CMMB opened its 2018-2019 season at Sunset Center last night with a performance by the Van Kuijk Quartet. These young musicians charmed us with their youthful exuberance, instrumental mastery and compelling rendering of the three works performed during the evening’s concert. In case you were wondering how Kuijk is pronounced, it is very simple — “Kuijk” is pronounced like “Quick.” The founder of the quartet is violinist Nicolas Van Kuijk, who despite his Dutch-appearing name is French. In fact the other members of the quartet, violinist Sylvain Favre-Bulle, violist Emmanuel François and cellist François Robin, are also French.
Currently BBC New Generation Artists, the Van Kuijk Quartet’s international accolades boast First, Best Beethoven and Best Haydn Prizes at the 2015 Wigmore Hall International String Quartet competition, First Prize and an Audience Award at the Trondheim International Chamber Music Competition, as well as becoming laureates of the Aix-en-Provence Festival Academy. Further to this, they join the ECHO Rising Stars roster for the 2017/2018 season.
We were in for a surprise, for previously it had been announced that we were to hear the String Quartet No. 1 (Métamorphoses nocturnes) by György Ligeti. However, we learned that one of the members of the quartet had suffered an accident resulting in a dislocated shoulder (we were relieved to learn it was not the violent physical demands of the Ligeti work that caused the injury), and therefore there was to be a substitution of a Haydn quartet. Having braced myself for a challenging, thorny, post-modernist avant garde work, the Haydn quartet substitution provided a welcome retreat into my own personal comfort zone.
Don’t think for a moment I am implying any sense of blandness to the program choices for the evening’s program. Each of the three works we heard, Schubert’s String Quartet No. 10 in E-flat Major, D.87, Haydn’s Quartet, Op. 76, No. 5, and Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major, is a masterpiece, and all three quartets received vital and compelling performances. The members of the Van Kuijk Quartet proved themselves equally at home in the Viennese Classical Style of Haydn and Schubert, as well as in the luscious impressionism of Maurice Ravel. Ultimately, however, it was the Ravel Quartet that made the most powerful impression. No matter how many times you hear this great work, it never ceases to totally absorb you in its magic spell. It also invokes reminiscences of a golden age in the arts, that period from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 to the beginning of World War I — La Belle Époque.
As always, Chamber Music Monterey Bay does so many things very well. Young students are made to feel welcome in its generous offer of “Seats up Front and Free,” pre-concert lectures by Kai Christiansen are always entertaining as well as informative, and last but not least, the wise choice of presenting the pre-concert lectures on stage at Sunset Center, rather than downstairs in Sunset Center’s “black hole of Calcutta.”
We heard a powerful and magical performance last night, and I think that some time in the next few years we can expect a return engagement by the Van Kuijk Quartet. Who knows? We may yet get to hear the Ligeti Quartet.