On Friday evening, the legendary Takács Quartet will once again grace the BroadStage after a sold-out appearance in 2022. This time around, the string quartet’s program comes as part of the California Festival, a statewide affair featuring new music from symphony orchestras, chamber music groups, jazz ensembles, choirs and more.
Described as “one of the world’s greatest string quartets” by The New York Times, the Grammy Award-winning Takács Quartet has taken up several performances in the Santa Monica area, including private concerts for individual sponsors as well as appearances at BroadStage. András Fejér, the group’s cello player and lone original member from 1975, has enjoyed the partnership with BroadStage, as the venue has officials connected to Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts, one of the group’s “old stomping grounds.”
“It’s a wonderfully warm, welcoming, encouraging feeling to go back to these people who are true givers,” Fejér said. “That makes all the difference for us.” Joining Fejér on stage in the quartet are first violin Edward Dusinberre, second violin Harumi Rhodes and viola player Richard O’Neill.
Not only having a California flavor to the appearance, part of the group’s performance will heavily rely on the thematics of nature based on California and the Los Angeles area, a newly-commissioned work entitled “Flow.” The piece comes from Los Angeles native and accomplished violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama, who composed Flow for the quartet after being courted by friend Rhodes.
Ngwenyama was raised in nearby Pacific Palisades, fine-tuning her musical ability in Santa Monica at the Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences. When asked to research the “natural world” for a string quartet piece, she relied on her local upbringing for guidance.
“I think being from California and being raised on the west side, it’s so beautiful,” Ngwenyama said. “The fog would roll into [Potrero Canyon] … I would see the coast, the ocean … just the beautiful weather, the plants, the [hiking I did]. I love nature, I love exploring nature through sound, it affects me.”
Her research led her down a number of paths, as she noted that the natural world could mean “anything.” She took a deep dive into subjects like the RNA sequencing of COVID-19, protein sequences and “universal common ancestors” in terms of “chromosomal commonalities.” The research led Ngwenyama to the conclusion that she should choose an “overarching concept” on the natural world, which she equated to the word “flow.”
“I started sensing that through all of these systems and these patterns of life and chemical organization and molecules, everything was a reaction or in tandem with flow, which started at the initial moment of our universe … there has been a pattern and a flow and how things have just evolved … I think that became the focus [of] the natural world, the flow from that point until now,” she said.
Turning those thematics into a digestible score for audiences meant finding a range of notes to somehow encapsulate the “first initial moment of the universe,” matching the building block atoms of the universe like hydrogen and helium to specific notes to attain structure, a pattern she could expand upon.
Fejér added that the group was “totally impressed” by Ngwenyama’s research on the subjects of the natural world, and could relate to nature’s “great and forever beauty” by living in the heart of the Rocky Mountains for the past 40 years. The quartet has been able to take Ngwenyama’s notes and make the themes “more convincing” for the audience, having played the piece in places like Berkeley and Portland before the appearance at BroadStage.
“We were grinning [afterwards],” Fejér said. “The reception was so warm, the energy, the positive reception was such an overwhelming and unexpected reaction we have never encountered [thus] far.”
Ngwenyama will be able to see the quartet perform her work at BroadStage, a piece which she says has a “lot of Santa Monica connection” due to her learning at Crossroads. She considers her Crossroads mentors “musical heroes,” and thought of former mentor and composer Herbert Zipper’s love of Viennese waltzes during the creation of Flow.
“It’s really emotional and exciting,” Ngwenyama said of her homecoming. “Maybe even a bit overwhelming, but … it’s all about being back in the community and giving back and connecting with the people who helped support me … it’s just wonderful to be able to share the art that they cultivated in me.”
For more information on the Takács Quartet performance, which begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday evening, visit broadstage.org