Britten's historic quartet revived in Thorne


Music has the ability to stir up nostalgia and emotion while overcoming barriers such as time and place. Pittance Chamber Music and The Lyris Quartet used that ability to their advantage on Saturday in a tribute to a concert performed in Thorne Hall in 1941.

The Occidental Music Department organized “Encore! Ravel, Britten, Beethoven 1941 & 2014,” which premiered on Saturday, Sept. 20 at Thorne Hall and featured renowned local musical groups Pittance Chamber Music and The Lyris Quartet. The event was designed to be a homage to a concert that showcased the same string quartet piece—String Quartet #1, Opus 25—nearly 74 years ago.

In fact, the history surrounding the 1941 quartet is what inspired Artistic Director of Pittance Chamber Music Lisa Sutton to renew the show.

Benjamin Britten, a talented British composer and pacifist, wrote the concert’s featured work after traveling to Los Angeles with his partner, famed vocalist Peter Pears, at the outset of World War II in 1939. Shortly thereafter, Elizabeth Coolidge, an American patron of music, commissioned the piece.

Remsen Bird, Occidental’s then-president, collaborated with Britten in an effort to establish Thorne Hall as a world-class venue—through their collective efforts, Britten’s quartet premiered in Thorne Hall just a few years after its opening in 1938.

“I thought it would be a fun and worthwhile project to perform a replica of the concert 74 years later in the same venue,” Sutton said, “So I contacted David Kasunic at the Occidental Music Department, who was enthusiastic about hosting the concert as a tribute to the long-standing tradition of instrumental music at the college.”

Both directors expressed hope that events like this will inspire more concerts at Thorne Hall in the future.

“The timing of Pittance approaching the music department was perfect,” Kasunic said. “Having a concert such as the one Saturday night is a way to celebrate Oxy’s instrumental music heritage at this important juncture for the department.”

A number of Occidental students found the concert to be a breath of fresh air in the performing arts realm.

As a performer, it’s great to see others get lost in the music, and to get to go on that journey with them,” Nirsaliz Rivas (senior) said.

Prior to the concert, the music department hosted a reception in Booth Courtyard for the community to re-launch the Occidental College Friends of Music, an organization dedicated to notifying students about upcoming musical events on campus.

“We are working with alumni development to reach those alumni who are interested in what concerts and events we’re offering [and] in hearing what our students and faculty are accomplishing,” Kasunic said. “We believe that the Friends of Music will be able to help the college better realize its mission to bring excellence and equity in education.”

Occidental’s next concert will be Sunday, Sept. 28 at 3 p.m. in Bird Studio. Pianist Walter Ponce will be performing pieces by Schubert, Beethoven and Coplan.


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