By Sandra Wilmot
Chamber Music Kelowna kicked off their 38th season on last Wednesday night with a performance by Canada’s very own Rolston String Quartet. Making their Kelowna debut, the Rolston Quartet quickly proved why they have recently been named among the CBC’s 2016 “30 Hot Canadian Classical Musicians Under 30.”
Formed in 2013 and comprised of violinists Luri Lee and Jeffrey Dyrda, violist Hezekiah Leung, and cellist Jonathan Lo, the Rolston Quartet is the most recent First Prize laureate of the Banff International String Quartet Competition, and have served as the graduate quartet-in-residence at Rice University’s Shepheard School of Music in Houston Texas, and are now the fellowship quartet-in-residence at the Yale School of Music.
The program was comprised of three “first” quartets by Beethoven, Debussy, and Tchaikovsky, a fitting tribute to the youthfulness of the ensemble itself. Beethoven’s curious String Quartet in D major, Op. 18 No. 3 (published as his third quartet, but believed to have been written first) opened the program and was given a tasteful and restrained performance by the quartet.
Each movement, as Dyrda explained, deviates in some way from the traditional structure of the string quartet genre as made famous by Haydn and Mozart. From the opening and reoccurring minor seventh melodic interval of the Allegro first movement, to a slow movement that is actually rather quick, to a virtually non-existent third movement scherzo, to a frenetic Presto finale that ends in a perfectly unclimactic and apologetic tone, Beethoven is clearly pushing the limits of form, something he would continue to do in his later quartets.
Debussy’s first and only String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10 concluded the first half. Although constructed in a very conventional way, and built around a reoccurring and unifying theme, Debussy’s radical and evocative use of tone colours and harmonic language make this one of the most influential pieces in the quartet repertoire. Its interpretation requires incredible nuance and poise from the players, and all four members of the quartet blended seamlessly throughout.
Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet in D Major, Op. 11 No. 1 was the sole work on the second half. With its famous Andante Cantabile second movement based on a traditional Russian folk song (better known in its later arrangement for cello and orchestra) this quartet combines all the drama, pathos, and poignant lyricism characteristic of Tchaikovsky. The Quartet maintained focus and suspense throughout, and demonstrated an exceptional blend and cohesion for such a young ensemble.
Kelowna audiences will no doubt welcome a return visit from the Rolston Quartet in the near future, as they continue to grow as an ensemble, and connect with audiences throughout Canada and around the globe.
Sandra Wilmot is a Kelowna-based freelance musician, composer, educator, and violin instructor. She plays professionally with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and is on faculty at the Kelowna Community Music School.