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The Dartmouth
June 13, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

The Villiers Quartet to perform with Sally Pinkas Saturday

This Saturday, the Villiers Quartet and music professor Sally Pinkas will bring the sounds of Britain across the centuries to Rollins Chapel in a four-piece program.

The Villiers Quartet, a renowned London-based string quartet, became the quartet-in-residence at Oxford University after winning the Radcliffe Chamber Music Competition in 2015. Cellist Nick Stringfellow described their residency as a formative part of the quartet.

“Until you have something that brings things together and gives you an identity, it’s quite hard to go forward as a quartet,” Stringfellow said.

Saturday’s program features three English pieces that span three different time periods. Robert Saxton, a composer and professor of composition at Oxford University wrote “Fantasia for String Quartet” in 1993. The group will play Saxton’s piece and the 17th-century British composer Henry Purcell’s “Fantasias,” which Saxton’s piece finds inspiration from.

“It’s kind of combining the old world and the new world together, and seeing how that music can be transformed,” violist Carmen Flores ’00 said.

The quartet will also collaborate with Pinkas to play Frank Bridge’s “Piano Quintet in D minor.” Completed in 1912, the piece strikes a stylistic medium between the Purcell and the Saxton, romantic in its emotive qualities yet conservative in its stylistic tendencies. Commenting on the singular style of British music, the musicians agreed that England’s cultural traditions and practices reveal themselves in each composition.

“You’ve got to understand the English psyche to be able to understand it; there is a certain reserve to it,” first violinist James Dickinson said. “It’s from that sort of time where people weren’t so extroverted about their emotions.”

The quartet has visited several Dartmouth classes this week, including “Global Sounds,” “Music of Today” and “Nineteenth-Century Music.” In addition to performing pieces from Saturday’s program as well as standard British repertoire relevant to each class, the musicians also discussed British society’s reaction to D.H. Lawrence’s erotic novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”The soundtrack of BBC One’s film version of the novel released in 2015 featured the quartet.

Dickinson noted that Edwardian culture, class divisions and a sense of reserve defined the social context of the novel.

Pinkas met the Villiers Quartet during the foreign study program for music in London in 2014 when Flores, a Dartmouth alumna, invited Pinkas to play with them. She proposed having the quartet at Dartmouth for a week-long residency immediately after coming back from the FSP.

Pinkas said she appreciated the musicality of each musician and the group as a whole.

The Villiers Quartet also expressed their appreciation of working with Pinkas, commenting that playing with a pianist feels like an exchange between two entities rather than five.

“Especially in a lovely hall like Spaulding, you can really hear each other and things evolve; it’s great, it’s one of the great things about chamber music,” Stringfellow said.

Flores, who has maintained her connections with Dartmouth through programs such as the music FSP, said that she had a very positive experience studying music at Dartmouth, noting the supportive environment and professors. She added that she learned from her peers in the department and in the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra.

The performance coincides with important milestones for the performers; it will be an anniversary concert of sorts for the members of the Villiers Quartet, who played together for the first time six years ago this week.

The concert will also inaugurate the new Petrof grand piano that will be housed in Rollins Chapel. The piano was a gift to the music department by Selma Bornstein, who was married to renowned neurologist and Dartmouth alumnus Murray Bornstein ’39 until his death in 1995, and continues to donate to the College in the family’s name.

“Unlike a Steinway, which tends to [have] a full sound, European instruments tend to be delicate but also powerful [and] more clear,” Pinkas said. “I think for the acoustic of Rollins, it’s going to be phenomenal.”

The Villiers Quartet emphasized the significance of making music for people in light of current events as an additional mission of their performance.

“It’s a very special moment, especially what’s going on now in the world and today with the election,” Flores said. “We’re here to make great music, and we want to share that with everybody because [it] can really lift people up.”

The Villiers Quartet featuring Pinkas will perform in Rollins Chapel on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 8 p.m.