Argus Quartet performs at First Thursday concert of semester

The Pierce College Thursday Concert series returned last week after issues with funding earlier this year caused the program to be put on hold.

The concerts, which have been a Pierce tradition for about 35 years according to music instructor and event organizer James Bergman, resumed in the newly-renovated Performing Arts Building on Thursday with a performance by the Argus Quartet.

“It was awesome, I liked it,” said Rebecca Maltby, a music and guitar student, and attendee at the concert. “I played flute too, so I have a musical background. So I understand the dedication, especially to play string instruments.”

The quartet played two pieces Thursday, the first of which was the classic “String Quartet Op. 80,” composed by Felix Mendelssohn two months before his death in 1847. Mendelssohn composed the piece in dedication to his sister, who had died less than six months earlier.

One need not know the history of the piece to pick up on the tragic tone. Profound sadness rings from the highs and lows in each measure. There are moments of brightness, particularly in the third measure, which seem to try to hold back the overwhelming darkness of the piece. But by the fourth and final measure, it is clear during the crescendos that Mendelssohn’s moments of hope in the darkest moments of his life were but fleeting thoughts.

Jason Issokson, one of two violinists in the quartet, attempted to explain the thought process of a person as they play a piece as deeply emotional as “String Quartet Op. 80.”

“That’s a tough one to field, honestly,” Issokson said. “It’s sometimes a lot and sometimes not anything at all. It’s hard to say, I mean I don’t know, it’s a different kind of consciousness when you’re playing.”

Diana Wade, who plays viola in the group, said it was the same for her during a performance.

“It can be anything from, ‘this is the first time we’re playing in this space,’ it can be something like, ‘what is the sound doing,’ ‘what is Jason doing,’” Wade said. “ Yeah of course, sometime I’m thinking of the emotional weight of the piece, that’s more of a visceral thing that happens while I’m thinking about other stuff.”

The second act they played was an original piece written by Eric Guinivan, and commissioned specifically for the Argus Quartet. Called “String Quartet No. 1,” it was a haunting performance, with no pause in between the three movements.

A stark contrast to the Mendelssohn piece, “String Quartet No. 1” was a suspenseful, almost Hitchcockian composition. It brought to mind the era of noir, dark streets and darker motives. A sense of danger pervaded all three chaotic measures, and an unshakable tensity was omnipresent. A shout at times, a whisper at others, it made one uncomfortable to be seated in near-total darkness.

“I don’t normally go to performances like this,” said Essa Ammari, music student and audience member. “Some of the pieces started off intense, it looked like it was gonna be in a scary movie kind of. So it was actually pretty good, I was interested.”

The next Thursday concert will be April 23 in the PAB, when the VEM Quartet will take the stage. Concerts are free, and guests should arrive by 12:45 p.m., as doors lock at 1 p.m.