Beethoven was full of mischief.
There’s no doubt about that when you hear his Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Opus 135. It begins in “the wrong key,” one of Beethoven’s favorite tricks, and proceeds to various challenges in rhythm and dynamics.
But that’s OK. Really. The Juilliard String Quartet can handle Beethoven’s sense of humor. Bring it on, Ludwig.
The quartet not only can handle Quartet No. 16, but the ensemble handled it brilliantly during a Community Arts Music Association of Santa Barbara concert Monday at the Lobero Theatre.
The Santa Barbara concert was a homecoming for two of the performers. Violinist Ronald Copes is a former member of the UCSB faculty, and violist Molly Carr is an alumna of the Music Academy of the West in Montecito.
Joining them on stage were violinist Areta Zhulla and cellist Astrid Schween.
The quartet opened with the Beethoven quartet, then performed the 1994 Quartet No. 2 by Eleanor Alberga, who studied music and classical piano at the Jamaica School of Music and played guitar with the Jamaican Folk Singers. The concert closed with Antonin Dvorak’s Quartet No. 14 in A-flat Major, Opus 105, B. 193.
But first, there was the Beethoven piece, which gave the Juilliard musicians a chance to demonstrate their teamwork. Quartet No. 16 requires precision, but the end result is a wealth of emotion and a great deal of sheer fun. The Juilliard quartet clearly enjoyed playing the piece.
The Alberga quartet, which is only 15 minutes, was another fun journey.
But the best follow-up to Beethoven was Dvorak’s Quartet No. 14. The composer of the “New World” symphony liked to experiment with moods, tones and techniques.
There’s some staccato here and there, and at times, the quartet sounds like a dance. At other times, it presents a sense of danger — just before becoming light and playful again, as if to say, “just kidding.” Like Beethoven, Dvorak had some mischief up his sleeve.
Dvorak was also a master of playing with emotions. The Juilliard Quartet matched that mastery with powerful expressions, both loud and soft.
In fact, throughout the concert, the quartet knew when to make the music urgent, when to make it peaceful and when to just make it fun.
Most of all, the Juilliard concert was a demonstration of the depth of emotion that can be experienced with chamber music. A small ensemble can do a lot.
The Lobero Theatre audience certainly thought so, giving the quartet a well-deserved standing ovation.