“Change” is a word being heard frequently lately. The City of Monrovia in collaborative partnership with the Monrovia Unified School District understands change and, at least as far the arts are concerned, is on a path to make a difference, especially when it comes to music and music education.
Click to hear a clip of the Avanti Quartet: avanti-quartet-excerpt-from-dvorak-american-last-mvt2
In August, a significant grant was received by the City of Monrovia and its school district designed to promote a music program that just might, according to Jim Coombs, Monrovia School District’s Assistant Superintendant, raise grades. At the time, he was quoted as saying, “Research shows that arts education enhances student achievement.” Mayor Hammond, also on board for the program, touted the city-schools partnership program and declared that he hoped, he said, that “children will learn the instruments at an early age and go on to become Monrovia’s Youth Orchestral musicians of tomorrow”.
The program received an important boost with Monrovia native Tamsen Beseke, now a professional musician, joined the effort to bring back a music program in the schools that meant so much to her when she began as a student at Mayflower Elementary where she began playing the violin. The musical training Beseke received in Monrovia and in subsequent training, she and her fellow string quartet members, operating as the Avanti Quartet, brought to her hometown a zinger of a program on Sunday at the United Methodist Church of Monrovia assisted by the most impressive chamber music corps seen in this area in eons.
The quartet members, in addition to violinist Beseke, are fellow violinist Carrie Kennedy, violist Laura Pearson and cellist Maria Crosby. Each is a professional with an arms-length list of academic credentials that extends from Kennedy’s Masters in violin performance from State University of New York at Stony Brook, Pearson’s BA from Oberlin College and Master’s at USC to Crosby’s high honors at DePaul University, now approaching a Master’s at USC.
Honors aside, the proof is in the pudding. Avanti Quartet did not disappoint. In fact, the program, somewhat hackneyed by some standards, broke new records for instrumental accuracy, unparalleled interpretation, and outright musical passion. It seemed a reasoned passion for the love of music.
Its opening number, Mozart’s Quartet in C, presented at the acoustically warm, but defined presence of the sanctuary of the United Methodist Church in Monrovia, introduced the Avanti Quartet’s sprightly, energetic, rhythmic and well-blended playing. That assessment was further confirmed in their second offering, Beethoven’s Quartet in C-major, referred to as “Razumovsky” in musical literature. Here they played with strength and conviction demonstrating compatibility between players almost never realized in chamber ensembles regardless of years of playing together or international acclaim.
This is a new line-up for Avanti Quartet meaning the players have had little opportunity to realize any simpatico between players. That made no difference. In this grouping, Kennedy, Pearson, and Crosby were the perfect foils for Beseke’s sparkling violin.
The quartet’s final number, Anton Dvorak’s Quartet No. 6 in F-major, “American”, received a fully American reading. That is, unlike the old-world players on the European stage that think we might faint from strong playing, Avanti Quartet attacked each and every phrase with confident abandon, in keeping with what Dvorak surely saw in Americans in his brief, but important time in this country. In the Dvorak first movement, violist Laura Pearson struck with her big sound heard throughout the program, and brought special vibrance to this piece. Likewise, cellist Maria Crosby, in the second movement, the Negro spiritual composer Dvorak used, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”, was realized to its full emotional potential. Violinist Beseke was a brilliant first violinist of the quartet from start to finish.
A word to Monrovians: how about naming, and employing this unusually keen quartet as the city’s “quartet-in-residence” to help lead the community to a renaissance of culture and arts. If it is a time for “change” as we now hear, perhaps the city can find a way to incorporate the arts as a normal way of doing business. The Avanti Quartet would be a candidate of the first order.
by Bill Peters