The first debate of the presidential campaign takes place tonight in Denver, and this weekend in Miami Beach, a local South Florida string quartet is chiming in with music that evokes the country from sea to shining sea.
The Delray String Quartet appears Sunday in the Arts at St. Johns series on Miami Beach in a program of American or American-inspired music, giving us a little more to think about in this time of national reflection. The quartet is planning three works, two of them quartets named “American.”
I wrote about the String Quartet No. 5 of Kenneth Fuchs back in January, and since then, the group has gone into the studio to record it for a disc on Naxos to be released in April. They’ve also posted a video of the piece in four installments, one for each movement; the first one can be seen here.
Much of the work, which was written for the Delray, has a wide-open, Coplandesque feeling that suits its title, and the foursome will be playing it several other times this season. It’s encouraging to see the group keep it in repertory; that’s how repertory is built, and if you didn’t catch it the first time it was here, you’ll have other opportunities this season, starting with Sunday.
The work is being paired with a better-known American quartet, the No. 12 by Antonin Dvorak (in F, Op. 96), easily the composer’s best-known quartet. Written in 1893 when Dvorak was in the United States to direct the new (and now defunct) National Conservatory of Music, it reflects the composer’s summer vacation, which he spent with his family in Spillville, Iowa, a town of Czech immigrants.
Dvorak was one of classical music’s great melodists, and he was an expert violist as well, and he writes with intimate, familiar knowledge about the capabilities of the instruments. It’s been a much-beloved piece since its first appearance, and audiences of the time heard it as a piece that reflected American folk music. But Dvorak was thinking of the quartets of Joseph Haydn when he wrote it, attempting to evoke the clarity and good-naturedness of the older composer’s work.
Also on the program is the slow movement from the lone String Quartet of Samuel Barber (Op. 11), better-known today in its string orchestra arrangement as Adagio for Strings. It’s a piece everyone knows, even if they don’t know where it came from or what, precisely, it is. The original four-part version of this music is not as lush as the string orchestra version, obviously, but it has the same beautiful intensity and same effect on its listeners.
Both the Fuchs and the Barber have links to 9/11, the Fuchs specifically because it was written partly with that tragedy in mind, and the Barber by association because it is our national funeral music. The Delray is billing Sunday’s concert as a reflection on the United States before and after 9/11, and the music should offer plenty of opportunity for thought.
In all truth, it may be that even during these quadrennial White House contests we don’t really think about our national priorities or identity as much as we should, focusing instead on candidate personalities. But there’s a lot to be considered, and perhaps an afternoon of music with American roots will help us get there.
The concert starts at 2 p.m. at Arts at St. Johns. Tickets are $20. For more information, call 786-309-1275.