Filling the room
by arwulf arwulf
From the December, 2015 issue
Our bustling multicultural community abounds with opportunities to learn words and phrases from other languages. Hungarian words in particular can be pleasantly challenging for Westerners to enunciate properly. "Takacs" means "weaver" and is pronounced "TUH-kotch." It is also the name of one of the most exciting, accomplished, and widely respected string quartets in the world. By regularly gracing our town with their presence, the Takacs Quartet has cultivated a faithful following in Ann Arbor. If at this point you are able to score last-minute tickets for their December 2 performance at Rackham, even a seat near the wall will serve you well, because this ensemble is capable of filling the room with the warmth and intensity of a group thrice their size.
As if unveiling a monument to the tradition on which their artistry is based, the Takacs will begin their concert with a quartet composed by Haydn in 1793, only months after he learned of the death of Mozart. Haydn, who adored and respected the younger composer, was emotionally devastated by his passing, and in some ways never got over the loss. That might explain the decidedly Mozartean moments that occur in the work's lilting second movement. This and five quartets of the same vintage were also the first that Haydn designed for public presentation in a spacious hall. Rackham is ideally suited for music of this nature.
The string quartet tradition is very much alive, and among progressive-minded ensembles there is a growing tendency to program a bracingly contemporary work between two favorites from the classical repertoire. The Takacs Quartet is currently touring a brand-new composition by Timo Andres, a young composer whose innovations enlivened last summer's adventuresome Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival at Kerrytown Concert House. Earlier this year, Andres composed an experimental work entitled "Strong Language." Commissioned specifically for the Takacs Quartet, the piece consists of three repetition structures, which, according to the composer, accrue sonic detritus, cram ever-increasing contrapuntal complexity into a steadily
shrinking space, and finally transport the listener to a spectral landscape of plucks, scrapes, and knocks.
The concert will close with Dvorak's fourteenth and final string quartet, sketched while he was still visiting North America and completed back home in Bohemia in 1895. At his best, Dvorak could conjure the everyday mysteries of being alive, framed by the sanguine realities of being Slavic. Intimations of mortality are quietly mulled, then reconsidered with exacting vehemence. A calmer passage suggests a genial chat over wineglasses with Brahms. There is much to savor in each of these works, and we are fortunate to be able to hear them interpreted live by the Takacs Quartet.
[Originally published in December, 2015.]
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