Vega Quartet and Piano Trio Break Barriers with Beethoven

Eager classical music fans nearly filled the 800-seat Emerson Concert Hall to see the Vega String Quartet and a piano trio perform two Beethoven pieces in a concert entitled “The Best of Beethoven” on Oct. 27 at 8 p.m. The piano trio is on its way to Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and this free concert served as a preview of their repertoire. For the Vega Quartet, Emory’s string quartet in-residence, this performance was their second in two days. The musicians were recently invited to perform for the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, according to Mary Emerson Professor of Piano and Artistic Director of the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta (ECMSA) William Ransom.

The first piece was Beethoven’s “Piano Trio in B Flat Major, op. 97,” performed by Ransom on piano, Helen Hwaya Kim on violin and Charae Krueger on cello. Kim earned a Bachelor’s of Music and Master’s of Music from the Juilliard School and is currently the assistant concertmaster of the Atlanta Opera Orchestra and professor of violin at Kennesaw State University, according to the program. Krueger, the principal cellist for the Atlanta Opera Orchestra and the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra, earned her B.A. from the New England Conservatory in Boston.

Ransom introduced the event and provided historical context for both pieces. He said the first piece was also known as the “Archduke Trio” because it was dedicated by Beethoven to his student, patron and friend, Archduke Rudolph. The archduke was Beethoven’s only composition student, according to Ransom. The song was written when the Archduke had to leave Vienna and could no longer study with Beethoven. The piece itself, which was supposed to be performed at the archduke’s enthronement, documents his departure, absence and then his return.

“Unfortunately, [Beethoven’s piece] was three years late [to the enthronement],” Ransom said.

The three musicians intended to channel this friendship through their performance. From the lively and nostalgic first movement to the melancholy third and fourth, there was a sense of communication between the musicians and the audience. The musicians were constantly in sync. In Ransom’s performance especially there was a sense of playfulness — the performers embodied the piece as it swelled and decrescendoed. As the 45-minute piece concluded and the trio left the stage, there was wild applause.

After intermission, Emory’s award-winning Vega Quartet entered the stage. This piece (“String Quartet No. 13 in B Flat Major, op. 130”), along with many of Beethoven’s other quartets, was composed during the last three years of his life. The finale was the last formal work that Beethoven wrote.

According to the program, to these quartets Beethoven “applied all of his mature musical ideas, stretching the form … [Op. 130] contained six movements [as opposed to the usual four].”

The Vega Quartet — with Elizabeth Fayette and Jessica Shuang Wu on violin, Yinzi Kong on viola and Guang Wang on cello — played all six movements of the piece expressively, and while their dynamic changes were perhaps not as striking as the trio, they seemed to have a clear vision for the piece. This vision was also felt in the audience — as a classical concert, the audience was quiet, but there were nodding heads and smiles all around. There were perhaps one or two slight blips in pitch, but these were drowned out by the impressive cohesiveness, presence and communication of the group throughout the movements. The piece, as published, contains a finale different than the original, because, at the time it was composed, it was thought to be too technically challenging. It is now thought to be a masterpiece, but is difficult to perform and extremely long. The quartet played the piece as published with the still rousing and beautifully performed “Finale: Allegro,” which brought the audience to a near immediate standing ovation.