Today five virtuoso musicians met for the first time. Quartet San Francisco (QSF) was warming up in Gilman Chapel in Cedar Grove Cemetery. They had just driven up from Rhode Island where they were staying for a string workshop and concert at the university in their concert tour of Rhode Island, Boston, Lexington, and Martha’s Vineyard.
Robert Bekkers, who gave the inaugural concert of this new concert series, walked into the church and shook hands with them. He and Jeremy Cohen, founder and leader of QSF, had corresponded by e-mail after my introduction. One member of my ukulele pluck ensemble had told me about QSF, and after watching their videos, I was hooked.
Musicians don’t chit chat. They’d rather play and see how they play together. It’s both a trial and a test.
I found it odd to see the members of the string quartet all standing as they rehearsed. Later, after the concert, during the outdoor wine reception, I’d comment to another member of the audience that we tend to pigeonhole string quartets as being all serious, all seated, and playing music of dead composers.
QSF is not your typical, traditional classical string quartet. They play their own music, which they composed or arranged themselves – exciting, interesting, and polished. Their artistry is impeccable.
As I had arrived early, I sensed that the quartet was still deciding which pieces to play, while testing the acoustics and getting acclimatized to the church.
Half-an-hour before their concert, the four members of QSF navigated their iPads to Mauro Giuliani’s Variations and Polonaise (also printed as Polonoise). Robert found a folding chair in the back of the church and positioned it before the quartet before taking his seat. [Later, he’d say that he would have brought his strap had he known the quartet was standing.]
He took out his heavy and loud guitar, custom made for chamber and orchestral music.
“Let’s try the last movement,” said Robert. “The Polonoise.”
In the empty church, Robert breathed in and gave a nod as chamber musicians usually do to start a piece. They didn’t stop playing until they had reached the end.
I stood at the far corner, my bare feet on the wooden pew and my hands holding my iPhone steady. It was not clear if they were rehearsing to perform it or just sussing each other out.
Besides Robert, I was the only person who knew the history of this piece and our journey to get it ready for performance and recording on our first CD. Yet, here they were — the string quartet sightreading the last movement as though they had played it a hundred times.
That is what musicians do when they meet. No chit chat. Just play. And then they decide if they want to collaborate.
The Gilman Chapel Concert Series is a new initiative to bring live music performances to the neighborhood surrounding Cedar Grove Cemetery where it is located. The cemetery is famous for being the only one in the country that allows a trolley to run through it. The nearest station is Cedar Grove T-station, which is served by the Mattapan-Ashmont trolley, off the Red Line. Parking inside the cemetery is plentiful and free.
The next concert at Gilman Chapel is scheduled for Thursday September 26, 2019. (New date)