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[whitespace] Roll Over Beethoven

Watch Out, Beethoven! The Guarneri Quartet famously revisits your classic quartets in Carmel this Friday.

By Scott MacClelland

This concert season marks the start of the Guarneri Quartet's second 40 years as the first world-class, all-American string quartet. The Guarneri are famous for their Beethoven quartets, having played them many times as complete cycles and recorded them twice, and they are now touring them in celebration of their two-score years at the pinnacle of their art.

For their appearance at Carmel's Sunset Center this Friday, they will survey works from the early, middle and late Beethoven quartets, a treat for chamber music lovers who will no doubt sell out the house.

We caught up with first violinist Arnold Steinhardt and immediately asked about the impact of cellist Peter Wiley who five years ago succeeded his teacher and the quartet's founding cellist, David Soyer. "He's a searcher, inquisitive," says Steinhardt. "We had always sought to keep the music alive by re-examining it each time we play it. Peter didn't come from a string quartet background, so he was examining things for the first time, meaning we all started fresh."

As their own bosses, each with great of personal responsibility on the line, they have often been asked how they renew and refresh their repertoire and themselves over the decades. Steinhardt says, "I don't really know how to answer that. Why do you stay in love with somebody--or not--or even want to go there?" He cites the pluses, which start with an abiding love of the music they play. Was there ever talk of divorce? "No," he says, "not to say that we didn't have heated arguments, mostly in the beginning. We had to learn how much criticism we can take, and give. We had serious disagreements, but there was never a point I thought the quartet was in danger of breaking up."

Only during a period when Steinhardt was recovering from elbow surgery did he switch places with second violinist John Dalley. "David Soyer was the oldest and by far the most experienced," he explains. "The rest of us were violinists, Tree grabbed viola, and has been very successful with it. David said he thought John should play second violin and I first. He said if you switch, the quartet would have two different personalities. He thought that was a bad idea." Steinhardt reflects, "I think times have changed now and though it might be true that the quartet would have two different personalities, what of it? In any case, the second violin is a hidden leader, who not only gives the signs, but functions as the machine that drives the inner workings of the quartet."

To Steinhardt, Beethoven's quartets are "miraculous." He says, "The mark of a great composer, whether classical, pop or jazz, is that when you're listening it is all-encompassing in that moment." Even during the run-throughs before a concert, "With Beethoven I feel like I've fallen off a cliff; the music is not only innovative but shockingly beautiful."

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Web extra to the March 30-April 6, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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