An Intimate Conversation with Friends of Chamber Music of Miami
A stranger might never guess that the frail, 84-year-old woman in a housedress who greeted me at the gate of a typical South Florida ranch house on Normandy Isle was a legendary violinist. Yet when I escorted the Polish virtuoso Ida Haendel to this season’s opening concert of the Friends of Chamber Music, at the behest of Julian Kreeger, the organization’s president, she was surrounded by admirers still moved by performances of hers they had heard decades ago. That’s how seriously the Miami-based presenting organization, formed in 1955, takes British composer and pianist Richard Walthew’s characterization of chamber music as “the music of friends.” Originally intended for performance in the smaller rooms of European palaces, chamber music may have moved to the concert stage years ago, but it still preserves a spirit of intimacy. So Haendel changed into a more comfortable pair of shoes that she carried with her in a shopping bag, and settled into a pew at the Coral Gables Congregational Church, eager to listen to James Ehnes, a violinist nearly 50 years her junior. The leader of the Ehnes Quartet chatted with the audience, introducing the first piece, Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 1. A world-renowned soloist, on this night, Ehnes stayed true to the spirit of chamber music by melding into his ensemble. From the opening note of Medelssohn’s lyrical piece, the quartet breathed as one, at times playing as a single instrument, at times querying and responding to each other. The conversation took a darker tone with Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 7, like friends delving into deep matters. The piercing pizzicatti brought to mind Goethe’s description of string quartet music as “four rational people conversing.” The conversation came to a close with Schubert’s Quartet No. 14, “Death and the Maiden.” Still rational, the quartet in the second movement conjured a peaceful death, a death that promises, in the poem that inspired Schubert: “Softly shall you sleep in my arms.” Yet the final movement ended with pyrotechnics, an explosion of virtuosity. Smiling, Haendel joined the crowd in a standing ovation, then made her way backstage to congratulate the younger violinist. Several times on our ride back, she repeated, “That was a fantastic performance.” The quartet’s conversation lingered in our memory all the way home. Friends of Chamber Music continues with a peformance by pianist Cyprien Katsaris, violinist Mikhail Simonyan, violist Roberto Dias and cellist William de Rosa, playing Schumann’s Piano Quartet Op.47 on October 1, at 8 pm at Coral Gables Congregational Church. For tickets go to http://miamichambermusic.org/tickets.html or call (305) 372-2975.