The Catskill Chamber Orchestra and The Evander Quartet at Beattie-Powers Place

It was really nice to see a historic house come alive with music this past Sunday afternoon. Led by founder, music director, and conductor Dave Woodin, The Catskill Chamber Orchestra gave a free concert at Beattie-Powers Place in Catskill, NY featuring original works by Dave Woodin as well as pieces by Beethoven and Samuel Barber. In addition to The Catskill Chamber Orchestra the concert featured very special guests, four passionate, hard-working, and superb young musicians from the Eastman School of Music: Ben Fried on cello, Alex Lee and Victor Ronchetti on violin, and Matthew Cox on viola who make up The Evander Quartet.

Starting the program was both the orchestra and The Evander Quartet as one for the Allegro movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 in F Major. The warm, lively music filled the small room — which has wonderful acoustics — with increasingly forceful drama. At the same time, however, the music was refined and graceful, with brass, flute, and strings creating rich textures. The melody is the epitome of bright, warm days with an undercurrent of mystique, and the ensemble delivered the fervor that makes the music not only come alive but evolve and fly with a life all its own.

The second piece on the program was a composition by Dave Woodin, a work in progress he said, played by The Evander Quartet. It started off quite spirited before slowing and becoming heavy with legato notes. Cello drew deep, rich tones while violins sang a beautiful melody above it. Soon after, however, the music reverted back to the pace of the opening and closed in that manner. The second movement was rapid and dance-like, cello playing pizzicato notes, quick runs, and the occasional long-bowed note. Meanwhile, first and second violin played nimble runs, and viola provided delightful interplay with the other instruments. At the end of the second movement (which is as far as Dave Woodin got in his composition so far) after hearing The Evander Quartet play his piece for the first time, Woodin remarked “Maybe I’ll finish that one.” I would have to agree that hearing the quartet play the music was inspiring — and I’m not even the composer — and I can’t wait to hear the piece in its finished state.

The third piece on the program was also a composition by Dave Woodin and was played by The Evander Quartet with The Catskill Chamber Orchestra. Inspired by the Hudson Valley, the piece was titled “A Hudson Journey.” Opening with slow, stunning notes by the stringed instruments, the piece had a sweeping melody. After a brief pause the stringed instruments took up an agitated, repetitive motif as flute began a lyrical solo above them. From there the other instruments joined in on top of this multi-dimensional base and the music was utterly captivating. After another brief pause the brass instruments took up a sort of fanfare over the drone of sustained notes on cello, violin, and viola. Eventually all instruments joined together once more, the music full of splendor. Woodin and the ensemble’s playing of his piece truly captured the beauty and spirit of the Catskills and the Hudson River in all their glory, and I was deeply moved by both the piece and the performance.

The final piece on the program was Barber’s String Quartet played by The Evander Quartet. The first movement opens moodily, the music forceful and turbulent. The music is filled with non-traditional harmonies, and the progression of the melody itself is unconventional. Even when the music briefly calms and becomes more legato a sense of unrest is always present, and that agitation is re-awoken in its entirety as the end of the first movement draws near. Often played as a piece all its own, the second movement is heart-wrenchingly beautiful and envelops the listener in a soft web of sound. Cello, second violin, and viola play gentle chords as first violin plays a tender melody. Soon after viola and cello join in playing the melody, and throughout the movement the music sounds as though it is in a half-wakeful state, a dream-laden slumber it never fully rises from belonging not entirely to the physical world but one beyond. Contrastingly, the music of the third movement explodes in a fit of fury, raging onward with bows flying. That driving quality is broken at times by moments of subdued, spiraling notes, but the piece ends boldly with a dramatic finish.

Although Barber’s piece was the last on the program, the crowd hadn’t heard enough of The Evander Quartet. The audience gladly expressed admiration though applause until the musicians sat back down behind their music stands, and as an encore The Evander Quartet played Astor Piazzolla’s “Four For Tango.” Both full of passion and somewhat whimsical, the piece dashes through bars of music in a gallant fashion and allowed the musicians to show off their more playful side. Although they’re still maturing both as individual musicians and as a group (they haven’t even graduated from the Eastman School of Music yet), if The Evander Quartet has as much passion, energy, and refinement as they do now, I anticipate a very exciting future for the musicians and look forward to seeing them again.

*Upcoming concerts in the Hudson Valley by the Evander Quartet include one on June 5th at the Community Theater on Main Street in Catskill and one on June 10th at the Pleshakov Piano Museum on Warren Street in Hudson.

**Listen to an interview of Dave Woodin and a performance by The Evander Quartet here.

***For more information about Beattie-Powers Place, visit the site’s blog

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