Quartet to showcase world music
Even if you train in the Western classical music tradition at a conventional conservatory, you don’t have to play classical music when you get out, according to Christopher Vuk of the Boston String Quartet.
And even if you like playing classical music, you can play other kinds of music as well - pop, rock, jazz, film music from “Star Wars,’’ a string version of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It!,’’ and world music such as Bulgarian folk songs.
Boston String Quartet, a cutting-edge ensemble with a wide musical repertoire, will include all that in its “WorldSong’’ concert program at East Weymouth Congregational Church on March 31 as part of the church’s “Music at Sanctuary Hall’’ concert series.
“We play world music and rock fusion,’’ said Vuk, who played jazz, bluegrass, and rock music on violin at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
All of the string quartet’s members are classically trained, he said. “The reason we changed into becoming a contemporary music group is to allow room for the group to create our own voice in music,’’ Vuk said.
That expanded musical space includes a strong emphasis on rhythmic music from the American and world music genres, an unusual direction for a string quartet.
“They use their instruments as percussion as well,’’ said Victor DeRubeis, the church’s music director.
DeRubeis said next week’s concert is part of an effort to take advantage of the high acoustic quality of the East Weymouth Congregational Church’s Sanctuary Hall.
“We recognized over the years we have a wonderful facility,’’ DeRubeis said last week. “It’s underused. We were doing some concerts every year. Why don’t we give them a name?’’
The range of music in the new “Music in the Hall’’ series is also intended to broaden the audience by going beyond sacred music. “The church is a good space for any kind of music, both sacred and secular music,’’ he said.
A case in point, the church kicked off its series with a concert last fall by the Jake Armerding Trio, a popular group that bends the boundaries of traditional bluegrass by tapping into rock and jazz. “He does bluegrass and ‘new grass,’ ’’ DeRubeis said.
Church music took over in January, when a local tradition called “A Little Christmas in Jackson Square’’ that allows local church choirs to show off their Christmas music, packed the hall.
The East Weymouth Congregational Church owes its excellent acoustics in part to the design of the sanctuary. A slight incline from the front of the room to the rear gives the room amphitheater-like sound quality.
Members of the Boston String Quartet found the church’s acoustics so welcoming that they decided to use the hall for a recording of their popular “WorldSong’’ concert program. In return, the quartet offered to perform a concert there this month without a fee.
The group’s configuration mirrors the standard chamber music quartet - two violins, a viola, and a cello. The ensemble that now performs 80 concerts a year got its start when a Berklee student composer needed musicians to play his film score.
“He put the group together,’’ Vuk said. “We really enjoyed it.’’
The film recording led to the quartet’s first paying gig with the Boston Ballet. The group then recorded “Spectrum,’’ consisting of original or group-arranged music.
Violist Chen Lin, whose range includes everything from classical to jazz, tango, and contemporary music, has performed as a soloist here and in Taiwan and Japan.
Violinist Angel Valchinov has performed with orchestras in the United States and Europe and serves as a concertmaster of several orchestras in the Boston area.
Cellist Christina Stripling, who joined the group a year ago, has also performed internationally. Her arrangements for Ashokan Farewell (a new folk song written for the Ken Burns Civil War documentary), Irish tunes, and Indian raga contribute to the quartet’s world music repertoire.
The “WorldSong’’ concert also includes music from Bulgaria and Taiwan, reflecting members’ backgrounds. A classical piece by George Gershwin originally written for piano has been arranged for string quartet. And a song from country fiddle virtuoso Charlie Daniels, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,’’ draws on country and Southern music roots.
The group has received praise from critics for melding contemporary music with classical tradition and offering a new paradigm for young musicians.
Vuk said that most young people playing in youth orchestras assume classical music is their only repertoire. A string musician assumes he’s only going to play Mozart and Beethoven.
The Boston String Quartet demonstrates - to borrow a phrase from a different Gershwin composition - that “it ain’t necessarily so.’’
Robert Knox can be reached at email@example.com.