Spring in our Step: The Galliard String Quartet takes to Kahilu stage

  • The Galliard String Quartet member Sung Chan Chang performs on cello Saturday. (Steve Roby/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • The Galliard String Quartet performed Saturday via Kahilu.TV. (Steve Roby/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • The Galliard String Quartet member Wu Hung plays violin Saturday. (Steve Roby/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • The Galliard String Quartet member Colin Belisle performs Saturday. (Steve Roby/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • The Galliard String Quartet member Helen Liou performs Saturday. (Steve Roby/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • The Galliard String Quartet performed Saturday via Kahilu.TV. (Steve Roby/Special to West Hawaii Today)

Classical music is full of dance tunes: gavottes, minuets, gigues, pavanes; because music was written for the entertainment of wealthy aristocrats, and their parties often included dancing. The Galliard was a French Renaissance dance in which the man shows off his prowess with leaps and flourishes, like birds who strut their stuff to win their fair lady.

The Galliard String Quartet, true to its name, has a light, lively, virtuosic style which imbued all three of their selections for their recent Kahilu TV concert. They take more liberties with tempo than most classical groups, allowing the listener to savor each phrase, and giving a more modern feel to old classics. They favor a detaché style, with each note crisply articulated.

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The first movement of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 19 in C major, K 495, has been given the name “Dissonance.” That’s hardly a word you think of in connection to Mozart, or to the classical period for that matter! It begins as a very slow Adagio, each instrument entering on a different beat, and on a different chord; it feels like at least one instrument is a tone off or a beat behind the others before catching up. This dissonant introduction is a surprise, but then the music quickly turns into a snappy allegro, in the familiar Mozart style.

Beethoven’s Quartet No. 3 in D major, Opus 18 expresses contentment. While much of Beethoven’s work is tempestuous and dramatic, in this quartet, the small tensions that make life interesting are quickly and easily resolved; that is, chord progressions do not keep piling on, but return comfortably to the signature key without much ado. That’s not to say that it’s boring. In the first allegro movement, major and minor keys, faster and slower sections alternate, and the instruments also speak to each other in questions and answers. The calm andante is sparked by repeated eighthnotes in the base, giving a feeling of tiptoeing through the tulips at dusk. The Aallegro third section is not strenuous, more like a brisk but leisurely walk. Galliard played the Presto with a wonderfully light touch, and the movement ends rather unexpectedly by tailing off softly. It’s an almost humorously understated ending.

The final selection was a re-imagination by cellist Stephan Koncz of French pianist Erik Satie’s Gymnopedia #1, irreverently named “A New Satiesfaction.” No. 1 has been called music’s “Mona Lisa,” mysterious, beautiful, deeply evocative of — “je ne sais quoi,” I don’t know what — emotions. Unlike the original, Koncz enlivens the speed, and adds pregnant pauses. While lower notes pulsate expressing underlying turmoil, Satie’s melody, rendered by the violin in the very highest register, seems to come from another dimension, floating eerily and serenely far above any worldly concern.

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At this moment when spring is here, when the end of the pandemic is imaginable, Galliard’s optimistic performance matched our mood. Put your burdens down. Be light and cheerful, be ready to dance!

Meizhu Lui is a classical music reporter for Big Island Music Magazine.

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