- It’s Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday. Of course, all composers have
birthdays, but how many of them have been celebrated by Schroeder in the Peanuts comic
strip? Bach, Mozart and Stravinsky are magnificent composers, but most of the
people who remember their birthdays have advanced degrees in music. Beethoven’s
birthday, like Shakespeare’s birthday, is an occasion celebrated around the
world, like St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo and New Year’s Eve.
- Beethoven’s 16 quartets are widely acknowledged to be the finest, movement
for movement and phrase for phrase, ever written. If you’ve never heard a
string quartet before, or if you’ve zoned out every time you heard one in the
background, you owe it to yourself to experience his quartets at least once
because they’re the perfect introduction to one of music’s most enduring forms.
The only downside is that every other quartet you hear for the rest of your
life may be a disappointment.
- Listening to Beethoven’s quartets invokes a whole world. Brahms’s Piano
Quintet, which the Calidore Quartet tossed into its second program so that they
could play it for a home-field audience (with the gifted pianist Pavel
Kolesnikov as the world’s most monumental bonus piece), makes five players sound
like an orchestra; Beethoven’s C-sharp minor quartet makes four players
synonymous with a universe.
- Even more than his symphonies or piano sonatas, which have plenty of boosters
of their own, Beethoven’s quartets give you an unrivaled view of his career
because they span virtually his entire working life. The six early quartets,
written when he was in his 20s, might be described as Bad Boy Haydn if
Haydn, Beethoven’s teacher, hadn’t so often been a bad boy himself when it came
to the playing with the form he basically invented. The five middle quartets
are Beethoven’s most extroverted, free-wheeling and emotionally accessible,
even when the emotion is anger, as it is in most of Op. 95. Each one of the
five late quartets, written at the very end of Beethoven’s life, years after
the increasingly deaf composer had lost his ability to hear his music played,
is a profound, otherworldly, one-of-a-kind experience that’s otherwise
- Since every one of the Calidore’s six programs mixes early, middle and late
quartets, each program becomes a window into Beethoven’s spiritual
autobiography. Even if you’ve already missed the first two programs, you still
have plenty of time to hear all four programs in 2020, the year when Beethoven
actually turns 200, and come away feeling that you climbed the mountain along
with the composer and the performers.
- When the Calidore plays Beethoven, it’s a perfect meeting of performers and
material. The four members of the Calidore all produce distinctive, shapely
voices it’s easy to focus on and follow if you like, but their ensemble is
faultless, especially in their shifts in tempo and volume and their fiery
attacks on the amazing, unpredictable developments Beethoven specializes in.
The only rough spots in their performances are the ones the composer himself
has written into the score.
- Calidore is at an ideal moment in their development to play the Beethoven
cycle. Its four players—violinists Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violist
Jeremy Berry, and cellist Estelle Choi—have been together for 10 years, long
enough to predict and react to each other’s every note and gesture, but not so
long that they’ve gotten bored with the music and each other and are just
phoning in their performances.
- It’s true that you can hear other Beethoven quartet cycles this year as close
as Philadelphia and New York. But you don’t need to make a trip to these cities
or compete with the traffic inside them to hear the Calidore. Their
performances are at Gore Recital Hall on the UD campus. Student tickets are $5.
Seniors and UD faculty, staff, and alumni pay $10. The rest of the world has to
pony up $15. Ask your friends in Philly and the Big Apple how much they’re paying
to hear the Beethoven quartets.
- The first two of the Calidore’s six programs sold out. Given the word of mouth
about these extraordinary performances of this extraordinary music, it would be
wildly optimistic to expect to walk into any of the remaining four programs at
the last minute and expect to be seated. It would be an exceptionally smart
move to buy tickets the moment they’re available (which happens to be now).
- If you miss this Beethoven cycle, you’ll probably have to wait till at least
2027, the 200th anniversary of the composer’s death, to hear another one. If
you do come out, though, you’ll be able to brag to everyone at Beethoven’s
300th birthday festivities in 2070 that you heard the Calidore play these
quartets. Trust me: They’ll all be envious.
Professor of English
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Top 10 Reasons to buy Calidore Tickets
UD Professor of English Thomas Leitch shares his Top 10 reasons to attend a Calidore concert.