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Reviews of the New Hollywood String Quartet

Versatile String Quartet in an Intimate Setting
The good news: A full house of 87 listeners heard the New Hollywood String Quartet on Wednesday night at the small theater called Inside the Ford at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre. The bad: The event had been moved indoors, 24 hours before, due to modest ticket sales.
Otherwise, this turned out to be a most happy enterprise, since it offered solid and admirable evidence of the ensemble's burgeoning skills and artistry over its 20-month existence, and, this time around, two new works written especially for the quartet by composers from the film community. The new pieces, both in world premieres, were Don Davis' moody, engrossing "Wandering" and Randy Kerber's melodramatic Fantasy on Themes from "North by Northwest."
The New Hollywood--violinists Clayton Haslop and Rafael Rishik, violist David Walther and cellist Paul Cohen--remains a taut, aggressive, highly accomplished musical body, with a wide dynamic range and abundant versatility. That versatility was put to profitable use in this program, which began with a put-together quartet by Mendelssohn and closed with the Quartet in F by Ravel.
The two movements of Mendelssohn's unfinished Opus 81, with an earlier Capriccio, made a handsome, winsomely played opener that displayed the players' deep sense of ensemble and their command of structure and nuance. The familiar Ravel piece proved a model combination of sweep and detail.
Kerber wrote the scores for "The Matrix" and "Jurassic Park III." But he used music by Bernard Hermann for the Hitchcock film "North by Northwest" as the basis for his pumped-up Fantasy, which seems to follow an unstated scenario through its gripping, 13-minute length. Entirely tonal, it holds the listener through musical gestures both violent and tender.
There is nothing tentative or haphazard in Davis' "Wandering," but there are haunting qualities of yearning and melancholy through its three continuous movements. The composer, orchestrator for James Horner and Randy Newman, calls this, his second string quartet, an "essay in introspection." It is highly compelling.

New Hollywood Has Become a Stand-Up Quartet
The Music Guild's spinoff series, Coffee, Cakes & Chamber Music on a Sunday Afternoon, drew a fairly substantial turnout at Brentwood's University Synagogue over the weekend, perhaps lured by the marquee value of the New Hollywood String Quartet.
It's probable that many in the audience remember the original Hollywood String Quartet, wondering how these guys stack up against the legend.
It turns out that the New Hollywood has become a formidable team only about 1 1/2 years after its debut concert. These studio players blend together as seamlessly and often as sumptuously as do more seasoned quartets, with painstaking care in the shaping of virtually every phrase.
Also, as of two or three months ago, violinists Clayton Haslop and Rafael Rishik and violist David Walther have started to play standing up (with cellist Paul Cohen remaining seated), joining the Emerson Quartet in a striking departure from business as usual.
They look good doing so--especially Haslop, whose tall, lean frame sways dramatically backward as he plays--and one wonders whether the sound is affected, for the group had a remarkably even balance with no one voice dominating.
There is artistic growth too. The first movement of the Schubert Quartet No. 13 ("Rosamunde") was a bit faster, more sharply characterized, and it breathed more deeply than on a recording made in September 2000.
Sometimes, however, they apply too much polish; the finale of the Schubert could have used more of a rhythmic kick.
The Beethoven Quartet No. 6 evolved from a tightly classical first movement to absorbing dialogues in the finale, and spurts of drive emerged through the refined textures in Dvorak's Quartet No. 14.
While it doesn't try to sound like the original, the New Hollywood is certainly up to the task of maintaining its predecessor's high technical and musical standards.

Studio Players' Quartet Rises Again, and Meets Same High Standards
A landmark in Southern California musical history, the Hollywood String Quartet (1947-61) was an ensemble of Hollywood studio players that came to represent that breed's high instrumental achievement and lofty artistic ideals. Violinist Felix Slatkin and cellist Eleanor Aller--the parents of the American conductor Leonard Slatkin--were founding members of the prestigious, well-remembered ensemble.
With some of the same ideals, and certainly the aim of reaching the artistic level of that earlier group, four current studio players--violinists Clayton Haslop and Rafael Rishik, violist David Walther and cellist Paul Cohen--have formed the New Hollywood String Quartet.
After one out-of-town tryout, over the weekend, the ensemble made its official debut Tuesday night in Zipper Hall at the Colburn School of Performing Arts.
It was an auspicious and happy occasion, during which the new ensemble lived up to its name. The four players produce music both beautiful and immaculate, technically impeccable and artistically well-considered. This first outing revealed no mechanical weaknesses, or early faux pas of an interpretive nature: Long and thorough preparation and serious planning clearly preceded this performance.
Repertory defines intention as well as character, and this program nicely contrasted lightness, seriousness and a full musical range of interests.
Haydn's sober and joyous Quartet in D, Opus 76, No. 5, showed off not only the ensemble's emotional facets, but its dynamic parameters and mechanical resources as well--speed and lightness, mellowness of tone and long-limbed lyricism.
Haydnesque variety in a vivid contemporary language marked the world premiere performance of Tania Gabrielle French's String Quartet No. 2, "Communications." French's mordant, witty and compressed style instantly engages the listener; the ensemble contributed appropriate color and breeziness to the new work.
The peak of the evening was a probing reading of Schubert's kaleidoscopic "Rosamunde" Quartet, D. 804. Here, all the players' resources came to bear on one of the most touching icons of the repertory, with balances, sound, architecture and sensibility in place.
Finally, a piquant encore underlined the ensemble's Hollywood day jobs: a poignant arrangement of a Randy Newman song from "Toy Story II."

"It is easy to state that this performance proved highly satisfying."