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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane String Quartet closes season on unified note

The Spokane String Quartet closes out its current season with a program called “Quartet Kismet,” which is more than just a reference to the 1953 Broadway musical “Kismet”; it’s also an allusion to the communication among the quartet’s current members, who have been playing together for four seasons.

“Our shows have gone really well,” said cellist Helen Byrne, who has been a consistent member of the quartet since 1999. “The programs have been fairly interesting. We worked pretty hard to make sure they’ve got something a little unusual going on all the time.”

This season, which began in October, consisted of five programs, and the finale features three pieces from prolific composers whose work spans three centuries. One of those pieces is Alexander Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2, written in 1881.

Perhaps the most unusual thing about this Borodin quartet is its theatrical legacy. A number of Borodin’s pieces were repurposed into the score for the musical “Kismet,” and the melodies from two of the four movements in String Quartet No. 2 are featured in the show. (When “Kismet” won a Tony Award for best musical in 1954, Borodin had been dead for nearly 70 years.)

Also on the quartet’s program is Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet, Op. 74, No. 3, which has been colloquially rechristened “Rider.” Haydn was known for experimenting with the format of the string quartet, and “Rider,” which debuted in 1793, is one of his most celebrated pieces.

“Haydn wrote over 80 quartets, and you could spend your life just learning these quartets,” Byrne said. “He was always exploring new things. It’s not as flashy as Beethoven or Mozart, but it’s really interesting stuff.”

Hungarian composer Béla Bartók is represented in this program by a piece that’s also known as String Quartet No. 2. It premiered in 1918 and was likely inspired by the indigenous folk songs Bartók captured on phonographs during his travels through Eastern Europe and North Africa.

“He took primitive recording equipment and recorded songs and dances,” Byrne said. “He uses a lot of those fragments, sometimes not overtly, but he puts the feeling and flavor of them into his music. … It’s really interesting, especially rhythmically.”

Byrne’s fellow quartet members are first violinist Mateusz Wolski, second violinist Amanda Howard-Phillips and violist Jeannette Yee-Yang. They decide on their programs democratically and work closely, which is something that keeps the energy of the ensemble fresh.

“We know each other better, and we kind of know what to expect from each other,” Byrne said. “It’s the joy of doing it yourself and not being told what to do by an outside conductor.”

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