Recently I was reminded what a privilege it is to be in an audience. For months that’s been only a memory—sitting in a room while artists perform. Tentatively though, performances are returning. Modified outdoor offerings in all genres are slowly resuming, and presenters are dipping their toes into socially distanced indoor events. And that’s how recently I got to be an “audience of one” at a rehearsal.
Bridging a new divide
Pyxis Piano Quartet was founded in 2009 as the resident classical ensemble of the Delaware Art Museum, and I’ve been fortunate to work with them (as a producer) since their beginning. These four freelance musicians—Amy Leonard, Luigi Mazzocchi, Hiroko Yamazaki, and Jennifer Jie Jin—play with many fine Philadelphia and regional ensembles: Tempesta di Mare, Opera Philadelphia, Delaware Symphony, and Philly Pops are just a few. But they formed this ensemble (Meredith Amado was their founding violinist) to play chamber music, the dream repertoire of most classical musicians.
Pyxis has played regionally in many sites, but the galleries and spaces of Wilmington’s jewel-box Delaware Art Museum have been the group’s artistic home. In March, in the midst of their eleventh season, concerts ceased and, like all ensembles and players, members of this quartet were cast musically adrift.
Each of them did what artists always have done: they creatively adapted. You would find them online (YouTube, Facebook), playing separately in their homes or linked electronically. Sometimes they were heard playing for virtual church services. And like all teachers, they gave remote lessons.
Keeping the rhythm
The four players stayed in touch with the music and with one another as best they could. But the last time they actually played together was six months ago, rehearsing for the second concert of their season-in-residence. Titled Continental Bridges, it was to take place under one of the museum’s signature works, Dale Chihuly’s Persian Window (1999). This large blown-glass installation that is the first thing every museum visitor sees, a piece that connects ancient techniques with modern artistry. To connect with the artwork, Pyxis chose repertoire celebrating the musical links of three composers—Joaquin Turina, Zoltán Kodály, and Antonín Dvořák—with their homelands.
Twice this concert was postponed. But on August 17, Pyxis gathered at the museum after all those months to prepare for an August 20 livestream. This is not their normal rehearsal venue. They usually work in music rooms or at someone’s home, but the soaring hall where the concert will be played could accommodate the necessary social distances. So the four musicians donned masks, pulled their chairs far apart, set up their music stands, and began to play.
Propelled by months of separation, they first “read through” the three pieces without stopping to make changes or fix tempos or smooth over any rough patches. Each of the works resonates with the composers’ emotions of being far away from their homes or from their youth or from their roots. For me, that privileged audience of one transported by the music, it was a magical morning.
The quartet will open the one-hour concert with Turina’s elegant Piano Trio—its scherzo in the classic 5/8 Spanish dance rhythm—followed by Kodály’s serenade-like, single-movement Intermezzo. Pyxis will close with Dvořák’s passionate and beautiful Piano Quartet in E-flat major, a challenging key for strings, in whose second movement, filled with an ache of longing we all can understand, the cello clearly speaks in the voice of the composer.
What, When, Where:
Continental Bridges, Pyxis Piano Quartet – Luigi Mazzocchi (violin), Amy Leonard (viola), Jennifer Jie Jin (cello), and Hiroko Yamazaki (piano). Joaquin Turina, Piano Trio No. 2 in B minor; Zoltán Kodály, Intermezzo for String Trio; Antonín Dvořák, Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat Major. August 20, at 8pm, streaming live online, with on-demand streaming later on YouTube and Facebook.