For its 100th concert, in its 21st year, Coastal Concerts presented a rich, lively, challenging but accessible program of music from oboist Tom Gallant and the Tesla Quartet. The Jan. 18 performance more than stood up to Coastal Concerts’ guiding principle of musical excellence. As has become the norm, a full-house crowd responded positively.
The often unexpectedly fine acoustical quality of Bethel Methodist Church’s Fellowship Hall in Lewes proved a hospitable venue for Gallant’s virtuosity on one of classical music’s most distinctive and versatile instruments. Improvements to the hall through the years to enhance the audio and visual experience for the audience have also played a significant role in matching the caliber of the first-class musicians that Coastal Concerts attracts.
Gallant’s playing – through solo parts and as an integral part of the ensemble – showed off the dynamic character of the oboe. There are times, particularly in solo passages, when Gallant showcased the oboe’s clear, almost brassy, trumpet-like character that makes it the first instrument to sound when symphony orchestras tune up immediately before performances.
But Gallant also showed how the oboe can blend with the strings like a flute or a woodwind. The oboe and its player, like a mockingbird, can show off all its skills with the unique timbre that gives it the ability to soar above all the other instruments. But in the hands of a master like Gallant, the oboe can also show its more introverted side.
The musicians sweetly captured the pastoral quality of the short Sir Edward Elgar piece for solo oboe and string trio. Gallant’s solo work in the piece’s first section evoked the melancholy mood for which the oboe is uniquely qualified. The second allegro section left the darker mood behind, giving way to more optimistic, upbeat tempo and passages.
Seeing the body movements of the musicians as they almost danced in their chairs, and their expressive faces as they delighted in their communal work, reaffirmed the special magic of live performances.
When Gallant attended a band program in grade school, he came home with an oboe, which his family thought was weird. “They suggested a trumpet or a clarinet,” Gallant told the audience.
But he said he was hooked when the band director called the oboe the Cadillac of the woodwinds. He knew how much his father valued his old Cadillac. But he admitted that the oboe “doesn’t sound so good at the beginning – like a duck.”
Gallant and Tesla closed the first half of the concert in grand style with Mozart’s Oboe Quartet, which one of the string players commented is “the Cadillac of oboe quartets.” Once again, the piece showed off the virtuosity of all the players.
Before the Saturday performance, Lani Spahr of Coastal Concerts, a concert oboist in his own right, provided a multimedia primer on the history of the oboe. Coastal Concerts offers these pre-concert programs for many of its programs, which adds another positive dimension to the audience experience.
Concert finale: Beethoven
Gallant gave the stage over to the full Tesla quartet for the second half of the program featuring Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 8. Serafim Smigelskiy on cello, Michelle Lie and Ross Snyder on violins, and Edwin Kaplan on viola – all Juilliard graduates – played this showcase piece with the kind of transcendental togetherness that comes from playing as an ensemble for more than a decade.
When the players hung on the final chord of the adagio movement, the audience could feel their reverence for the celestial quality of the music that arose out of the composer’s genius and their ability to bring the best out of their instruments.
Totally immersed in their artistic experience, the musicians showed not only the joy of the moment, but also their appreciation of each others’ playing. That selfless quality of being taken over completely by the music added an ineffable but palpable dimension to the performance.
Remembering how beautiful and viscerally comforting it was to hear the musicians translate the many dissonant sections of the piece into the lyrical melodies that followed, the audience had no choice but to respond with a long, standing ovation at its conclusion.
Coastal Concerts could not have celebrated its 100th concert with a better group of musicians or program.