Honoring Antoine Balourdet, chef extraordinaire at the Hotel St. Bernard and member of the Taos School of Music community, the Balourdet Quartet formed around a love of food, friendship and music.
The quartet, formed in 2018 at Rice University, is joining forces with flutist Adam Sadberry to perform at 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall for the Chautauqua Chamber Music Guest Artist Series.
Justin DeFilippis, violinist for the Boston-based quartet, said the selection of music for the program is aimed to represent the best of the artists.
As a string quartet, DeFilippis said working with a flute presents some challenges. Usually string quartets will add a piano to the group as the sound “automatically lends itself to collaboration.”
“Wind instruments tend to project very powerfully and the timbre of the instrument, the sound quality is very distinct from the string quartet,” DeFilippis said. “But that has actually resulted in some of the most beautiful pieces that were written involving string quartet.”
In addition to DeFilippis, the quartet includes Angela Bae on violin, Benjamin Zannoni on viola, and Russell Houston on cello.
The Balourdet Quartet and Sadberry both won the Concert Artist Guild competition back in 2001.
Along with being an award-winning musician, Sadberry is also an educator at the University of Minnesota, having given residencies at several other universities. Currently, he is the principal flutist of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz, California.
Sadberry is a “masterful” flutist and “a joy to work with,” DeFilippis said. “I think it’s safe to say he’s probably enjoyed the collaboration, as well, because the results over the course of the year when we have gotten together here and there have been really special.”
The first half of the group’s program focuses on the instrumentals of the quartet, beginning with Hugo Wolf’s “Italian Serenade,” which partially inspired the group’s spring tour, themed around serenades, and serves as a “delightful little appetizer and showpiece for the string quartet,” DeFilippis said.
The quartet will continue with Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 4. Made up of four distinct movements, this piece was written specifically for violin and fitting of the amorous theme.
“The piece is an alternation between passion and a feeling of oneness with nature,” DeFilippis said. “We think of the slow movement of this piece as a serenade.”
Mendelssohn was somewhat of a child prodigy, composing over 20 pieces before the age of 20. His String Quartet No. 4 showcases a style original to him, DeFilippis said.
“(It) is a really spectacular work that is less often played than some of his other music, but is probably one of his great masterpieces,” DeFilippis said.
After the first half of the program, the quartet will introduce Sadberry.
Together, the group will perform Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Assobio a Jato” (or “The Jet Whistle”), a duet featuring Sadberry and cellist Houston.
As an audience member for this piece, DeFilippis said it’s still “really fun” to be able to watch the two practice and perform.
“The highlight is this imitation of a jet engine taking off at the end of the piece,” DeFilippis said. “But the rest of it is a really interesting blend of folk music (and) baroque music, and it’s really tuneful and fun for the audience.”
Wrapping up the performance is “Theme and Variations” by Amy Beach, who, similar to Mendelssohn, was also a child prodigy and virtuoso pianist. She was “very much ahead of her time” as a woman of the early 20th century, said DeFilippis.
For many years, Beach’s “Theme and Variations,” written in 1916, was overlooked and seemingly forgotten. With a revival of interest in one of the first prominent American female composers, Beach’s work has resurfaced.
In her career, Beach wrote and composed more than 300 works.
“Theme and Variations” draws inspiration from Native American folk music.
“The work is intensely lyrical. It’s kind of reflective and haunting on the whole,” DeFilippis said. “The series of variations go through beautiful melodies, kind of joyous dances and there’s a lot of alternation between playful music and contemplative music.”
DeFilippis said their group is likely the one and only to be named after a chef instead of a musical artist or place.
“We bonded over food and friendship, a passion for human connection, even before our passion for music was clearly set as a goal,” DeFilippis said. “And I think audiences react to that kind of rare closeness of our collaboration.”
Currently in residence at the New England Conservatory’s Professional String Quartet Program, the Balourdet Quartet has performed together all over the country and overseas, including 70 concerts since September last year.
“Some of the most fulfilling concerts this year, honestly, have been the shows in out-of-the-way small towns that might have never heard classical,” DeFilippis said. “Those can be some of the most fulfilling experiences to feel you impact people with what we do, which cannot fully be explained in words.”