Chiara String Quartet brings essential chamber music to Lincoln | Concert Preview

As regular readers of Hear Nebraska can attest, our state is home to excellent music in a wide variety of genres, from pop to metal to folk. The same holds true for classical music. Did you know that Lincoln has been home to a world-class chamber ensemble for over a decade? As artists-in-residence at UNL’s Glenn Korff School of Music since 2004, the Chiara String Quartet has inspired and educated a generation of UNL music students while bringing cutting-edge performances of essential classical music to the public. The Chiara Quartet has performed around Lincoln in both formal and informal settings, including shows at local music clubs like the Chatterbox in 2006, and a concert series at the Matt Talbot Kitchen in 2011-12.

The string quartet format is the perfect vehicle for getting new listeners into classical music. Think of string quartets as the power trio lineup of the classical world, stripped down to essentials and ready for business. They can sound as massive as an orchestra, but it takes every member giving 100 percent, listening to one another intensely, to turn a modest quartet into a powerful, unified voice. This holds true for composers, too; there is an inherent economy of resources in string quartet writing, and you get to experience the pure essence of a composer’s approach when every note matters so much. I’ve found many of my favorite composers through their string quartets: Gorecki, Shostakovich, Crumb, Schoenberg, Xenakis…

…and Bartók! Béla Bartók’s six string quartets loom large over 20th century art music. These intense pieces, which incorporate Hungarian folk melodies from Bartók’s homeland into cutting-edge modernist arrangements that still sound exciting and fresh today, are deeply moving to experience as a listener. They also introduced challenging new techniques and approaches for string players that continue to be studied and practiced. As some of the most difficult pieces in the repertoire of string quartet music, only a handful of “essential” recordings exist, generally made by the best quartets in the world: Juilliard, Emerson, Takács, Tokyo. With their Bartók by Heart double-disc, the Chiara String Quartet recently joined these esteemed ranks.

Bartók by Heart takes a unique approach to these labyrinthine pieces: unlike most classical recordings, Chiara performed entirely from memory. Because so many classical ensembles keep large repertoires of complex music ready to perform, sheet music is generally a necessity. Memorization is a gargantuan task when it comes to music this difficult, but Chiara’s efforts have succeeded, realizing the freshest take on the Bartók quartets in decades. These recordings breathe with total focus and explosive energy, a testament to the power of a perfectly-present ensemble and a beautiful homage to the many folk melodies that make up these pieces, originally passed between generations with no sheet music in sight. You can get an excellent feel for the wide dynamics and emotional-yet-precise gymnastics of Chiara’s “by heart” approach in the final movement of Quartet No. 4:

While they’re not playing Bartók on this program, you can catch the Chiara String Quartet at Kimball Hall this Wednesday in another essential role for modern chamber ensembles: premiering new music. UNL has commissioned Canticle (String Quartet No. 6) for Chiara by Houston-based composer Pierre Jalbert, who previously worked with the ensemble on his first pair of string quartets. A seven-movement piece that incorporates widely contrasting approaches and extended techniques such as using glass rods and bowed crotales, Jalbert’s latest promises to be an immersive experience. This concert will also include a performance of Jefferson Friedman’s propulsive String Quartet No. 2, which also was commissioned for Chiara.

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The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Glenn Korff School of Music in the Hixon-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts presents the Chiara String Quartet in the Hixon-Lied Concert Series: “Premiered and Loved” featuring the world premiere of Pierre Jalbert’s String Quartet No. 6. Wednesday, February 1, 2017 at 7:30 PM. Kimball Recital Hall,11th and R Streets. Single Tickets: $20 (Seniors $10, Students $5), available at the Lied Center for Performing Arts ticket office, at the door, or at 402-472-4747. More

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Scott Scholz writes about creative contemporary music, hosts the Words on Sounds podcast, and operates Tymbal Tapes. He can be reached through HN’s managing editor at