Music that transcends time

Four quartets this season for the M.V. Chamber Music Society.


Forty-nine years strong, the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society, under the leadership of founder, pianist, and artistic director Delores Stevens, has held to its original mission. Stevens, who has been the artistic mainstay of the organization, says, “Our goal has been to bring world-class music to the Island, and this has remained consistent.”

Louisa Gould is completing her first year as MVCMS executive director. And yes, it is Louisa of Vineyard Haven’s Louisa Gould Gallery. Gould, Stevens, and the board are working to streamline the organization, and planning next year’s 50th anniversary. Gould helped to organize MVCMS’s first major donor event, last year’s highly successful “Brio, Bliss, Boffo.” Conceived by board member and singer David Behnke, the evening featured opera singers hailing from New York City and Island artists. This year’s BBB benefit takes place on July 29 at Edgartown’s Old Whaling Church.

Gould is perfectly placed in her position, as a businesswoman and highly trained pianist. “Chamber music was part of the fabric of my youth.” Gould says. “Music to me is more than music. It is colors, vibrations, a connection between the right and left brain. Music challenges us and provides us joy and respite.”

Behnke, whose knowledge of the classical idiom is encyclopedic, says, “Great music is great music. Certainly, much of the chamber music literature is from a certain period of time. Whether it’s an interesting contrapuntal puzzle or beautiful melody, there’s a validity to it, and an audience for it, forever. Our mandate is to continue to play the 19th century masterpieces while making sure to expand our offerings by presenting work before and after that period. The really good stuff transcends time.”

The MVCMS leadership believes in changing with the times. To that end, this season features four ensembles, one night each, two at the Chilmark Community Center and two at Edgartown’s Old Whaling Church.

The Quartet San Francisco returns to the Island on July 15 after a MVCMS-sponsored 2019 artist-in-the-schools program. Jeremy Cohen, violinist, composes and arranges multi-genre material for the QSF. Included in this concert are Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” Piazzolla’s “Nuevo Tango,and Jean-Luc Ponty’s “Bowing Bowing.” Cohen says, “If I find inspiration from listening to music in any genre, and if I can sing it back to myself (or sing it in the shower), I can be pretty sure it’s gonna work in a QSF arrangement. It’s perfectly natural for me to hear a Bach toccata and fugue while humming the tune to “Eleanor Rigby” as I’m walking down the street. They are both pieces of my youth’s musical experience, and live side by side within me. We are pushing into areas where other string quartets dare not to go … and we love it!”

The All-Star Piano Quartet will play on July 23, with Stevens at the piano. Scott Woolweaver, violist and a 20-year MVCMS veteran, has a profound musical relationship with Stevens. Beginning with their first concerts, they have shared an artistic intimacy and a belief in rigorous preparation.

“The wide array of distinguished musicians Dee has worked with is most impressive,” Woolweaver says. “It’s an indication of the esteem in which she’s held. As she prepares performances, the intent of the composer is always front and center. She’s able to make the piano sound like a clarinet or viola, or any other voice, as she blends the balance of the ensemble. We discuss interpretation in detail with regard to tonal color, the timing of which instrument is dominant, when fusion is called for, and all kinds of subtleties, making rehearsals and the resulting performance fascinating.”

The Harlem Quartet plays its fifth season with MVCMS on August 5. They’ll perform a set of pieces designed to highlight intertwined musical characteristics. Violinist Ilmar Gavilán says, “When creating a program, we try to put American composers side by side with European composers. We often include jazz-friendly pieces. We pride ourselves in giving jazz proper respect by placing it as an integral part of the program, not just as encore, and approach it with the same high standards we practice in our classical selections.”

Their program is called “Cross-Pollination.” It includes Debussy’s “String Quartet in G Minor,” which was influenced by the Indonesian gamelan, and Bolcom’s “Three Rags,” influenced by the ragtime idiom, as was Debussy himself. Gavilán’s “Guaguanco” takes non-Western musical ideas of Afro-Cuban dance and transfers them to Western instruments. Brahms, represented by his “String Quartet in B-flat Major,” said of the work, “This quartet rather resembles your wife — very dainty, but brilliant!” A nice closer for a summer’s eve.

Jonathan Dormand, cellist with the Verona Quartet, speaks eloquently about the group and its upcoming August 13 concert. Formed almost seven years ago, they met as part of coursework at Indiana University. Mentored by the Pacifica Quartet, who felt that the new quartet had extraordinary dedication and imagination, and importantly, the right chemistry, and would be an awardwinning, sought-after ensemble. And they were right. VQ has just completed New England Conservatory’s two-year professional string quartet program. “Being mentored by the incredible string faculty at NEC, and sharing the almost infinite quartet repertory, has been an amazing opportunity,” Dormand says. They’ll play a rare Szymanowski work, and a Ravel, which Dormand says would be on his “desert island disc” list. There’s also Beethoven’s final work, the “Quartet in F Major,” which Dormand feels “asks the essential questions of humanity. If I could make only one gift to anyone at all, it would be to hear this Beethoven quartet.”

Best to get these concerts onto your calendar. To quote the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, “Have a few pickles with your ice cream.”

MVCMS’s season: QSF Monday, July 15, in Edgartown, All-Star Tuesday, July 23, in Chilmark, HSQ Monday, August 5, in Edgartown, and VQ on Tuesday, August 13, in Chilmark. All concerts begin at 7:30 pm. Tickets for one person are $140 for all four events, $40 for a single event. “Bliss, Brio, Boffo” benefit Monday, July 29, in Edgartown. See website or call for info at, 508-696-8055.