Carmel Concert bust!

Carmel Bach Festival Bust!

In previous years, I enjoyed the concerts at this annual music festival in the lovely town of Carmel-by-the sea, California. On occasion I have seen world-class performances there. On other occasions, just average performances. This afternoon (7/29/2011) I heard a performance that was really unacceptable.

The Program:

Chamber Concert Beethoven & Britannia ($29)
2:30 PM Church of the Wayfarer, Carmel

  • Beethoven’s revolutionary Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4 contrasts with quartets by Vaughan Williams (so folksong-like as to be named “household music”) and by William Shield, considered the best 18th c. English composer of string quartets.

The performers:

  • Cynthia Roberts and Patricia Ahern, violins
  • Patrick Jordan, viola
  • Allan Whear, Cello

The music of William Shield came first:

The performance level of this first selection was poor for the following reasons: The entire piece had no changes in dynamics. The string sound, particularly in the two violins was scratchy. Most of the piece was played in the violin first position. Frequent use of open strings added to the lack of warmth and detracted from the enjoyment. There were some issues of poor intonation, and sour notes.

The music of Vaughan Williams was next.
The composer died in 1968. I simply could not understand why the violins resorted to using bowing techniques as though they were playing 17th century music. This is contemporary British music, that would benefit from some warmer sounds, and some left-hand vibrato, which was pitifully absent from most of these players. The spirit of British folk tunes was missing; still lots of use of open string sounds, and no ensemble-playing, or dynamics changes of any sort.

The Beethoven Quartet Op. 18, number 4, is a masterpiece, and it was royally murdered. Poor Ludwig van Beethoven likely issued a few curses from his grave. Here’s why:

  • The overall sound: Scratchy, and rough
  • String technique by Ms. Roberts: Intonation problems, and lack of preparation in faster runs. No leadership to connect with and integrate the performance of the three other players.
  • Ms. Ahern (2nd violin): Never did I see or hear a vibrato. She resorted to short, scratchy bow strokes.
  • In this masterpiece, too, there was on-going use of peculiar bowing, which produced unpleasant sounds and an overall effect lower than that of an unprepared student group. Briefly these 4 players did come close to producing a pianissimo a couple of times.

Bottom line: The Board of Directors of the Carmel Festival should be embarrassed. I infer from this afternoon’s performance that the Board does not do any sort of performance quality monitoring. Just because one of these players may have earned a degree from Juilliard 30 years ago does not qualify that performer to play in public today. The hall was packed. People wanted to hear fine music. This was a disgrace.

Here’s the Fry Street Quartet playing the Beethoven Op. 18, number 4:
I don’t know this group, but it is obvious that they are prepared:

Tags: Carmel Bach Festival, Chamber music concert July 29, 2011, Beethoven, Vaughan Williams, William Shield

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