Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 9, 2021

REVIEW: Sevenars Music Festival, Taconic Chamber Ensemble

The Academy, Worthington, MA 
July 11 - August 15, 2021 
by Michael J. Moran 

Taconic Chamber Ensemble
On August 1 this beloved family-based music festival presented the fourth of six programs in its 2021 schedule of live Sunday afternoon concerts in the rustic comfort of the Academy at Worthington in the idyllic central Berkshires. It featured string quartets of four varied composers played by this flexible Vermont-based ensemble. 

Performers on this occasion were: Bulgarian-born violinist Joana Genova; Boston-based violinist Heather Braun; American violist Ariel Rudiakov; and Belgian cellist Thomas Lanschoot. In a pre-concert Zoom discussion, Taconic co-founders, artistic directors, and core members Genova and Rudiakov described the “alchemy” they strive for in selecting their repertoire by mixing familiar and lesser-known pieces, older and newer, that they “love to play” and that “audiences will enjoy” hearing. 

They opened with Rachmaninoff’s virtually unknown two-movement first string quartet, dating from 1889, when he was a 16-year-old student. Foreshadowing his maturity, the melancholy “Romance” was played with wistful affection, and the Mendelssohnian “Scherzo” with playful exuberance. Next came the 30-year-old Beethoven’s early but much better-known first string quartet, published in 1801. The Taconics played the opening “Allegro con brio” just so (“with vigor”), the “Adagio” with flowing drama, the “Scherzo” with Haydnesque humor, and the closing “Allegro” with passion and flair. 

Two much newer pieces completed the program. For sheer energy it would be hard to beat rising star Jessie Montgomery’s popular 2012 “Strum,” which put this young African-American woman on the musical map. The Taconics played its strumming pizzicato rhythms with driving conviction. And for a crowd-pleasing closer, it would be tough to equal the two-movement 2009 18th-string quartet by prolific Williamstown-based composer Stephen Dankner. In the pre-concert Zoom he said everything he writes is “as long as it needs to be.” This appealing 12-minute score was performed with loving good cheer. 

The warm, intimate acoustics of the Academy’s hall ideally flattered the Taconic’s rich, mellow sound. The hour-long Covid-friendly concert (Sevenars requires masking and recommends distancing) allowed time afterward for concertgoers to safely enjoy the venue’s signature refreshments and conversation with the artists and their genial host, pianist Rorianne Schrade of the festival’s founding family.