The Ebène Quartet at Maverick

The Maverick-goers must have sensed what a breathtaking performance they were in for on Sunday because many people braved the torrential rain to get to Maverick over an hour and a half early. Performing was the Ebène Quartet of Paris, a passionate and youthful quartet making their Maverick debut. I got there a little over an hour before the concert’s start and was surprised to see cars already filling the parking area, given the gloomy weather conditions. People continued to trickle in once the doors opened, and by the time the concert started the hall was at full capacity. As the lights dimmed and the chatter ceased, Maverick music director Alexander Platt took the stage to introduce the Ebène Quartet. As soon as the musicians started playing a hush somehow quieter than silence overtook the room. I think it’s safe to say that we were all blown away.

Divertimento in D Major, K. 136
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Allegro
Andante
Presto

Debussy String Quartet
Claude Debussy

Animé et très decidé (Lively and very firmly)
Assez vif et bien rythmé (Quite spiritedly and rhythmically)
Andantino, doucement expressif (Somewhat slow, gently, and expressively)
Très modéré – Très mouvementé et avec passion (Very moderate, then very lively and with passion)

String Quartet in C Sharp Minor, Op. 131
Ludwig van Beethoven

Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo
Allegro molto vivace
Allegro moderato
Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile
Presto
Adagio quasi un poco andante

Allegro

The opening piece on the afternoon’s program, Mozart’s Divertimento in D Major, was played with brilliance and charm. The quartet’s playing contains such energy and allure that one is compelled to exit all else from the mind and focus solely on the majestic sounds and vibrations emanating from the instruments. Mozart’s piece opens with a mood that was a contrast to Sunday’s weather. The music is sunny and light, playful and full of arpeggios and trills. The Andante second movement has deeply refined elegance. That movement is also full of trills, although they gently adorn the calm music. The third movement opens quietly with staccato notes before dashing madly onward. The movement truly showcased each of the musicians’ superb virtuoso. Together, however, the four young Frenchmen are pure magic and mystery. They create a wave of sound that is so spellbinding it is impenetrable by any outside distractions. One of the things that struck me most about the quartet’s playing was how the musicians breath and sigh in unison. They catch one another’s eye frequently and grin at each other while they play, and their undeniable enthusiasm is both thrilling to behold and contagious.

One of my favorite pieces by one of my favorite composers, Debussy’s string quartet was next. Eerily shifty, the music begins as though from a dream, slowly awaking to the world of reality that surrounds it but never overtakes it. The music retains that dreamy quality throughout, and the reality it belongs to is not ours. The piece is immensely imaginative, full of lucid tones. Mid-movement the music rages into a fit, then falls into a downward spiral. The music quickly bounces back though, searching the vast miles of subconsciousness for something as elusive as the music itself. Debussy’s inspiration from Gamelan music is distinctly heard in the work, and the music of the first movement closes with an upward swoop. The second movement opens with plucked notes, the instruments then racing to a destination — and destiny — that is kept veiled from the listener. There’s friction in the music that is not entirely resolved, even in the closing which is plucked as well. Second violin opens the slightly melancholy third movement, which is exquisite in its sadness, and to say the music is full of beauty is a grave understatement. Viola then plays a melody scarcely perceptible while the other instruments sing from behind invisible curtains that cloak them. Cello sweetly plays, gently at first before increasing in fervor. From there, first violin takes over and plays the most beautifully weeping melody of all. The final movement begins quietly before morphing into a livid and exhilarating tale that leaps forward in a way that makes your heart miss a beat or two (I’m certain mine did).  The music of the last movement is particularly captivating, and the sometimes surreal quality of the music has the power to become the listener’s reality. Debussy wasn’t just a composer, he was a sorcerer of sorts. His music is full of life and the joys — and sometimes sorrows — of being, and hearing the Ebène Quartet play it was an honor and pleasure. It was like hearing the piece with fresh ears, ones that had been awakened to new wonders the music contained.

First violin moodily opens Beethoven’s quartet, joined shortly after by second violin, then viola, and finally cello, all four eventually playing as one. The music is full of intensity, and the Ebène Quartet similarly plays with burning intensity. That said, the quartet doesn’t just play with intensity but with grace, wisdom, and maturity as well. Each musician spurs on the others, challenging them but never overpowering them. The second movement of Beethoven’s quartet has gorgeous tones and a pleasant ease. The third movement bounces from instrument to instrument, while the fourth movement moves steadily forward. The latter slows at times to an un-hurried dance, but all the time seeks the future. The music flutters and soars, then ceases. After a brief pause, the fifth movement begins with weightier drama than the preceding movements. The nuances give the music animation, and the movement is full of spirit. There was no lightning in the sky, but there was inside the hall: it was in the musicians’ fingers. The adagio movement is the opposite of what precedes it, and what follows. The sorrowful movement is a brief respite between darkly dramatic movements full of power. At its close, incessant downward bow strokes brimming with angst drive the final movement. In between the dark fury are passages of shining lyricism and light. The music continues to return to the beckon and power of the darkness, however, more and more overcome by it. Finally, the music erupts and with a final surge of passion the piece comes to a close.

The music, and the way it was executed by the Ebène Quartet, was truly beyond description. They play with both finesse and fervor, and the power and prowess of the musicians is unbelievable. Words are simply not good enough to convey what it was like to be at Sunday’s performance, for the Ebène Quartet approached the borders of perfection and pushed beyond. I’m not just talking about the quartet’s technique either (which is certainly incredible), but it’s performance as a whole: the technique, the energy, the emotion, and all of the other aspects that influence a performance and the audience’s response to it. I have never heard an audience so quiet during a concert, or so loud at its close. The musicians throw themselves into the music with no hesitations, and it’s that fearlessness that makes the music they create so powerful. The Ebène Quartet is bringing classical music to new audiences with their fresh perspective and dedication, and it’s bridging the gap between generations. It is energetic and progressive musicians like those of the Ebène Quartet that are the future of classical music. They are a gateway between the past and the future; a past I love and a future I very much look forward to with the Ebène Quartet at its helm.

*In addition to boasting an extensive and impressive classical repertoire, the Ebène Quartet also arranges and performs an eclectic mix of more contemporary music as well. That mix is as varied as Miles Davis to the music from the film Pulp Fiction, and the musicians have also been known to sing gorgeous four-part harmonies on songs from Snow White — yes, I am serious — for their encores. I encourage everyone to check out the website for more information about the quartet and its projects. Below are a few videos of the Ebène Quartet which are posted on YouTube.

The Ebène Quartet playing music from Pulp Fiction

The Ebène Quartet singing (in French) and playing a jazzy rendition of “Someday My Prince Will Come”

An artist profile on the Ebène Quartet

The Ebène Quartet in rehearsal

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