Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Werner Quartet

For the third Friday night in a row, Leif and I got to go on a date without Ellie. It has been amazing, and it has been wonderful. I'm sure if we could find a regular babysitter we would try to go on dates more regularly, but for now we resort to grandparents or kid swapping with friends.

Last night Leif's parents came out to watch Ellie so that we could attend a concert we'd been looking forward to for a few weeks. We went to see The Werner Quartet, a group of four teenage siblings (aged 18, 17, 16, and 14) who all play the cello. We saw them once before, when we went to a live taping of the From the Top radio show in December. So when we heard they were doing a concert here in town we were excited to go.

The stage was beautiful. Because the concert was at the Emerson, whose auditorium wasn't designed for acoustics, the quartet had an acoustic stage built for them. Its clean lines were beautiful and created a nice backdrop of light wood and white panels. I really liked that it was functional, too, in that it had several doors built in for entrances and exits as the show demanded.

The show was remarkable in that from the time the Werners stepped foot on stage until just before the last song, no one said a word. There was no introduction, no announcement of intermission, no explanation of the pieces. There was just beautiful music and changes in lighting. The program contained information on each of the pieces as well as the evening's musical lineup. It was well done and placed the emphasis on the music.

My single complaint from the evening had to be the costumes. When the Werners first appeared, the girls were clad in different colored formal gowns of the same style, while Luc wore a black and white shirt with wide chevron stripes. As I watched the performance, I couldn't help but be distracted by the dizzying stripes on his shirt. The last piece before intermission was a series of tangos and the girls changed into ruffle-sleeved shirts with flowing black pants. Luc tied a red bandana around his neck. Overall, these were the best costumes of the evening, save the encore performance costumes, but we'll get to those later. After the intermission, all four Werners had changed costumes. The girls had traded their tango shirts for ones that appeared to be inspired by Mondrian. Imagine something like this:

In the following color schemes: for Helene, black, white, and hot pink. For Mariel and Andree, one wore it in black, florescent yellow, and bright blue. The other wore black, florescent yellow, and hot pink. Helene's is the only one that didn't clash with itself. They all clashed with each other. And Luc traded out of his black and white shirt with upside down V stripes for one with right side up V stripes that gave his shirt the appearance of a poncho. I have to admit that while Luc's shirt had been a distraction during the first half of the performance, the combination of patterns and colors in the costumes for the second half left me literally nauseated. It was practically impossible to listen to the melodious sounds coming from the instruments when they were presented in such visual cacophony. As Leif can attest, it actually gave me a headache when I looked at the stage and I spent most of the rest of the concert with my head down so that I could enjoy the music and avoid the headache. When we arrived at the concert, I was disappointed to be seated behind a taller man with a large head. After the intermission I was thankful to be thus separated from the sight on stage.

Aside from the costumage, the concert was amazing. The Werners are all very talented children. Add to that the fact that they play one of the most beautiful instruments on the earth and it's bound to be an enjoyable evening. And enjoy it we did. Three pieces in particular stood out to me, and I can't go on without mentioning them. The first was Pohadka, by Janacek. It is a musical fairy tale based on the epic poem Kashchei by Russian poet Vassily Zhukovsky. It was a mesmerizing piece made all the more interesting by the fact that the cello represented the young Czar while the piano his beloved princess. It was so beautifully written and played that it was easy to get lost in the story of these two as they were brought to life through the music. The second piece that thoroughly drew me in was the feisty Four Seasons of Buenos Aires by Piazzolla. These were tangos, written by the man who brought the tango out of the shadows and into the limelight in the 1950s. There is something about the tango that is just exciting and fun, and Luc Werner's arrangement of this piece was perfect. It was during this piece that the Werner siblings showed off some of their versatility by playing different instruments for each of the movements, from cello to piano to bass. They really are a versatile group. The final piece that took my breath away was the final piece in the concert program. It was the Cello Concerto in C Major by Haydn. I waited the entire concert just to hear this piece, because this was played by all four cellists alone, with no piano accompaniment. I have loved the cello ever since I played a piano/cello duet in church with David Hastie. There is no sound so beautiful as a cello by itself. And when the four Werners play as a soloist and orchestra, it is simply breathtaking. It was the perfect way to end a classical concert.

But the concert didn't end there.

There was a lull after the final performance as we waited for the Werners to take their final bow. The lights were low, and we could hear rustling through the audience. Bags were being passed down the rows as something was being distributed to each audience member. Even after I had the object in my hand, it was difficult to determine what it was. Confused chuckles spread throughout the auditorium as people realized that we had just been given... earplugs.

I have never been to a classical concert where they passed out earplugs before. Nor had I been to one that ended like this would.

Our eyes were drawn to the stage as we heard the music welling up. The clean lines of the sound stage had been altered by psychedelic band posters. The grand piano had been replaced by a keyboard, and the stage floor was obscured by artificial smoke. And then, from four separate doors, the Werners appeared, changed.

Yes, these costumes were perfect. They appeared in head to toe sequin bell-bottom pantsuits. And they sported big-hair 80's wigs. The sleek lines of their acoustic cellos had been traded for... electric guitars and the skeletal appearance of their electric cellos.

It was a spectacular entrance, though, due to a sound glitch the first time, the second entrance was more spectacular. And so, earplugs in hand (though not in our ears), we were treated to three or four songs by the band Queen, including We are the Champions and We Will Rock You. And let me tell you, I have never heard these songs played so beautifully. The electric cello provided a hauntingly melodious complement to the keyboard and electric guitar. And for the third time that evening I wished the Werner Quartet had an album I could buy.

And so I stand corrected. That encore, with its utter contrast to the classical tones of the rest of the performance, was the perfect way to end the concert. And I got earplugs as a souvenir.

1 comment:

Jaime said...

Wow, sounds like a fun and interesting evening!