Ancora String Quartet goes out for Italian

Chamber group launches 19th season this weekend
Ancora String Quartet goes out for Italian
Photo courtesy of Ancora String Quartet
The Ancora String Quartet is comprised of, left to right, violinists Wes Luke and Robin Ryan, violist Marika Fischer Hoty and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb.

Local music lovers are fully aware that Madison’s classical scene can be an embarrassment of riches. Unfortunately, this can results in some ensembles and players receiving less notice than they deserve.

Case in point: The Ancora String Quartet, the members of which are hardly new kids on the block. They’re about to embark on their nineteenth season, in fact.

The few classical music concerts set for September are back indoors. That incudes the Overture Concert Organ Season, premiering Sept. 11 with the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, and Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Sept 27-29 season premiere titled “Love, Lust and Redemption.”

Otherwise this month is the perfect opportunity to hear for the first time or get reacquainted with the Ancora String Quartet.

The ASQ repertoire is always interesting, but for its series of concerts this weekend, Sept. 6-8, the quartet put together a surprising program of music by Italian composers. The genre of the string quartet has generally been dominated by the Austro-Germanic composers. Many aficionados remain unaware that two of the greatest opera composers have left works that deserve repeated hearings.

The most surprising name on the program is Verdi. Yes, the composer of “Rigoletto,” “Traviata” et al. In fact, the master was overseeing a production of “Aida” in 1873 when the lead soprano fell ill. To pass the time, Verdi composed his only chamber work and it proved profitable for him. The resulting “Quartet in E Minor” is a full-bodied, four-movement work showing off Verdi’s skill in writing fugues.

Verdi’s great successor, Puccini, penned a brief work in a single night, as a response to the death of a friend. Titled “Chrysanthemums,” the 1890 opus likely will trigger memories of his great opera “Madame Butterfly.”

The real rarity on Ancora’s program is by Antonio Bazzini. If one has heard Itzhak Perlman live or recorded, it’s possible one has encountered Bazzini’s one famous work, the wickedly difficult solo violin piece “The Dance of the Goblins.” But his “Quartet No. 1 in C Major” reveals a gift for lyricism and the influence of Mendelssohn in the scherzo movement in the piece.

If you’re near a radio on Friday, Sept. 6, at noon, you can hear the Bazzini and some great insights about the music and the quartet, as the players will be guests of Norman Gilliland on his “The Midday” show on WERN, 88.7 FM, at noon. Co-founders Marika Fischer Hoyt and violinist Robin Ryan will likely talk about how the group was formed, and violinist Wes Luke and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb will add to the conversation before and after the goup’s in-studio performance.

The unusual program was conceived several years ago by Whitcomb, and he bided his time until it fit the group’s performance plans. The entire program can be heard Saturday and Sunday at the First Unitarian Society, where ASQ returns as an ensemble-in-residence. Located at 900 University Bay Drive, the Sept. 7 event is at 7:30 p.m. and the following day’s performance is a 3 p.m. matinee. Tickets range from $$6 to $15. But if you can make it to the Germantown Community Library on Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 6 p.m., admission is free.

Greg Hettmansberger covers Madison’s opera, jazz and classical music scene for