Music : Rescheduled from Irene, Boston String Quartet plays Sunday
Photo courtesy of Boston String Quartet
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 choices for non-classical string instruments, and on Sunday, Oct. 2, they will introduce their sound to Vineyard audiences with a show titled Worldsong, a global mix of cultures-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," Mr. Vuk said in an interview this past August, "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. A Bulgarian piece is a translation of a song which was historically sung by shepherds in the fields. In keeping with gypsy tradition, a Transylvanian piece, a folk dance, has improvisational sections. "It conveys a lot of the way folk music is played by gypsies," Mr. Vuk commented. "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 across heavy metal, rock & roll, jazz, and world music. The Boston String Quartet is the current Ensemble-in-Residence at the contemporary music school, School of Groove in Cambridge, of which Mr. Vuk is the director.
Said 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 said, "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, Oct. 2, 4 pm, Chilmark Community Church. $15; $5 under 18. bostonstringquartet.com.
Gwyn McAllister, of Oak Bluffs, is a frequent contributor to The Times.
This article was originally published in the August 25 issue of The Times.