'In Search of America' live (not Zoom) at Hill church

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“Friday evening’s performance of 'The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross' by the members of the Fairmount String Quartet was splendid. From a purely technical standpoint, the playing was expert to the point of perfection. Tuning, ensemble, balance, blend, dynamics and phrasings were immaculate. More importantly, the Fairmount’s rendition caught the spirit of the scriptural readings and the solemnity of the Christian holy day.”

These words are from a clearly ecstatic review by Chestnut Hill Local classical music critic Michael Caruso of an April 26, 2019, performance at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill by the Fairmount String Quartet (FSQ). The only original member of the quartet, formed 36 years ago, still performing with the FSQ is Beth Dzwil, a violist who has lived in Wyndmoor for the past 15 years.

“Knowing that it would be extremely difficult to make a living performing string quartet concerts,” Dzwil told us last week, “my original vision for the FSQ was that we would do event work to help provide a living for the musicians and to offset some of the cost of the concerts. We had a good amount of success with this model and built a reputation of musical excellence.”

The ensemble, also comprised of violinists Rachel Segal and Leah Kim and cellist Mimi Morris-Kim, will present an outdoor concert (live, not Zoom) at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 8000 St. Martin’s Lane, in Chestnut Hill on Sunday, Sept. 20, 4 p.m. This program, entitled “In Search of America,” includes Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 77, #2; Dvorak’s String Quartet Op. 96, “The American;” and Marquez’ Danzon #2. You will hear the sounds of some of the origins of our nation in the European classical music of Haydn's quartet, in the sounds of spirituals and Native American songs that permeate the Dvorak and in the Latin sounds of the Marquez.

Needless to say, the members of FSQ are thrilled to be able to actually stage a live performance. “The pandemic has hit us hard,” said Dzwil. “All of our spring concerts and events were canceled, and we suspended our weekly rehearsals. We have recently played for only two socially distanced weddings with very few guests in large spaces. We were in the middle of recording our second album when the pandemic hit. It probably would have released in the fall ... We will be releasing a single track from it soon, Jennifer Higdon’s 'Amazing Grace.'

“In mid-June, sorely missing our music-making, we decided to start rehearsing outdoors on my lawn so that when things opened up, we would have a program ready to perform. It took some adjusting to play with our masks on (and our glasses fogging up) and sitting so far away from each other. With our state moving to the green phase, I considered where we might perform in an outdoor, distanced setting.

“We play at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields regularly both for concerts and services. I saw that they had erected a tent for their Sunday services, so I asked if we might be able to give a concert there. They were open to the idea and quickly agreed. Attendees (and we) must observe rules of distancing and masking, and all attendees must provide contact information. We are permitted only 25 guests in the tent.  Additional attendees will be able to bring a chair or blanket and sit outside of the tent.”

Dzwil is a graduate of the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts, where she studied with long-time principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Joseph dePasquale. She has performed internationally and recorded six jazz albums with the Tyrone Brown String Sextet.

Her work with this group earned her the status of voting member in the Grammy organization. In addition to maintaining a private teaching studio, Dzwil teaches at Community College of Philadelphia and Germantown Friends School.

When asked what was the hardest thing she has ever done, Dzwil replied, “The hardest thing I — and the FSQ — have ever done is play Bartok’s Fourth String Quartet for a dance performance with the Bryan Koulman Dance Company. The work is brutally difficult technically, both individually and as an ensemble, and timing it to work with the dancers added yet another level of difficulty. It was an exhilarating experience and one of our most significant achievements!”

For more information, visit https://fairmountstrings.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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