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Jovian Joys
An Ovation for the Jupiter String Quartet

Don't be fooled by the library's neon hues. From left, Nelson Lee (violin), Meg Freivogel (violin), Daniel McDonough (cello) and Liz Freivogel (viola).

Who needs Joshua Bell when we have the Jupiter String Quartet? “What these young players brought to the Schubert was both energetic firmness and fine nuance, qualities that served the opening movement and the extended set of variations in the slow movement beautifully,” Bernard Holland of the Times wrote of the Jupiter String Quartet in a 1995 review. Energy, firmness and nuance must be the kind of words the twenty-something quartet members must hear all the time: They were all that and plenty more, jolting and stealthing from Haydn to Shostakovich to Beethoven to Britten for Cheryl’s Youth String Orchestra on Monday.

They’re a Boston-based quartet who know a thing or two about big-league performing ( Lincoln Center, Jordan Hall, Wigmore Hall in London, Aspen Music Festival). More to the point, they’re into nurturing their audiences, young audiences especially, by taking their show on the road to schools and small orchestras—like ours here. We heard they were coming for a performance in Palm Coast on Tuesday, so Cheryl snagged them for an hour’s worth of Shostakovich and awe.

They were wonderful: the kind of performers who disarm classical music of its perceived (I stress perceived) pompousness by presenting it as just another form of storytelling (as it should be presented), and by performing it as an expressive form of exuberance, whether the piece in question is Beethoven’s mournful Cavatina, from the B-flat major string quartet, or a Haydn movement’s scamp-like game of find-the-caffeine (the final movement from his E-flat major quartet, op. 20). It seems what the kids liked most was, oddly, Shostakovich’s unnerving second and third movements from his F major quartet (op. 73), which violinist Meg Freivogel (or was it violist and sister Liz Freivogel?) described as Shostakovich’s way of dealing with the decreasingly distant noises of World War II and increasingly meddlesome noises of the Soviets’ KGB, when Shostakovich got too far off script of what the authorities wanted him to write. (You can hear that anxiety in the third movement here.)

Then it was off to two hilarious movements from Britten’s D major string quartet (op. 25), apparently written, first violinist Nelson Lee told us, after Benjamin took a trip across the United States and felt compelled to give his own version of On the Road. True enough: the sun turned red and the rock and tumble of the mountains to the west looked like a Brooklyn brewery in a November ruckus (apologies, Jack). Never until now had I realized that Kerouac and Britten had so much in common, or that Britten and his performers can have so much in common: Daniel McDonough, the cellist, gives you the impression that he's channeling the notes like Whoopie channeling something much less elevated in “Ghost” (apologies, Daniel).

The performance took place in the library of Buddy Taylor Middle School, where all the youth orchestra’s rehearsals are held. It’s an intimate little venue despite the occasional desk phone gurgling unanswerably and the unbelievably oblivious librarian, if that’s who it was, who went about clicking and clacking with her computer and printing jobs, and another woman who went about shutting and locking office doors as if the quartet was just another performance of juvenile white noise. The students, few of them older than 16, were impressively still, if still too respectful of the music (none but one or two dared ask a question, though the musicians invited them): the impression that classical music is an edict from on high, a craggy, bearded and stilted edict, is still too big a wall to scale even for these Jovian performers, though they filled our hearts and made us wish once again that our little town wasn’t such a barren desert out in the middle of a cultural asteroid belt.

Check them out. They look, and play, like soaring hawks (if hawks had an affinity for strings, which, of course, they do).

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