New Bedford Symphony Orchestra musicians ‘juggle’ at St. Gabriel’s chamber series concert

Mar 9, 2024

MARION — While no objects were actually thrown into the air, New Bedford Symphony Orchestra musicians did perform a juggling act of sorts Saturday, March 9 at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church.

The figuratively, audibly acrobatic action occurred during “Trifecta,” a concert part of the South Coast Chamber Music Series. The ensemble of five played three compositions, the configurations of the musicians varying between each. 

One of the works performed, String Quartet No. 2 by Benjamin Britten, was said to be a “challenging piece” by pianist Janice Weber, also the artistic director of the South Coast Chamber Music Series, prior to the performance.

The piece includes “a lot of technical difficulty” in playing the individual parts, compounded by playing them together with the four total performers, violinist EmmaLee Holmes-Hicks said. 

“There’s a lot of really difficult coordination between the parts, and it can be difficult at some points to feel grounded and feel the pulse together,” Holmes-Hicks said.

Violinist Ethan Wood said String Quartet No. 2 asks each player to “do different things at the same time.”

“You have to coordinate all of those individual things with somebody else, so it is kind of like juggling,” Wood said.

To open the concert, Wood and Weber played Harry Thacker Burleigh’s “Southland Sketches.”

Weber said the composition had a “little bit of everything.” The music, light and American, has an almost Western, “cowboys” feeling, Wood said.

“They’re fun,” he said. “They’re very charming. They’re written for the violin and piano really nicely.”

Closing the program, the entire ensemble played Ernő Dohnányi’s Piano Quintet No. 1 in C Minor. 

Violist Anna Griffis said the piece is melodic and sweeping, in which “big gestures are happening all together.”

“It’s much more unified,” Griffis said. “The strings operate more as a unit when we’re playing with the piano.”

Cellist Jacob MacKay said the quintet is “very youthful,” referring in part to that Dohnányi, a Hungarian, wrote it at the age of 18.

The South Coast Chamber Music Series next plays at St. Gabriel’s in Marion April 27. The program is also performed in Dartmouth.