The past week has provided one of the most rewarding experiences of my adult life for a variety of reasons. My first trip to the Northern Berkshires centered specifically in North Adams and Williamstown, Massachusetts and began on Canada’s West Coast—on Vancouver Island, where I live . My purpose was to attend an opening of Artists without Borders at the Brill Gallery, located in the historic Eclipse Mill in North Adams.
As the supply of old master drawings on the market dwindles, so do exhibitions of them, but if the exhibitions are fewer, their quality remains almost as strong as ever. The Uffizi continued its distinguished tradition at the Morgan Library this past winter, and now the Clark offers a fascinating and very beautiful layered exhibition consisting of sheets from different periods in the formation of its own collection interleaved with one of the most original and appealing of present-day private collections, the Italian drawings of Robert Loper, whose gifts include, in addition to expertise in the nooks and byways of Italian art of the sixteenth through the eighteenth century, fine taste, and a keen sense of fun.
It is perhaps not entirely accurate to call the Biava Quartet (named after the distinguished Philadelphia violinist and conductor Luis Biava.) a “young” quartet, since it is already ten years old. During that time they have collected an impressive array of prizes, including the Naumberg Chamber Music Prize and a first at the London International competition. Today they hold the Lisa Arnhold Quartet Residency at the Juilliard School, serving as graduate quartet in residence and teaching assistants to the Juilliard Quartet. This Juilliard connection is not without significance, since, as cellist Jason Calloway mentioned while introducing the Kodály, the Juilliard Quartet were their mentors. During the Biava’s Sunday afternoon concert, the relationship was constantly apparent, not only in their tight ensemble and disciplined rhtyhm, but in their sound, which recalls not so much the mellowed timbre of the Juilliard Quartet today, but the brilliance and bite of their earlier years. On the other hand, the Biava Quartet’s approach to ensemble textures is quite different. They are more interested in the changing, varied textures created by contrasts among the four instruments. The violinists and violist play standing, while the cellist sits on a podium, which gives them a little more acoustic space around each instrument, not to mention brilliance. This was particularly striking in the works on the first half of the program, which of course must reflect their musical interests, especially since both works are seldom played.