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Romantic Era Strikes Tone for Romance

The day after Valentine's Day brought music and talent to Berea College in the form of the Ciompi Quartet, a group of four skilled and accomplished musicians from Duke University.

The Ciompi Quartet performs at Berea College.

In honor of the holiday the quartet performed a "Valentine's Special" convocation, containing several pieces of famous classical music from the Romantic Era that related to the theme of love. The string quartet's performance was deftly expressive, playing music that was frantic and gentle by turns. Each member of the quartet performed with vigorous intensity, often putting their whole bodies into the playing of their instruments.

Their performance included compositions from the Romantic era such as Beethoven's String Quartet in F-major, Op.18; Dmitri Shostakovich's String Quartet #11, Op. 122; and Johannes Brahms' String Quartet in c-minor, Op. 51.

"Brahms is one of the great Romantic composers, so it is only fitting" that his work be included in the concert, said Fred Raimi (cello), however, he believed that Beethoven's piece was "the best example" for a Valentine's theme. Raimi, like the other members of the quartet, is a member of the Duke University faculty, and has been part of the Ciompi Quartet since 1974.

The Ciompi Quartet was originally founded at Duke University in 1965 by the acclaimed Italian violinist Giorgio Ciompi. Since its creation, the quartet has drawn members like Raimi solely from the skilled group of musicians on the Duke faculty. Raimi is currently accompanied by Eric Pritchard (violin), Hsiao-mei Ku (violin), and Jonathon Bagg (viola). All four members are accomplished teachers and performers.

Before their evening concert, the Ciompi Quartet offered an afternoon "informance" focused on Romantic elements of classical music. The quartet was joined by guest lecturer Bryan Gilliam, Frances Hill Fox Professor of Humanities at Duke University, who engaged the audience in an interesting and lively exploration of Beethoven's Op. 18.

Gilliam provided historical background on Beethoven and discussed Beethoven's move to Vienna to study with Joseph Haydn, prompting Beethoven's early Viennese period and the composition of his six string quartets. Gilliam took the audience through the piece step-by-step, beginning by directing the Ciompi Quartet through the first 8 bars and pointing out small details in the music.

"I am a musicologist," explained Gilliam, "And by definition, that is someone who is anal retentive."

In his lecture, Gilliam used gestures, facial expressions and evocative descriptions to turn the music into an interactive experience for the audience. He described the piece as "oozing with Viennese-isms," and commented that "this [music] is overwrought, like your first love letter."

The Ciompi Quartet provided samples for each of Gilliam's points, demonstrating their willingness to teach as well as their fine musicianship. "I hope this is making you salivate for tonight's performance," Gilliam added.

The Ciompi Quartet appeared at convocation as part of the Stephenson Memorial Concert series. More information about the group can be found at the link below.

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