Arts & Leisure

Tune into spring with the Heath Quartet’s free show

THE HEATH QUARTET, from left, Sara Wolstenholme, Christopher Murray, Juliette Roos and Gary Pomeroy, will perform a free concert of classical music at the Mahaney Arts Center on Sunday, April 28, at 2 p.m., which will also be streamed.  Photo / Kaupo Kikkas

Springtime can get going a little too fast — the sun’s up at 6:05 a.m.; and days are busy with work, school, garden prep, sugaring, fruit tree spray schedules; and then there’s cleaning out that closet you’ve been stuffing things in all winter… phew! Have you stopped to smell that new daffodil yet? 

If you need help slowing down for a moment, there is a perfect opportunity coming up at the Mahaney Arts Center on Sunday, April 28, when the British chamber ensemble the Heath Quartet will perform a free concert for the community.

“This month’s live Heath Quartet concert will be their 11th at Middlebury, with the addition of three streamed encore performances during the pandemic,” said Performing Arts Series Director Allison Coyne Carroll. “The Heath first appeared on the Middlebury Performing Arts Series on April 9, 2014 — one of only four performances on their U.S. debut tour and only three short days before their Carnegie Hall debut.”

When Carroll assumed the directorship of the series in 2015-2016 from predecessor Paul Nelson, she began planning a longer residency for the Heath based on popular demand. The official quartet-in-residence plan came to fruition in January 2016. 

“They stayed in Middlebury (all together in a local four-bedroom home!) for the college’s month-long Winter Term. During this time, the Heath Quartet:

• performed all six of Béla Bartók’s string quartets in two concerts.

• presented a mixed repertoire concert.

• read through new compositions by five Middlebury College students.

• offered five engaging educational recitals at local schools and organizations, reaching close to 200 preschool through sixth-grade students.

• presented two lively pop-up concerts in the college dining halls, and one at the college’s Davis Family Library.

• performed in the Middlebury College Orchestra for their Beethoven concert.

• offered 15 private lessons for college and Middlebury Community Music Center students.

• coached two student ensembles and three orchestra sectionals.

• dined with students in Proctor Dining Hall.

• gave 2 Literary Journalism student interviews.

• received nine social invites (that I know of) from faculty, staff, or patrons.

• almost let loose 10 goats while visiting Twig Farm.”

THE HEATH QUARTET
Photo by Kaupo Kikkas

Yep, you read that correctly…. “Almost let loose 10 goats while visiting Twig Farm.” Now that’s a real Vermont experience.

“Middlebury has a special place in our hearts; as the place we’ve visited the most in the USA it feels like our American ‘home from home,’” said Christopher Murray, the Heath Quartet cellist. “Since our very first visit to the college in 2014 we’ve always been made so welcome and the concerts feel more like we’re playing to our family and friends than to the public.”

The Heath Quartet was invited back to Middlebury to help celebrate the Performing Arts Series 100th anniversary season in 2019-2020, which coincided with the 250th birthday of composer Ludwig van Beethoven.

It was an “optimum opportunity for the quartet to perform all 18 of Beethoven’s string quartets,” Carroll explained. But long story short, “The pandemic prevented the quartet from returning in May 2020 for their final residency week. Instead, the quartet generously edited some personal videos they had taken from their previous Middlebury performances, and Heath@Home was born: two streamed, encore performances with quartet members live in the chat to answer patron questions.”

The quartet will return once again for a live performance on April 28, supported by the generous Sunderman Family Concert Fund, which is celebrating its 20th year of offering free concerts for the community. 

“F. William (Bill) Sunderman Jr. was a visiting scholar in chemistry and biochemistry at Middlebury College, and an accomplished violist,” Carroll said, explaining the history of this generous fund. “He reached out to the series wanting to fund a string quartet concert — dedicated to his beloved wife Carolyn who’d recently passed — that would be free to the campus and community.  The first ‘Sunderman concert’ was performed during our 2003-2004 season by the Muir String Quartet on Nov. 23, 2003. The event was such a rousing success, the Sunderman family created an endowed fund to ensure the series could continue to present this free string quartet concert to the community for years to come.

“Ensembles who have performed for our Sunderman concert have included the Castalian, Doric, Elias, Emerson, Heath, Muir, Tokyo and Takács string quartets to name but a few,” Carroll added. “We’re eternally grateful to the Sunderman family for this most generous and visionary gift, but also for our relationship with Bill’s daughter and local violinist Emily Sunderman, whose role in establishing the Middlebury Community Music Center (MCMC) has allowed us to maintain a vital relationship with the MCMC over the years.”

The Heath Quartet will perform at 2 p.m., in the Mahaney Arts Center’s Robison Hall, in Middlebury. The program will include works by Bach, Haydn, Henriette Bosmans and Erick Korngold. 

“The Heath’s impeccable Bach interpretations were once selected for a ‘Performing Miracles’ series by BBC Radio,” Carroll explained. “Then they’ll play a work by Haydn, often acknowledged as the father of the string quartet. Next is a string quartet by the sometimes-forgotten Dutch composer Henriëtte Bosmans, who was forbidden to perform publicly in the 1930s and 1940s due to her Jewish heritage, and who supported herself with underground house concerts. Lastly, the Heath will play the third quartet by Eric Korngold, a Viennese-born child prodigy who became the ‘John Williams’ of early Hollywood.”

“The concert hall at the Mahaney Arts Center is so well suited to string quartet music, with an amazing acoustic that inspires musicians to play at their highest — a bit like Wimbledon Centre Court does for tennis players!” Murray said. “We’ve had some wonderful experiences here, our January 2016 residency with a complete Bartok series being especially memorable. Of course, it’s not just about the concerts, but being part of the wider musical life of Middlebury — visiting local schools, the Suzuki classes at Middlebury Community Music Center, performing on Vermont Public Radio (once disastrously snapping a cello string live on air!), as well as fascinating musicology classes and composition workshops with students at the college.”

“The Heath Quartet is one of the most generous, gracious and flexible residency partners we’ve had in my 25 years with the series,” Carroll said. “They are not only an ensemble of exceptional musical ability and tremendously thoughtful interpretation but also a quartet of wonderfully warm individuals who have built flourishing relationships on campus and in our community since their first Middlebury residency in April 2014.”

The concert on April 28 is free and open to all. No tickets are required. The concert will also be streamed for all to enjoy.

For more info about the concert visit www.middlebury.edu/events/event/heath-quartet-3. Learn more about the artists at heathquartet.com. To find the live stream of the April 28 concert visit go.middlebury.edu/Heath24stream, there will be a 48-hour window for playback. For additional information, call 802-443-MIDD (6433).

Watch a video of the Heath Quartet performing at Wigmore Hall here.

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