Chautauqua Quartet to honor colleagues, celebrate music

RUBY WALLAU | Staff Photographer
Members of the Chautauqua Quartet: violist Eva Stern, violinist Vahn Armstrong, cellist Jolyon Pegis, and violinist Diane Bruce.

With more than seven decades of history, the Chautauqua Quartet is an institution of its own.

“We’re kind of a big deal,” joked violinist Vahn Armstrong. “It’s been going on for a long time.”

Armstrong and his colleagues continue the tradition at 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall as part of the Logan Chamber Music Series.

The string quartet — two violins, a viola and a cello — draws members from the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra out of the Amphitheater and into the recital hall.

Of the four musicians, violinist Diane Bruce has been with the group the longest. She’s seen three iterations of the quartet, and said that it keeps getting better. If it didn’t, she said, she wouldn’t keep coming back.

“It’s hard work doing this symphony,” Bruce said. “We have a very busy schedule, and then we add quartet rehearsals on top of it. But it’s such a privilege to play quartet music that we all feel like it’s worth the sacrifice.”

Today’s program includes two pieces: one piano quintet by Antonín Dvořák and a string quartet by Samuel Barber. Like many groups, the ensemble said it tries to strike a balance between music the audience ought to recognize and music that’s simply worth playing.

The Barber piece will be performed in memory of Mary Whitaker and Vern Kagarice, two orchestra members who passed away in the last year. According to violist Eva Stern, the piece’s second movement — which was prominently featured in the movie “Platoon” — is meant to serve as an emotional and beautiful tribute to their departed colleagues.

The Dvořák quintet adds a piano into the mix as a slight twist to what’s usually a string quartet concert. Armstrong said he is particularly excited to have fun with the piece.

“Dvořák was famous for being a tunesmith and writing all of these fantastic melodies — they’re by the pound,” he said.

Armstrong said this plethora of melodies is part of what makes chamber music so fun.

In the orchestra, a section may have its time in the spotlight as it plays the melody, but that spotlight is inevitably relinquished for accompaniment parts. Chamber music, he said, is an opportunity to strut his stuff and pass the melody around the quartet continuously.

All things considered, Armstrong said, there’s really no reason not to attend.

“It’s free, air-conditioned, out of the rain — come on in and enjoy it,” he said.