Clipper Mill String Quartet

The Clipper Mill String Quartet performs at this weekend's chamber concert put on by Sundays at Three in historic Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia. (Photo by John Forrest / November 29, 2011)

"What's in a name?" Shakespeare once famously asked. Quite a lot, learned the members of the Clipper Mill String Quartet, which plays at the next Sundays at Three chamber music concert, Dec. 4.

The group, which is made up of three full-time members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra plus a frequent substitute, has been playing together upward of four years. Yet, they only chose a moniker in the past year or so, according to violinist Ivan Stefanovic.

Although the ensemble had garnered an impressive reputation performing at various concert venues around the region, choosing an actual name proved to its members they were in it for the long haul with this side project, despite their day job commitments.

"We realized we play together well and fit together as people," Stefanovic explains. "That's important. We spend so many hours together rehearsing, and having to get along and bounce ideas off each other that personalities are just as important to match as musical personalities."


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So the group chose a name referencing a section of Baltimore City near where some of the musicians live. Besides Stefanovic, those musicians include BSO violinist Kenneth Goldstein, BSO violist Karen Brown and cellist and/Peabody faculty member Daniel Levitov (who is also married to Brown).

The group's collaborative nature is emphasized by its Sundays at Three program, which includes works suggested by several members. The bill includes two lesser-known works in Bed¿ich Smetana's String Quartet No. 1, "From My Life" (suggested by Stefanovic) and Karol Szymanowski's String Quartet No. 1 in C Major, Op. 37 (suggested by Levitov).

Rounding out the bill will be a composition by perennial favorite Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2, "Razumovsky."

"We try to balance the known and somewhat unknown," Stefanovic says. "Smetana, a Czech composer, is probably better known than Szymanowski, who is a Polish composer."

Stefanovic says he first discovered the Smetana piece when he performed in a string quartet in college and found it "a very powerful piece." It's subtitled "From My Life" and it "really does take you through the composer's entire life."

That includes the composer's deafness, which is musically depicted by an abrupt, high-pitched violin note that interrupts the piece.

"It's the noise he heard when he went completely deaf," explains Stefanovic. "It kept getting stronger and eventually overpowered his hearing. It's just startling to hear that suddenly out of nowhere."

Although Stefanovic has performed several times as part of the Sundays at Three series, this is the first time the Clipper Mill String Quartet will perform at the series as a unit.

"I most recently played with a guitarist and before that, with a quartet," he says. "But we'll make our debut Sunday with this concert."

The Clipper Mill String Quartet performs at the Sundays at Three series Dec. 4, 3 p.m., at Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia (Oakland Mills Road, opposite Dobbin Road). Admission is $15. Anyone age 17 and younger will be admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Go to http://www.SundaysAtThree.org or call 443-288-3179.

More strings attached

The Borealis String Quartet and guest pianist Jean-François Latour will perform as part of the Candlelight Concert series this Saturday, Dec. 3, 8 p.m., in the Smith Theatre at Howard Community College.

Both the group and the pianist hail from Canada. The Borealis String Quartet, known for its dynamic style, performed as part of the Candlelight season this past spring, when it completed a cycle of Beethoven string quartets programmed by the series over two seasons.

The ensemble was started in 2000 and has become a top concert draw, performing at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Seattle Symphony's Benaroya Hall, and at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.

The group is also known for its vintage instruments. In 2006, it received a sponsorship from the Chimei Culture Foundation of Taiwan, allowing it to perform on the foundation's own historic instruments.

For its Columbia engagement, the group and pianist Latour will perform Imant Raminsh's String Quartet No. 1, a selection of Taiwanese folk songs, and Antonín Dvo¿ák's Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 81, B.155.

Advance admission is $30, general; $28 for those 60 and older. Students up to age 17 are admitted free with one paying adult. A pre-concert "colloquy" with the artists will take place at 7:15 p.m. Call 410-997-2324 or go to http://www.candlelightconcerts.org.

The Columbia Orchestra will also present its second classical concert of the season with a program titled "Final Words" this Saturday, Dec. 3, 7:30 p.m., in the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School. For the occasion, music director Jason Love has selected a repertoire that highlights the last musical thoughts of two of the greatest Romantic composers, Gustav Mahler and Giuseppi Verdi.

The community orchestra will perform Mahler's Symphony No. 10, which was left unfinished at the time of the composer's death but has a first movement that's considered among his best.

Also on the bill is Verdi's last completed work, the "Stabat Mater" from "Four Sacred Pieces." This work will be performed along with the Heritage Signature Chorale, which is led by musical director Stanley Thurston. It's also a somewhat seasonal work, since it has religious overtones.

The concert will be preceded by a 6:30 p.m. lecture by Howard Community College faculty member Bill Scanlan Murphy. Admission is $20, general; $16 for senior citizens; and $10 for full-time students. Call 410-465-8777 or go to http://www.columbiaorchestra.org.