Thalea String Quartet aims to make classical music more accessible

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Thalea String Quartet
Thalea String Quartet will perform Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Old Town Temecula Community Theater. Valley News/Thalea String Quartet photo

Thalea String Quartet, performing Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Old Town Temecula Community Theater, wants to connect with audiences and thus make the classical music they love to perform more accessible.

“We feel like there are a lot of barriers keeping folks away from chamber music, and classical music in general,” violinist Christopher Whitley said. “We speak to audience members all the time who say they don’t ‘know anything’ about classical music, or that they aren’t able to interact with the music in an intelligent way. This idea that you need a Ph.D. to understand chamber music is totally untrue, and it’s a real problem for our field, so it’s important to create a situation where the audience feels that they can really connect with the music that’s being performed.”

One way the four-piece group does that is by actively communicating from the stage during each performance.

“Each member of the quartet speaks during every concert, sharing some form of historical or emotional content,” Whitley said. “This can be as simple as saying what we as individuals love about a piece. When I share something personal, the audience gets to know me as a person, rather than as just a performer. This can really break down the barrier between audience and performer, which is an important step for listeners to connect with the music.”

He said, for the most part, they can feel when an audience buys into what they are trying to do.

“It’s always hard to measure the impact you have on an audience,” Whitley said. “Oftentimes we can only rely on what we feel in a room. It’s this strange sixth sense that performers develop where they can get a sense of how an audience is responding to the music. It’s crazy but you can really feel when you have an audience along with you. I think that’s when you can feel the impact you’re having. It’s also wonderful when audience members wait behind after a concert so they can tell you about their experience. It helps us learn what listeners respond to and what we can continue to develop for future audiences.”

The program in Temecula will include music such as Tanner Porter (b.1994); Switchback (2019); Florence Price (1887-1953) Five (Negro) Folksongs in Counterpoint – i. Calvary, ii. Clementine, iii. Drink to Me With Thine Own Eyes, iv. Shortnin’ Bread, and v. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; Ástor Piazzolla (1921-1992) and Four for Tango before the intermission.

Upon their return, the group will perform Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2 and “Razumovsky” Allegro Molto adagio; Allegretto and Presto in the finale.

“We love all the music we’re playing in Temecula, but we’re particularly excited about Florence Price’s Five Folksongs in Counterpoint and Tanner Porter’s Switchback,” Whitley said. “Florence Price’s piece is a wonderful mixture of American traditional music, and European composition techniques. It’s really interesting to hear what Price does with these familiar folk melodies. Tanner Porter’s Switchback is a brand-new piece with rich textures and colors, with sections that touch on folk and medieval music. Audiences loved the work at its premiere and we’re so excited to share this young composer’s exciting work.”

Whitley said the group hopes the audience can lose themselves during their performance.

“Audiences can look forward to having 90 minutes where they can disconnect from the outside world and hopefully experience something moving and meaningful,” Whitley said. “We all have so much going on in our lives and it’s so rare to get the chance to just sit, relax and experience something beautiful.”

He said the concert has something for everyone and is looking forward to the show.

“We feel like this program has something for everyone,” Whitley said. “If you’ve never heard a string quartet before, the program can serve as a great entry into the world of chamber music. There’s a bit of new music, some familiar and distinctly American sounds, and a masterpiece by Beethoven. If you’re a string quartet connoisseur, then hopefully you’ll be excited about hearing a new piece, and discovering the Price and Copland, which are unfortunately rarely performed.

“Even though this is serious music, our quartet likes to have fun,” he said. “Chamber music can be beautiful and moving, but it can also be exciting, uplifting and joyful, and who doesn’t want more joy in their lives?”

Thalea String Quartet, presented by Temecula Presents, will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Old Town Temecula Community Theater, 42051 Main Street, in Temecula.

Tickets range in price from $15 to $35 and are available at www.tickets.temeculatheater.org, at the theater’s box office or by phone at (866) 653-8696.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.