieces in 20th-century string repertoire, the composer famously recasting forgotten folk and dance melodies of Hungary and Romania to create some of the most harmonically exciting pieces ever written. And there’s a special resonance to playing them from memory: because the melodies Bartók and his colleague Zoltán Kodály collected and transcribed belonged to oral tradition, it’s as though Chiara is returning them back into the wild, sans sheet music. Tonight the group plays Quartets nos. 1,3, and 5; they complete Bartók’s full cycle, playing the other three are performed on Thursday 9/8.