Like the field mouse whose nest was accidentally destroyed by Scottish farmer and poet Robert Burns, the University Musical Society’s richly diverse calendar of music, theater, and dance has been plowed under–by a virus. Our best-laid plans have gone awry, as concerts canceled by the Covid-19 pandemic find their way into cyberspace, where UMS posts versions of performances in digital formats.
The Takacs Quartet, originally scheduled to perform at Rackham Auditorium, is sheltering in residence at the University of Colorado Boulder, recording a recital for their devoted Michigan fans to enjoy online for free. While we’re sure to miss the lush Art Deco splendor of Rackham, there’s something to be said for cozying up at home to make the most of a rare opportunity to attend a chamber music recital in cardigan, flannel, and slippers. The program, combining seven movements from string quartets by five different composers, will deliver around fifty minutes of music–enough to fill a vinyl record album.
History is now–right now. Every music reflects the reality of its day while carrying echoes of what came before, mingled with prescient inklings of what’s to come. Your brain is a highly evolved receptor, able to amble at ease through time-space when not distracted or overstimulated. This is how the magic works: each of the pieces that make up the Takacs Quartet’s program is “about” whoever hears it in 2020. An allegro by Mozart from 1783 which opens the recital is thoughtful and bittersweet, as are the andante from Florence Price’s String Quartet No. 2 of 1935, and the prelude from Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Five Fantasy Pieces, composed in 1896. Price was African American; Coleridge-Taylor’s parents were from Britain and Sierra Leone. Both composers lived and worked within a racially encoded caste system. Racism interfered with their careers and has long delayed their posthumous recognition.
The Takacs online recital will also transport you to the rarefied dreamspace of Claude Debussy’s only string quartet, completed in 1893. Here sound waves are mysteriously transformed into fragrant wafts of memory and premonition. Immersed in the dialogue between cello, viola, and violins, you can hear the sounds of tradition being extended and transcended. A study in turbulence conjured in 1909 by Bela Bartok at the close of his first quartet embodies the spirit of unconstrained artistic freedom that began to manifest at the dawn of the twentieth century and shows no signs of ever ceasing to flourish.
Safely ensconced at their home base in Boulder, the Takacs Quartet is prerecording this recital especially for UMS audiences. The program will be available on demand for anyone to view free of charge, October 21-24 at ums.org.