The Ciompi Quartet’s 40th-anniversary First Course concert at the Doris Duke Center’s Kirby Horton Hall on Thursday, September 22, was a delightful opportunity to participate in the celebration. Light hors d’oeuvres were served as the fans, friends, and supporters assembled in the late afternoon. Pleasant conversation reigned as the casual room set-up proceeded. Our long-time friends Eric Pritchard, Hsiao-mei Ku, Jonathan Bagg, and Fred Raimi tuned their instruments and performed for us the gracious and interesting Haydn String Quartet in D major, Op 20, No. 4.

The thing about listening to Haydn is to try to catch the clever ways he develops his themes, how he handles transitions, how he solves musical puzzles by continually reinventing the process of composition. How those 18th-century musicians in the Esterhazy household must have looked forward to each new composition as an adventure in music enjoyment – not to mention the audience! In this case, we have a first movement full of wit as Haydn starts each variation with a repeated three-note theme and then takes it in differing directions, weaving it together and taking it apart. His wit and playful irony are apparent throughout. The intricately-developed second movement employing enharmonic spelling of chords in transition is unusual but not totally unique. The third movement is almost a toss off minuet, very brief, but a pleasant foil as transition to the final movement, a racing scherzando that allows the musicians to show off in the best sense of the term. The Ciompi Quartet continues to play with consummate technical skill, performing Haydn as freshly as it were composed yesterday.

Following the performance the quartet was joined by former members Claudia Erdberg (Warburg) and George Taylor in reminiscences of some of the highlights of the past 40 years. Mostly, it was fond and affectionate memories of Giorgio Ciompi – his love affair with music, the violin and the quartet – his wit and sense of humor – his commitment to his fellow musicians. The story of the Ciompi Quartet’s performance of the Schubert “Trout” Quintet for the movie Brainstorm was repeated. (Also see “Ciompi Launches Season with a Splash” by John W. Lambert)

The 40th-anniversary celebration continues on Saturday, September 24, at Reynolds Theater as four former members join the present ensemble in a performance of young Felix Mendelssohn’s extraordinary Octet for Strings. This is a concert not to be missed if there is any chance of being there.