World-class strings at community theatre

Daily Courier

April 30, 2022

By Lyndsey Wong, Actor/Musician/M.D

The violin was the first instrument I ever held. Although I only played for a few years, I had never regretted giving it up until this past week. On Tuesday Night, the Kelowna Community Concert Association brought The Ulysses Quartet to the Kelowna Community Theatre.

The Ulysses Quartet, currently at residence at the Juilliard School, was founded in 2015. They have since won many prizes at international competitions, such as the Grand Prize and Gold Medal in the Senior String division of the 2016 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, and First Prize in the 2018 Schoenfeld International String Competition.

The foursome is composed of Christina Bouey (violin), a Canadian graduate of the Boston Conservatory and the Manhattan School of Music who has performed with orchestras at Carnegie Hall and abroad; Rhiannon Banerdt (violin), Assistant Concertmaster with the Cape Symphony in Massachusetts and faculty member at the Bloomingdale School of Music who holds a Master’s degree from the New England Conservatory; Colin Brookes (viola), a frequent member of critically acclaimed ensembles who earned his Bachelor of Music from the Juilliard School and his Master’s degree from Yale University; and Grace Ho (cello), a soloist with international orchestras who holds a Doctor of Musical Arts and a Master of Music from the Manhattan School of Music.

Beautifully dressed, the quartet first introduced us to a trio of Armenian Folk Songs by Komitas, one of the pioneering ethnomusicologists. Their rendition of “Vagharshabadi Dance” displayed their superior skills as a group, with an ability to produce such beautiful phrasing and dynamic changes as one. Ho’s cello provided a percussive sort of grounding force, resulting in a rather remarkable balance.

 

The second folk song, “It’s Cloudy” featured Bouey’s rich sound and voice-like vibrato (on an 1820 Pressenda violin on loan from the Canada Council Instrument Bank), which captivated the audience. “Song of the Little Partridge” was a lively third number in contrast, showing off the quartet’s impeccably clean bowing techniques.

The latter part of the first half was the “String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10” by Debussy. Highlights included the first movement, in which we caught a glimpse of Brookes’ gorgeous timbre on his 19th-century Italian viola, on loan from the Maestro Foundation. The third movement again featured Brookes, who played with such melancholic beauty that it evoked in me a sad nostalgia for an unknown time. Bouey once again played with such infectious passion, with the contrasting tones of the two violins complimenting each other. The quartet then seamlessly transitioned to the insistent grandeur of the fourth movement, finishing with a flourish.

The second half started with “On The Nature of Daylight” by Max Richter, arranged by Bouey herself. Banerdt gave us a stirring rendition of this haunting melody, a piece often used in films. The program finished with “Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, No. 3” by Felix Mendelssohn, which once again showed off their strong and impressive technical skills.

A standing ovation and prolonged applause rewarded the audience with a riveting “Polska” arranged by the Danish String Quartet.

The Ulysses Quartet will make their debut at the prestigious Carnegie Hall in a mere two weeks, and their debut album will be released later this year.