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A fiendish evening of ‘Murder and Madness’

April 19, 2018

Timeless stories about crimes of passion will be told within a musical collaboration during Delgani String Quartet’s “Murder and Madness” Saturday night.

The one-time concert will feature written works by Leo Tolstoy, Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Shelley, paired with the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, Leoš Janácek and Oregon composer Paul Safar, who will introduce a specially composed world premiere. “It’s really a unique and very creative program that combines exemplary literature with classic and new music in ways that have never been done before,” said Wyatt True, Delgani violinist and artistic and executive director.

The array of literature and text in the performance revolves around classic stories of heart-wrenching passion and insanity, he said.

“  ‘Murder and Madness’ is this unique combination of seven performers — our quartet, an orator, a guest pianist and premiere composer — that will bring these haunting texts and sounds to life.”

Local actor, professional storyteller and creator of Man of Words Theatre Co. Rickie Birran is the orator for the performance.

True said the quartet was excited to partner with Birran and Safar again, after performing with the pair at an early 2016 show. “The collaboration was so powerful that we were inspired and knew we wanted to do another one, but we haven’t had the opportunity to do so until now,” True said.

“Murder and Madness” came to be when the quartet began looking at Birran’s repertoire and were fascinated by his experience with Poe’s iconic “The Tell-Tale Heart” and monologues from Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” True said.

“Both of these texts very dark, but very remarkable, so we grabbed onto them,” he said. “The program has taken on this very dark character that we’ve embraced for the entirety of the performance.”

But the highlight of the evening, True said, is “The Kreutzer Sonata.”

The 1923 string quartet by Janácek was inspired by Tolstoy’s 1889 novella. The novella itself is titled “The Kreutzer Sonata” in reference to Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9, which was dedicated to violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer.

“It’s an amazing connection linking this music and this story over a span of more than 120 years,” True said.

In Tolstoy’s novella, the sonata is being performed by the narrator’s wife, a pianist, and her “suave violinist companion,” True explained. Their relationship leads the narrator to believe they are having an affair, driving him to the point of insanity — and eventually to murdering his wife.

“It’s this very interesting take on jealousy, marriage, love and relationships,” True said. “And it comes through with hearing the text and then listening to the music.”

The couple has a very negative, back and forth, unhappy relationship, True said, which Janácek displays in the music. “Janácek brings this story out in the music beginning with a dialogue between one of the violins and the cello, as they pass back and forth this haunting but also beautiful melody, and then it’s cut short by these screeching, aggressive sounds from the other violin and the viola,” he said. “It goes back and forth, creating this musical understanding of the story.”

Birran will present five 3- to 4-minute excerpts of the novella that share about the couple’s relationship, which will precede each movement of the sonata to give the audience “an understanding of the musical and lyrical connection of both great works,” True said.

True will play the first movement of the Beethoven sonata with guest pianist Grace Choi.

Earlier in the performance, literature and music for “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “Frankenstein” will be presented.

As the narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart” tries to persuade the audience of his sanity, Delgani will play the world premiere of Safar’s composition by the same name.

“(Safar) is a great composer, and when he writes music to go along with text, he really captures the character of the text well,” True said. “He is really good at text painting in his compositions.”

The monologues from Shelley’s classic “Frankenstein” will be accompanied by passages from Shostakovich’s string quartet No. 8, which True said is “timelessly well-known, but something no one has heard this way before.”

Follow Morgan on Twitter @morgan_theophil . Email morgan.theophil@registerguard.com .

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