Black belt string quartet wows library

The quartet performs a piece from Russia’s Dmitri Shostakovich, who had a shaky relationship with Stalin that led to his walking a fine line with his pieces. Photos by James Kinneen

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

On Saturday afternoon, the string quartet of violinists Joshua Addison and Rachel Panitch, viola player Elizabeth Stefan and cellist Javier Caballero brought their high-level black belt musical abilities to the Wellesley Library for a three-song concert.

Why are they black belt musicians? Well, three of the musicians (Javier was a guest artist for the concert) are resident musicians at MusiConnects, a nonprofit organization that “aims to model and teach self-expression, peer leadership, and community development through the transformative power of chamber music.” As Stefan explained, the organization likes to use the karate belt system to rank the kids they work with, based on their musical abilities.

“We play at a lot of different places throughout the Boston area; we focus our teaching, as well as out performing, in the neighborhoods of Roslindale and Mattapan, specifically. The kids are really great. They start as young as five years old and go as long as they can with us, which is throughout high school. Each student is able to participate in a private lesson and a chamber music group right when they start, and then they’re invited to a large ensemble as soon as they go to their yellow belt. We use the karate belt system as our curriculum, so they start out as a white belt as a beginner and as they progress, they learn harder and harder songs and move up in belt rankings.”

For this concert, the quartet played Rebecca Clarke’s “Adagio From Two Pieces For String Quartet,” Dmitri Shostakovich’s “String Quartet Number One” and Joseph Haydn’s “String Quartet, Op 33, No 1.” Stefan noted that the inclusion of Clarke was based on the quartets’ tradition of always including either a living or female composer - though there are lots of different thoughts that go into choosing what pieces the group plays.

“Choosing pieces is quite a long conversation. We have a long wish list that’s growing and then we try to see and pair what would work together time-wise or style-wise. So, we try to have a wide range of things and at least one piece by a living or female composer to try and highlight the variety in the program.”

On a miserably rainy and cold day, Shostakovich’s piece was noted for its breezy, spring-like quality, about which the composer declared: “It would be foolish to seek anything profound in this piece.” Clarke was said to have declared that she “writes music for the sake of music” while a member of a (then) quite rare all-female string quartet. Haydn’s piece was noted for the fiddle and hoedown elements it used, which the quartet clearly had fun playing.

There were no students in the audience, which was a shame. It would have been great for the white belts to see what it looks like when a string sensei shows what the top of their craft looks like.

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