Chautauqua Quartet marks season debut, finale in Logan appearance

As the 2014 season enters its middle third of programming, fans of the Logan Chamber Music Series will be treated to a pair of in-house Chautauquan groups made up of members of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.

The first of the two shows will be this afternoon at 4 p.m. inside Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall as the Chautauqua Quartet plays the works of Czech maestro Antonín Dvořák and German virtuoso Ludwig van Beethoven.

The quartet has existed within Chautauqua Institution for more than 70 years and is usually made up of the principal players from each string section of the CSO.

This year’s group is composed of 20-year veteran violinist Vahn Armstrong, principal second violinist Diane Bruce, violist Eva Stern and acting principal cellist Jolyon Pegis.

Today’s concert will be the first and last time that the quartet performs this summer. Armstrong, the unanimously appointed voice of the group, explained that their CSO schedule makes it nearly impossible to consider more than the single show.

“We used to play twice in the summer, but it was just a killer,” he said. “It’s a little bit like Brigadoon, except instead of every 100 years we play every 12 months.”

When it comes to selecting their annual concert program, the four simply email back and forth, discussing their favorite scores and, eventually, reaching a consensus.

Generally, Armstrong said, the group tries to play some music each year that sits off the radar of the average attendee. He revels in people approaching after the show to say, “I’ve never heard that before in my life, where on earth did you find it?”

This year though, Armstrong said, the quartet is going “right down the middle” of the chamber music highway with Dvořák’s String Quartet in E Flat Major and the fifth movement of Beethoven’s Op. 18.

“The interesting thing about it is that both of these composers, they’re both sort of asserting their personality a little bit in these pieces,” Armstrong said. “Dvořák in particular is beginning to move away from the Austrian tradition and asserting his Czech style. He’s not going to be ‘Anton.’ He’s going to be ‘Antonín.’ ”

The theme of musical evolution is continued in Beethoven’s Op. 18, the first six string quartets written by the classical legend.

“Beethoven was fascinated by the ‘variation form’ all through his life,” Armstrong said. “This is one of the first examples of him really exploring the depths of that possibility.”

At the end of the day though, the group is focused on making their sole concert a memorable one for everyone who attends, even if they’ve heard these pieces before.

“It’s just so much melody all over the place,” Armstrong said, “which is just a lot of fun to play and, I hope, a lot of fun to listen to. After all, there’s always next year.