The Loma Mar Quartet: McCartney’s Other Band

In the previous post I mentioned the Loma Mar Quartet in passing, and they deserve further mention.  For it strikes me that as a part-time ensemble they have a rather fascinating resume.  I mean, what other string quartet on Earth can claim a repertoire that includes Haydn, McCartney, (“Working Classical“),  Chilean-born jazz chanteuse Claudia Acuna, and 18th-centuryt doublebass virtuoso Domenico Dragonetti?   Here’s the group’s official bio:

Loma Mar was formed in 1997 after being invited to perform Haydn String quartets at Bard College in New York State. Equally at home in many musical genres, they have established a reputation for the broad stylistic range of their programs, from medieval to contemporary.  They worked with Paul McCartney in a recording for EMI, entitled Working Classical, that includes nine of his songs arranged for string quartet and two original compositions by Sir Paul written for the Loma Mar Quartet: Haymakers and Midwife. Shortly after the release of Working Classical, then at the top of the classical charts, the Loma Mar Quartet appeared with the London Symphony Orchestra in a live concert from Liverpool which has been broadcast worldwide.  Continuing their eclectic career, in 2002 the Loma Mar Quartet recorded The Rhythm of Life with jazz singer Claudia Acuna, bassist Dave Holland and pianist/arranger Billy Childs.  In 2008, the quartet with bassist John Feeney began the DNA project, or Dragonetti’s New Academy, and have since released two award-winning CDs of world premiere recordings of the chamber music of Domenico Dragonetti.  Volume ll includes a recently discovered Joseph Haydn divertimento for two violins, cello and bass. Most recently, they were invited to perform Yesterday (solo quartet with singer and guitar) with composer/singer and guitarist Paul McCartney at the Library of Congress, the evening before President Obama presented Sir Paul with the Gershwin award. They are all either members and/or principal players of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s as well as internationally recognized soloists and chamber musicians.

Indeed, the group came to Macca’s attention during the Standing Stone rehearsals I mentioned in the last post. But they were quite well known in classical circles, and they were familiar names on many a Performance Today broadcast.  Check out the bios for violinist Krista Bennion Feeney, (concertmaster of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and a regular violinist with the famously non-female-friendly Vienna Philharmonic), violist Johanna Hood (also a member of the Lafayette Quartet), as well as violinist Anca Nicolau and cellist Myron Lutzke of Smithsonian Chamber Players fame.

The video at the top shows the quartet backing McCartney in the original George Martin arrangement of what is arguably the most covered song in history – and doing it on Strads, to boot.   And below, you check out a little bit of their work on the “DNA Project.”   Long live Loma Mar!

Two Pianos, Twenty Years On: Remember “The Mozart Effect”?

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More musings on the subject of two pianos:

During my Performance Today years, we sure devoted a lot of coverage to “The Mozart Effect” — and the flurry of books and recordings that came in its wake. And here in the Age of the InterWebs, I discovered that there’s an entire website from a University of Illinois grad student devoted to “the study of the studies,” e.g., the breathtaking number of academic inquiries to discover if listening to Mozart really did make you smarter.

And the cause of all of this was not the totality of Mozart’s amazing output.  Nor any of a handful of great works, like the late symphonies, or the piano concertos, of operas like Don Giovanni.   No, there was a single, little known, Mozart piece that started this fire.

It began with an article published in Nature in the fall of 1993, authored by University of California-Irvine neurobiologist Gordon Shaw, with researchers Frances Rauscher and Katherine Ky.   They described the nature of their research:

They assigned thirty six Cal-Irvine students to one of three groups, and offered the same “pretest” to each of the students. One group then listened to a selection by Mozart (Sonata in D major for Two Pianos, K. 448). A second group listened to what was called a “relaxation tape,” and the third group was subjected to ten minutes of silence. All of the students were given the same test, which was designed to measure spatial IQ. This test is described as mentally unfolding a piece of paper is that has been folded over several times and then cut. The object is to correctly select the final unfolded paper shape from five examples. The students who listened to the Mozart sonata averaged an 8-9 point increase in their IQ as compared to the average of the students who had listened to the relaxation tape or who had experienced silence. The increase in IQ of the Mozart group was transitory, lasting only about the time it took to take the test– from ten to fifteen minutes.

Hardly conclusive, but it hardly mattered; An author and psychologist named Don Campbell was the one who spun this somewhat spurious research into commercial gold. He went  so far as to trademark the name “Mozart Effect” via his 1993 book called The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit.”   In the words of one professor quoted in the Illinois study,

“By trademarking the name “Mozart Effect,” Campbell has even gone cable with infomercials for his book and its accompanying compact discs and cassettes. In the great tradition of P. T. Barnum and the “Veg-O-Matic”, Mozart has now hit the mainstream of American life.”

Campbell may be gone – he passed away at the age of 65 in 2012, but www.themozarteffect.com lives on, twenty years later, both in the halls of academe, where far more thoughtful and nuanced research about the very real effects of music on brain development and healing are taking place.  Not to mention in the commercial marketplace, where Mozart’s brain-enhancing abilities are still touted. Check out this fascinating 20th anniversary discussion on WQXR for a sample of some recent thinking.

Meanwhile, check out this smartly-turned performance by Martha Argerich and one of her young proteges, Gabriele Baldocci, play that (in)famous first movement.   Then go do a crossword puzzle!