Stringing the world together: Boston String Quartet plays Sunday

The Boston String Quartet, who have collaborated with musicians such as John Mayer, performs Sunday, Aug. 28, at the Chilmark Community Church.
Photo courtesy of Boston String Quartet

The Boston String Quartet, who have collaborated with musicians such as John Mayer, performs Sunday, Aug. 28, at the Chilmark Community Church.

Update: Due to Hurrican Irene, the concert has been rescheduled for Sunday, Oct. 2, at 4 pm.

Most people associate a string quartet with the music of Beethoven, Mozart, and their contemporaries, but the traditional quartet has been the arena of much experimentation in recent years with musicians dabbling in jazz and other more modern compositions. One group, the Boston String Quartet, has made a name for itself with arrangements of rock songs and other non-classical string instrument choices, and on Sunday they will introduce their sound to Vineyard audiences with a show titled Worldsong, a global mix of culture-defining music.

The show will spotlight reinterpreted traditional music from the nations of the quartet’s four multicultural members. Represented in the quartet’s repertoire will be selections from South America, Taiwan, Bulgaria, and Transylvania. Music director Christopher Vuk, who plays first violin, notes that the group does all of their own arrangements or compositions.

“What we’ve tried to do,” says Mr. Vuk, “is to take some well known folk music and translate it into string quartet literature.”

The Taiwanese piece, honoring violinist Chen Lin’s roots, is based on music that is traditionally performed on a two-string instrument called an erhu. The homeland of Eastern European born violinist Angel Valchinov has been the inspiration for two arrangements. The Bulgarian piece is a translation of a song which was historically sung by shepherds in the fields. In keeping with gypsy tradition, the Transylvanian piece, a folk dance, has improvisational sections. “It conveys a lot of the way folk music is played by gypsies,” Mr. Vuk says. “Free time, not very metered.” The piece also features a section with dueling violins.

Heading to the other side of the globe, the quartet will cover more familiar territory, as they represent the remaining member’s American heritage. Texas-born Christina Stripling, the group’s cellist will, appropriately, be introducing a few popular tunes from South of the border — “Oye Como Va,” the Tito Puente song that was popularized by Mexican-born Carlos Santana and “Bésame Mucho” from Mexico.

Among the songs hailing from the U.S. will be Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, and the dueling fiddles classic “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” The quartet will also include a few traditional Mardi Gras tunes and Americana in their program.

The Boston String Quartet was formed in 2004 and made their professional debut at Carnegie Hall’s Weil Recital Hall. The members are all accomplished classically trained musicians who have performed with major symphonies and string quartets throughout the world. Mr. Vuk has enjoyed success both as a classical violinist and as an accompanist for the likes of Gloria Estefan and Jennifer Holliday. As well as his own solo recordings, Mr. Vuk has collaborated on several albums by musicians whose genres range from heavy metal, rock & roll, jazz, and world music. The Boston String Quartet is the current Ensemble-in-Residence at contemporary music school, School of Groove in Cambridge, of which Mr. Vuk is the director.

Says Mr. Vuk of his ventures into non-classical genres, “I wanted to be able to explore and find my own voice with music. Rock, pop and jazz really interested me — areas where I was more green as a player.” He adds, “It’s pretty thrilling to play all of our own music and play music that people really like.”

In repurposing the music from around the world, Mr. Vuk says, “We try to think of a lot of our arrangements in the context of a band setting. A lot of string music focuses on melody. All of our music has a very rhythmic basis. That makes our music more danceable.”

The quartet is currently working on their fifth CD. They have also collaborated with the likes of John Mayer, Fionnuala Gill (founding member of the Riverdance choral group), and Ms. Holliday. The group has performed sold-out shows at Boston’s Symphony Hall, has been featured on TV, and has played for former president George H.W. Bush. The Vineyard show is part of a 12-concert New England tour for the quartet.

Boston String Quartet, Sunday, Aug. 28, 7 pm, Chilmark Community Church. $15; $5 under 18. bostonstringquartet.com.

Gwyn McAllister, of Oak Bluffs, is a frequent contributor to The Times.