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New ‘A Garden of Roses’ blooms with Spokane String Quartet, Spokane Kantorei Choir

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 20, 2020

Cary Boyce’s “A Garden of Roses” had its premiere with the Spokane String Quartet and Spokane Kantorei Choir at Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox on Sunday. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Cary Boyce’s “A Garden of Roses” had its premiere with the Spokane String Quartet and Spokane Kantorei Choir at Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox on Sunday. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Larry Lapidus For The Spokesman-Review

A sizable crowd poured into Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox on Sunday having decided to brighten their afternoon by listening to the Spokane String Quartet. The quartet is made up of leading string players from the Spokane Symphony (Mateusz Wolski and Amanda Howard-Phillips, violins, Jeannette Wee-Yang, viola, and Helen Byrne, cello).

Like many in the audience, they know the joy of turning occasionally from the power and brilliant colors of a symphony orchestra to the detail and intimacy available only in chamber music. These qualities were richly abundant in the group’s performance of string quartets by Mozart (in D major K. 499, the “Hoffmeister”) and by 20th century Hungarian composer Ernö von Dohnanyi (in D-flat major Op. 15).

The crown of the afternoon, however, came when the quartet was joined by the Spokane Kantorei Choir led by director Timothy Westerhaus in the world-premiere performance of an important new piece of music by Cary Boyce: “A Garden of Roses.”

The work is important because it is good in every way music can be good, and it can provide pleasure to audiences of every age, cultural background and level of sophistication – and from the professional musician or academic to the office worker whose principle exposure to music is in the elevator.

“A Garden of Roses” is comprised of 12 sections, some for choir or chorus alone and some in which they are combined. For the choral sections, Boyce has set a posy of verses written over a span of centuries by English and American poets, including the composer.

Westerhaus and his choir masterfully captured every inflection of the verse, which swings from somberly lyrical to wickedly sexy, and relished every subtle turn of Boyce’s inexhaustibly inventive score. It should be a great source of pride that this wonderful music, which deserves to be heard around the world, had its origins here in Spokane.

Not only does the composer live and work here, but his craft also was supported by two Spokane philanthropic organizations devoted to the arts. The Johnson-Fix Foundation underwrote the concert, and Spokane Arts supported Boyce in the composition of “A Garden of Roses” with one of the many grants it issues throughout the year.

A recording of the concert will be played by KPBX at 7 p.m. Monday.

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