MANIC AND MALIGNANT SOUNDING MUSIC. So go the program notes to tonight's Vermeer Quartet concert, featuring the Mozart "Hoffmeister" K. 499 (has P.D.Q. Bach recast the earlier "Hunt" quartet as the "Jagermeister?"), the Shostakovich Op. 110 in A-flat (which gets the title characterization) and the Tchaikovsky Op. 30 in e-flat, for which the annotator characterizes the key as "one of the darkest because of its six flats," later describing a B major section as "brighter" because of the five sharps. I'm going to display my ignorance here. (The annotator is on faculty. I may send these questions his way.) As the five black keys can be assigned as flats or as sharps at the composer's discretion, what is the point of assigning light to sound? The quartet had stylistic touches that called up the Fourth Symphony and the Serenade for Strings (to my ears) but those allusions were to the more cheerful bits. Here's another ignorant question. In a work for strings, what's the point of the composer picking one key rather than another, and what's the point of an annotator assigning a mood to that key? I can hear the difference for brass and wind writing, with instruments tooled for a specific key. The open air column makes a difference. But apart from the four open strings, any other note is a matter (I was tempted to write "simply" until memories of my squeaky violin playing came to mind) of getting the fingers in the right place.

The school paper had a feature on the Vermeer's latest Grammy nomination, for their Bartok cycle. The article concludes with this announcement.

However amazing the Grammy party is, it does not compare to the party the Quartet has had for the past 36 years, when it was started by Shmuel Ashkenasi in 1969.

The Quartet is retiring in 2007.

Great job, gentlemen.

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