Guarneri String Quartet reaches great heights in Chapel performance

Laura Streyle

As they walked across the stage to a group of four empty chairs, the Guarneri String Quartet was met with warm applause. This initial applause was not merely an expression of anticipation; it was an expression of the deep appreciation, among audience members, of the Quartet’s nearly 45 years of music making.
After rustling their feathers and nestling into their comfortable performance arrangement, the concert took flight with a light-hearted Allegro from Haydn’s Quartet in G Minor. Moving from sweet melodies to the playful runs of Haydn’s Quartet, second violinist, John Dalley, and cellist, Peter Wiley, exchanged jovial inner-voice smiles. The visual communication between Dalley and Wiley was rarely extended to the quartet as a whole. Rather, the talented members seemed to communicate primarily through listening to one another; through hearing each smile, furrowed brow and sweet expression in the notes that were played.
Coming down to Earth to play Zoltán Kodály’s* more recently composed String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10, music fit for dancing was mixed with uneasy feelings of dissonance, creating an intriguing tension within the listener. Intense staggered entrances, sparked by violist Michael Tree, and exploding with first violinist, Arnold Steinhardt, were contrasted with folksy melodies throughout the piece.
After the last note of Kodály’s* invigorating piece, the quartet rose from their seats and Dalley added the finishing touch in loosening his bowtie and wiping his forehead as he bowed.
The liftoff into the clear skies of Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major was exquisite. There was little complaint, therefore, when Dalley’s violin string snapped a few measures into the piece, meaning the quartet would need to start over. Fingers still playing, Steinhardt turned to check on his colleague’s noisy situation, to see Dalley letting his violin sag lower and lower to the ground in defeat, scraping his bow across the useless string.
This inopportune solo invoked laughter from spectators and performers alike. When Dalley left the stage to change strings, Steinhardt assured the audience, “This shouldn’t take more than two or three hours.” Luckily, it was only after a few minutes that Dalley re-entered the stage with his violin triumphantly held above his head, and a grin on his face.
It felt as if something magnificent inside each player had broken free with the breaking of Dalley’s string, for the second liftoff into the Ravel was filled with even more spirit and grace than the first. The purity of sound enraptured the audience and swept through rich and melting colors.
After stepping from the Chapel stage last Friday night, the honorable Guarneri String Quartet had successfully prepared the way for music-making that will unfold with the 100th Lawrence University Artist & Jazz Series. The musicianship of the ensemble will continue to flutter on our Chapel stage and in the hearts of countless people around the world long after Guarneri’s final tour is completed.