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Mixing the sound

Gallery Quartet will display musical diversity at Sunday's concert at fine arts museum

Gallery Quartet will display musical diversity at Sunday's concert at fine arts museum

October 24, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

kevinc@herald-mail.com

Mix it up.

More than 25 years ago, that principle helped lead Jere B. Stern to found Washington County Museum of Fine Arts' Gallery Quartet.

Years later, the same maxim prompted a shift from performing only classics of the string quartet repertoire.

Sunday afternoon at the museum in City Park the mindset will once again surface, as the quartet performs the work of a Latin American composer for the first time.

Contrasting Alberto Ginastera's energetic String Quartet, No. 1, Op. 20 with Franz Schubert's more sublime String Quartet in G Minor, D. 173 provides an opportunity for the oldest regularly performing string quartet in Maryland to stretch while taking its audience on a musical adventure across styles.

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"It's important because otherwise music becomes more of a museum situation where you play the same Beethovens and Mozarts," Stern says. "Music should be a living thing, not just bringing out the same repertoire year after year. I would think people would want to know what's been done recently."

Begun in 1977 to provide chamber music to the Hagerstown community, Stern is joined by violinists Mark Kapeluck and Frederick Shoup and cellist Vsevolod Lezhnev.

Kapeluck, Lezhnev and Stern have played together for a decade; Shoup has been with them on and off for the last few years.

As a result, the group possesses a familiarity with one another's playing that other quartets lack.

An avid concert patron for 15 years, Spence Perry, president of the museum's board of trustees, says their comfort with one another shows on stage.

"They've played together so long they have an almost intuitive relationship with each other and that's rare," he says. "They're very venturesome people. They don't just play Beethoven and Mendelssohn. You're liable to find a lot of interesting quartet chamber music literature that you don't see outside of chamber music programs in big cities."

Kapeluck agrees that in this case, familiarity has not bred contempt.

Instead, the quartet has become more of a mutual admiration society.

"With the right group, with a group you get along with well, it's particularly enjoyable and fulfilling music making," he says. "It ends up being somewhat like a conversation. The music experience has elements of almost dialogue to them that play off the relationships people have."

The last half-dozen years have found the quartet embarking on a more ambitious musical journey, regularly incorporating contemporary pieces.

Such is the case for Sunday's program. The wildly divergent format is by design, a way to offer something for many musical tastes.

"It's a very macho, in-your-face quartet. It's a very forceful, vigorous, rhythmic piece," he says of Ginastera's composition. "Schubert is a little more gentle, with a lot of pretty melodies."

"The Schubert is pretty familiar ground and the way the instruments are used, the demands placed on individual players are very much like other chamber music," Kapeluck adds. "And the Ginastera, its character is different and the way the instruments (are used) is very different in terms of the problems you end up having to solve than if you played all of Schubert, all of Beethoven's quartets. You could play all of their quartets and never encounter the problems you do in Ginastera's."

The Gallery Quartet is just one cog in a year-round slate of music at the museum ranging from chamber to jazz to folk.

In the museum's more informal environment, Perry says listening to the quartet can provide a low-stress introduction to classical music by presenting it away from the more imposing symphony setting.

"For a lot of people, (it's) getting that first identification into classical music," he says. "And chamber music uniquely does that because it is so intimate, it is so one-on-one."

The lone remaining founding member, violist Stern says the music is a release, an opportunity to embrace all he was exposed to as a child.

Since his father played cello in the National Symphony Orchestra, Stern's love of music is understandable.

That he took, nurtured that love and ventured to share it with an under-served community only cements his status as ambassador of the arts.

"Chamber music and string quartet music is a constant turn on for me," Stern says. "It's been something I've lived with all my life, and even though it's not how I make my living it's where I get a lot of major thrills from."

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