Back in early November, I went to a free Ciompi Quartet concert. It was part of their lunchtime classics series in the Rare Book room at Duke’s Perkins Library. Ciompi Quartet is giving two more free performances, one on February 9, 2010, and one on March 30, 2010. Of course, they also have a few paying evening concerts but as someone who often thinks she’d like a night at the symphony or other classical music ensembles, I’ve learned that this shorter lunchtime format (1 hour) is much better for my attention span, not to mention my wallet. Being able to attend affordable, and sometimes free, performances at any of our local colleges and universities is one of the biggest pluses of living in an area like the Triangle.
Back to this performance. I am not a student of music; I couldn’t tell you whom the classical composer of a piece is just by listening to it and I barely notice if timing is off. That said, I think Ciompi Quartet deserves all the accolades they receive. The musicians captured the mood of the composition, Beethoven’s C Major Opus 59 No.3, perfectly. They began by playing the introduction, an eerie opening that made me long to hear more. My longing was denied as the musicians paused for a short discussion of what we think of when we consider Beethoven’s music and what was felt from this introduction, all of which was a bit lost on me (see aforementioned “not a music student” qualifier). They then played through the first movement and I understood, at last, what chamber music means. It means listening to an expert group of musicians fill a small space with beautiful, emotive sounds, creating an intimacy between them and their audience.
The Rare Book room is an elegant location for listening to chamber music, as it is, essentially, a chamber that you might find in an old mansion, with rows of ancient books lining the walls, wood paneling, and lovely crown molding on the ceiling.
If it were a study in your own home, you’d remodel it, but as a setting for an intimate concert, it was ideal. The room transported me to a time when I might have been a benefactor and had such gorgeous music filling my parlor each evening. Le sigh.
After playing the first movement, the quartet members shared with us that this piece was commissioned by Count Rasumowsky, a Russian diplomat to Vienna. He asked for Russian musical elements to be incorporated into the work and they come through loud and clear in the second movement. The music went from a brooding sadness to a rocking, fun time that made you want to see some dancers doing a traditional squatting and leg-kicking jig. Ciompi Quartet effortlessly brought their music from crescendos to pianissimo levels as needed.
If you’ve ever wanted to hear the Ciompi Quartet perform, I would definitely recommend going to one of the upcoming performances in the Rare Book room if you have time during your lunch hour. You may be surprised to find how much you enjoy their music in this particular space. I know I was.by