The Music House was full, SRO, for the debut of a new star in the musical firmament, our own homegrown Music House Piano Quartet, Elizabeth Ivy, violin; Meredith Harris, viola, Chris Nunnally, cello; and John O'Brien, piano. Homegrown they may be, but they are excellent.
Greenville resident Ivy has a Bachelor of Music from the New England Conservatory of Music, among other accolades. Upon coming to Greenville, she earned a double certificate at East Carolina University: violin with Ara Gregorian and Suzuki pedagogy with Joanne Bath. She is a resident in Greenville and active in many directions in the Greene-Pitt-Craven County musical scene as well as playing with the Long Bay Symphony in South Carolina.
Harris, now a resident in Houston, Texas, received a Bachelor of Music as well as Suzuki teacher training from East Carolina University and an M.M. in viola performance from Rice University. She teaches violin in Houston as well as playing with the Houston Ballet, the Houston Grand Opera, and the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra.
Nunnally, Greenville native, B.M., magna cum laude, ECU, and J.D., New York Law School, performs and teaches in Greenville. He is currently the artistic director of the West Side Strings School.
O'Brien, D.M.A., M.M., B.M., University of Southern California, has been on the faculty of East Carolina University since 1985.
The program consisted of two strangely complimentary piano quartets, Mozart, E-flat, K. 493, and Schumann, E-flat, Opus 47. The Mozart is robustly jolly; the Schumann is grandiose and about as jolly as Schumann gets.
O'Brien, playing his own 1887 Steinway Model C, showed the immediate home turf advantage; O'Brien is the only one I have heard play this piano with such delicate feeling. His pianissimos are the softest and his fortissimos powerful without brutality. Under the hands of visitors, this piano is frequently too loud for the room; under O'Brien, it is just right.
Ivy's music was a lovely first among equals.
Harris was a match, in spite of having a bit of a struggle with her chin rest. She was the quintessential rebuke to all the viola jokes in the world; her intonation was flawless.
Being in the midst of the players in the intimacy of the Music House was a remarkable experience. Exactly opposite to the quip that one would never want to see sausage or laws being made is the experience of seeing music being made. Two of these players, Ivy and Harris, were almost as stolid as old-time mountain string band players; Nunnally was incredibly, seriously expressive, with facial movements and occasional foot taps; O'Brien was relaxed and joyously carefree. And the music from one was as magical as the music from any of the others, just different styles. The subtle clues and body language conversation was remarkable when seated right in the midst of the action; the players were constantly watching each other, yielding a complete communion of spirit which made the music sparkle.
I have said before in reviews that Nunnally plays his cello like a large violin. In addition to making very musical music tonight, there was an excellent verbal quality to his playing, especially in the Schumann.
A regular at Music House concerts engaged me in conversation during intermission. He was discussing his sister-in-law, who lives in Manhattan and is reluctant to travel to Greenville to visit with family because she considers Manhattan to be COTU, the center of the Universe. I couldn't help saying, "Bless her heart." And it made me see how very special the Music House is.
The concert Saturday night was very centering, very professional, not provincial; as far as I am concerned, this music room was the center of the Universe on Saturday night. O'Brien mentioned from the stage that he was fairly sure, based on his research that the upcoming performance of Schubert's Die Wintereisse was the first public performance of the piece ever to be given in North Carolina or at least in the 30 years he has lived here (shameless plug for the next concert on 2/12). The point in mentioning this is that, while it is true that this review is about people with strong Greenville connections, the music was of metropolitan quality. The playing was first-rate; I praise it as first rate without having to make any adjustment or apology. This is not like going to your child's piano recital and making allowances. No allowances need to be made for the Music House Piano Quartet: they are excellent. They need to perform together more soon.
-- edited 2/8