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Elegance, Authority and Charisma as the Calidore String Quartet Make their Proms Debut

Calidore String Quartet
Seen and Heard International

There were several ‘firsts’ at this lunchtime concert at Cadogan Hall, which opened the Proms Chamber Music Series in polished and confident style.  We heard a world premiere, the New York-based Calidore Quartet made their Proms debut, and it was the first time that I’d heard any of the musicians perform.
The Calidore Quartet – their name is a fusion of California and the French doré (golden) – was formed in 2010 when its four members were studying at Colburn Conservatory in Los Angeles.  Following two years as artists-in-residence at Stony Brook University, where they were tutored by the Emerson Quartet, in 2016 the Calidore won $100,000 M-Prize Chamber Arts Competition, awarded by the University of Michigan, and began a three-year residency with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
This Cadogan Hall debut made it eminently clear why the young ensemble has made such a mark.  The Quartet exudes confidence and care: their attention to detail is untiring, but never mannered or extreme.  They produce a warm sound, in which the four voices are beautifully blended – in fact, there were times when the two violinists, Jeffrey Meyers & Ryan Meehan, seemed to be playing the same violin so perfectly matched was the tone and gesture.  Cellist Estelle Choi has a strong lyrical voice and the shaping of the cello line, whether in songful expressivity, rhythmic propulsion or bassy grittiness, is a powerful foundation for the ensemble’s colour, form and direction.  Jeremy Berry can make his viola heard through the texture without undue effort, and he had plenty of characterful contributions to make.  I was impressed by the balance of unity and individuality that the Calidore achieved.
This year the Proms has commissioned 20 new works from female composers, to mark the centenary of suffrage (for women over 30, at least), and the Calidore Quartet began the concert with the first of eight new works that will be heard during this Cadogan Hall series.  In 2013, Caroline Shaw won a Pulitzer Prize for her Partita for 8 voices, becoming, at 30 years-old, the youngest ever winner of the Prize for music.  First Essay: ‘Nimrod’ was first heard in 2016 and has now been joined by two further ‘Essays’: ‘Echo’ and ‘Ruby’.  ‘Essay’ is perhaps apt, as ‘Nimrod’ was, Shaw explains, inspired by the writing of Marilynne Robinson: ‘Usually my music is inspired by visual art, or food, or some odd physics quirk, but this time I wanted to lunge into language, with all its complex splintering and welding of units and patterns!’  She wanted to capture the ‘lilt and rhythm’ of Robinson’s prose, and the way she weaves ‘delicately in and out various subjects (politics, religion, science) in each of her rich, methodical essays’.
The opening bars of ‘Nimrod’ are tentative as the three upper strings nudge gently above the cello’s pizzicato motifs, but quickly momentum is gained and there is a flowering of richness and dynamism.  Thenceforth, the music falls into repeated alternation of circling lyrical snatches and rhythmic riffs; there are moments of tension, and uneasily shifting chromatic slippages, but the idiom is predominantly tonal and tuneful – a sort of neo-tonal minimalism with a touch of popular song (Shaw has collaborated with Kanye West among other popular musicians).  The overall effect is of a free, light-weight musical conversation which ebbs and flows without every progressing very far along any one path, but which trips along easily enough. Read the rest of the review here