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The Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival offered up a very interesting program for the fall concert. Titled "Beethoven in Blue Jeans," it was your basic chamber music program with one twist. Three members of the Vega String Quartet, newly installed Quartet in Residence at Emory University, and festival Artistic Director William Ransom, piano, were joined by none other than Beethoven himself narrating thoughts on his own music and of his predecessors! The concept was the brainstorm of Ransom, who wrote the script based on information from existing letters and historical fact, and performed at the piano.
Cellist Guang Wang opened this program with the prelude, sarabande and gigue from the First Suite for unaccompanied cello, S.1007, by J. S. Bach. His playing was so smooth and relaxed it appeared and sounded was as though he was playing a warm-up exercise. When the gigue started, Beethoven, played by actor Dean Zuch, entered the Martin-Lipscomb Performing Arts Center from the rear and sauntered up to the stage holding a horn to his ear. Thereafter he provided thoughts, opinions and recollections as a preface to each piece of music.
While introducing his own Duo in E flat for viola (Yinzi Kong) and cello "with Eyeglasses Obbligato," he told us the original cellist was partly blind. There followed a Passacaglia for violin (Jessica Wu) and cello by G. F. Handel (arranged by Halvorson) which he claimed to admire. Then came a breathtaking Duo in G major by Mozart for violin and viola that produced the most stunning, exactly coordinated trills to end the cadenza. The program ended with two of Beethoven's favorite works: the Trio for strings in C, Op. 9, No. 3, using all three string players for the first time, and the Allegro Moderato from the Trio, Op. 97, the "Archduke," with Ransom joining Wu and Wang.
Local actor Dean Zuch did a fine job representing such a legendary music figure. He is retired from a career in public TV and radio in the Seattle/Tacoma area and is the former festival manager for the Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival. He is the currently administrator of the Martin-Lipscomb Performing Arts Center. He has also appeared in fifteen Highlands Community Players productions. He has portrayed Ludwig van Beethoven at Beethoven in Blue Jeans concerts in both Highlands and Atlanta, GA.
The three members of the highly prized Vega String Quartet performed brilliantly, always in tune and with an intense focus on precision ensemble. They have performed for the summer concerts in the past, and with their recent appointment at Emory in Atlanta I would expect to hear them quite a bit more in the future.
The 3:00 p.m. start time was delayed slightly to accommodate the SRO crowd. The place was absolutely full with a knowledgeable and appreciative audience. Ransom joked later that he had either a good idea or a catastrophe, but it can be said this concept and the concert were great successes.