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On the evening of October 2nd, 2018, I attended my second live concert music experience. This was the night of Game 3 of the Major League Baseball World Series. My Boston Red Sox were battling against my hometown team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. I chose my second music experience over baseball, which to me, seemed like a well-worth experience. However, my wife, a huge Boston Red Sox fan, stayed home. Nonetheless, I enjoyed attending the Sundays Live Chamber Music Concerts at the Leo S. Bing Theater located at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) by myself. I meticulously picked this ensemble because it was a String quartet covering Ludwig Van Beethoven and Maurice Ravel. It directly related to the music I was covering at the time in class, and bridging the gap would make the experience that much better.
That evening, I arrived early as usual. When I got to the foyer of the Leo S. Bing Theater, I saw an entire greeting cast from the American Youth Symphony. I was delighted to learn that, in fact, it was an ensemble of local youth playing classical music. The American Youth Symphony Principals Quartet was performing that night. I received a pamphlet that gave me a background about the American Youth Symphony, describing it as a training ground for the 21st Century’. Founded (in) 1964, the American Youth Symphony provides fellowships to virtuoso young adults and free concerts to the community. Some of them hail from our local Los Angeles Unified School District, pursuing music as a career and hoping for scholarships.
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When I finally entered the theater, I sat directly in the middle center row. The seating provided was more of an auditorium seating rather than the orchestral seating you would typically find in an opera. The theater was pretty full, more than the previous time I attended; only a handful of open seats were available. As the concert began, the lights dimmed, and Dani Bari took center stage and introduced the pieces that were about to be performed. The American Youth Symphony Principals String Quartet performed Beethoven’s String Quartet in D major, Opus 18, No. 3, and Ravel’s String Quartet in F major. The musicians seemed very young, maybe in high school, late teens at most, but their maturity set them well beyond their years. The violins were played by Gallia Kastner, Evan Johanson; Johanna Nowik, viola; and Dong Nyouk Sunrise Kim, cello.
The first song covered was Beethoven’s String Quartet in D major, Opus 18, No. 3, broken into four different movements by tempo: Allegro, Andante con moto, Allegro, and Presto. The theme of the first movement follows the classical genre in the sonata form. The introduction began slowly elegant, then gently eased, picking up into the exposition flourishing into Allegro. The contrasting themes of playfulness and elegance were presented in the development. The combination of both high and low pitches contrasted the theme sounding like a playful yet elegant tune. In the recapitulation, both themes are more pronounced, each battling providing a grand finale and resolution, both merging into one elegant, playful tune.
I could see the musicians mustering a lot of power yet keeping control over the pitch. I could clearly see the power and drama that made Beethoven famous. It seemed very demanding for the musicians to practice control. It was more pronoun on the following movement. The Andante con moto had a lot of power that slowly climaxed and then took a sharp, quick accent peaking even further and returning to a slow, calm Andante tempo. Beethoven slowly gained momentum in his music before hitting a climax and contrasting it with a low pitch.
I found that Beethoven’s String Quartet in D major, Opus 18, No. 3, was difficult to pinpoint a theme because there is so much complexity built into each phrase. The contrasting phrases seemed as if they painted an abstract painting. Each phrase etched a new stroke into the canvas, and analyzing a single stroke does not provide a full picture. I imagined an artist taking a series of strokes in each phrase. Then take a pause to look at the painting and examine his work. Suddenly realizing that a few more strokes are needed. Briefly in the music are these moments of panic, doubting the painter of the painting is complete. The painter continually analyzes and criticizes his work.
After further research, I found that the String Quartet is one of the most difficult forms to master for any composer. Beethoven composed the String Quartet, in D major, Opus 18, No. 3, in his early years between 1798 and 1800 and later published in 1801. During this time, Beethoven’s partial hearing loss had begun to set in, and had composed music under the style of Joseph Haydn. Beethoven was a pupil of Hayden, continuously presenting his work to his tutor. Beethoven often wondered whether his compositions were good enough. I could see this reflection in his String Quartet, in D major, Opus 18, No. 3. a constant hesitation and need for approval.
I could see the same predicament in The American Youth Symphony Principals String Quartet. At a young age, they had to perform as virtuoso musicians to earn a scholarship and prove their own skills. The violin played by Galia Kastner showed tremendous skill. At moments it felt as if she was going to snap a string from the demand of Beethoven’s music. The accents played by all the musicians demanded a lot of control and restraint. They all managed to impress me and successfully recreate Beethoven’s early works in the string quartet form. I have gained a much deeper appreciation of the skill and control that classical music brutally demands. Overall, I do not regret missing the baseball World Series to witness this experience.
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