Demons and Angels, etc.

This week marks was the third set of performances by the Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival here in western North Carolina. Last night, we heard the following at the Performing Art Center in Waynesville:

- Trio Sonata for Flute, Oboe, and Bassoon, by Alessandro Besozzi (1702-1793)

- String Quartet No. 2, “Demons and Angels,” by Stacy Garrop (b. 1970)

- Divertissement for Oboe, Clarinet & Bassoon
, by Jean Francais (1912-1997)

- Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 40, by Johannes Brahms (for violin, horn, and piano)

Of course, I was thrilled at all the attention the oboe got. The sounds of other instruments simply pale in comparison with the oboe. Oboist Keve Wilson did not disappoint this oboe-enthusiast.

Of the four pieces, though, the one that’s really haunted me all day is Stacy Garrop’s string quartet movement, “Demons and Angels.” Apparently, Garrop decided one day to Google an old boyfriend … to learn that he’d become a serial killer. If I heard the story right (it wasn’t in the program, but Festival Director Frank Ell mentioned it before the performance), Garrop wrote this piece as part of her reaction to discovering such a disturbing thing.

And “Demons and Angels” was disturbing, but it was also … amazing. I was spellbound. It was harsh and loud, and then the violins would wail, or whisper, or die out with a sense of hopelessness. It had large sections of silence toward the end, and its conclusion reminded me of the line, “not with a bang, but a whimper.” The Biava String Quartet played with great passion, with an intensity that matched the deep intensity of the piece.

I don’t know enough about music to tell you much more than that. Unfortunately, the program notes don’t tell us anything about “Demons and Angels,” but we do learn a little bit about the composer, Stacy Garrop:

She has written in several musical genres, including choral and chamber music, and has had some of her compositions recorded by contemporary ensembles. The present work [“Demons and Angels”] was commissioned for the Biava Quartet, who gave the world premiere for the Chicago “Music in the Loft” series.

I’d never heard of Garrop before, but I do hope to hear more of her music performed in the future. I tried to find online mp3 samples, but could only find one, a snippet of something called “Untaming the Fury.”

The Biava String Quartet comprises four young musicians: Austin Hartman (violin), Hyunsu Ko (violin), Mary Persin (viola), and Jacob Braun (cello).

Not only are they excellent musicians in their own right, but they are a joy to watch. Very passionate, intense group. And the cellist is a cutie.

I’m hoping to make it to the final Festival Performance next week, which will feature works by Persichetti, Debussy, and Spohr. It doesn’t look like I’ve ever heard any of the pieces that will be played, so I guess it’ll be yet another learning experience for the ol’ Waterfall.

My music education never ends. That's part of what I love about it.


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