Swan song

Escher String Quartet returns to close the 2016 Vanguard Concerts season

By Gary Spencer

Music and performing arts organizations are a hard thing to sustain. Often times they are based out of nonprofit endeavors and have to rely on donations from the public. People in the public can be fickle as tastes change, trends come and go and times of financial strife can cause such endeavors and organizations to fold like an accordion. However, the Dayton-based Vanguard Concerts series, dedicated to bringing world-class chamber music ensembles to the Gem City, is one of those rare performing arts entities that has somehow managed to weather such storms. The brainchild of Vince and Elana Bolling, The Vanguard staged its first performance in 1962 at the Dayton Art Institute (DAI) and has been an annual happening in there ever since. The Vanguard has seen more than 250 performances, involving more than 1,200 musicians from all over the world, who have performed an extensive variety of classical works in the lovely setting of the DAI. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, as 2016 marks the final year of the Vanguard Concerts series at the Art Institute. But make no mistake—The Vanguard is going out with a bang as they bring back the highly popular and world renowned Escher String Quartet (ESQ) for the Series’ final show this coming Sunday.

The Escher String Quartet, whose moniker is a tribute to visual artist M.C. Escher, is a New York-based chamber ensemble currently made up of Pierre Lapointe (viola), Adam Barnett-Hart (violin), Aaron Boyd (violin) and Brook Speltz (cello) who started out in earnest in the mid 2000s as four guys who were studying music at a prestigious NYC institution.

“The Escher Quartet has been in existence since 2005,” says Lapointe. “We started as a student ensemble while the four of us were studying various degrees at the Manhattan School of Music in New York. David Soyer was our first coach at the beginning of our existence and certainly encouraged and enticed us to stay together as a group beyond our school studies.”

This encouragement would prove to be fruitful, as the Quartet would soon come to the attention of highly respected figures within the classical music world such as Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman and the Emerson String Quartet. One of their earliest successes was winning an audition with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, one of the most heralded performing arts organizations in the country, and a few years later saw the Quartet become official Artists of the Chamber Music Society there. Since then, the ESQ has gone on to record several albums of both classical and contemporary works as well as traveling the world to play hallowed halls such as the Berlin Konzerthaus, the Auditorium du Louvre in Paris, Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and Wigmore Hall in the U.K. thanks to their popularity and respect within the classical music community.

“We have been invited to those prestigious venues in part because of our reputation in the business,” Lapointe explains. “Obviously, performing in halls of such stature is gratifying. You see pictures of esteemed musicians on the walls who have played there before and you cannot help but feel proud of yourself for having made it this far.”

Much like the ESQ, The Vanguard Concerts series has quite the reputation of its own within the classical community, so when the series came calling the group for its first performance in Dayton, the group agreed.

“We played in Dayton last spring and really liked the hall,” Lapointe says. “We also enjoyed a memorable dinner afterwards with members of the Vanguard Concerts series. However, shortly after that first visit, we regrettably learned that the series was going to stop its activities at the end of 2016, but we’re honored at the same time to be asked to play its very last concert.”

The Quartet has programmed an afternoon of music that they deem specifically appropriate for the grand finale of the Vanguard Concerts series at the DAI.

“We are going to play Haydn’s Op. 20 no. 5, Britten’s Third quartet and Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden,’” says Lapointe. “We usually try to have programs encompassing a classical work, a romantic one and a contemporary one. I believe this particular program for Dayton suits the occasion because Haydn’s Op. 20 no. 5 is one of the very first great quartets ever written in the classical period and ‘Death and the Maiden’ is one of the very last. These two pieces can be conceived as pillars defining the period in which the Vanguard Concerts series was active. Moreover, the Britten’s Third quartet, since it was the last thing written by the composer, could also somewhat musically depict the last moments of this concert series.”

The Escher String Quartet will perform The Vanguard Concerts 2016 finale Sunday, May 15 at the Dayton Art Institute’s Renaissance Auditorium, 456 Belmonte Park N. in Dayton. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students. Music begins at 4 p.m. For more information, please visit daytonartinstitute.org/events-activities/musicconcerts/vanguard.

Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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