While on Saturday night I was tucked away in an air-conditioned building, on Sunday afternoon I found myself at a quartet performance in the middle of the woods. The Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock, New York, was the 1916 creation of Hervey White and in 1952 hosted the première of John Cage’s 4’33”. Wooden benches both inside and outside the space seat eager audiences who can hear not only the performers but the surrounding woods. The gambrel roof and geometric doorways provide perfect acoustics for the music, which mingles with the noises of birds, frogs, and raindrops falling when the wind shifts through the overhanging trees. The Mavericks Festival, like the Mostly Mozart Festival, is a long-running summer celebration of chamber music.

Leipzig String Quartet
Leipzig String Quartet

Sunday’s program was entitled “Quartet Monuments” and featured four works performed by the incredible Leipzig String Quartet: Stefan Arzberger, Tilman Büning, Ivo Bauer and Matthias Moosdorf. Their performance was received enthusiastically by an audience sipping coffee and chattering excitedly between works. None of them were in quite as much of a hurry as New Yorkers apparently are: there was a lengthy, leisurely intermission where the night before there wasn’t one at all. And while the night previously I had stared moodily out the window while listening to a Beethoven string quartet; this time I found myself smiling along with the other concert-goers, even when a spider fell on my shoulder at one point.

The Leipzig Quartet began with Beethoven’s String Quartet in A major, Op. 18 no. 5 – much less dreary than the late Beethoven I had heard the night before, and instead of peering through near-darkness, I was squinting into the afternoon sunlight filtering through the leaves. Afterwards we heard the beautiful, intricate mélange of sounds that make up Tan Dun’s Eight Colors for String Quartet. The more exotic range of techniques was a perfect counter to the more traditional Beethoven. The group, like the Calder Quartet, is devoted to contemporary works, and their energy was palpable here. Each movement was as unique and vivid as a blob of paint on a palette; the captivating array of sounds was delivered with careful artistry.

The second half of the program consisted of César Franck’s 1889 String Quartet in D major. The work, it was pointed out to us, is long, and I might add emotional. Written during the last year of Franck’s life, it was his only quartet, and his only work to be greeted with any sort of acclaim; Marcel Proust was apparently so moved by it that he requested and was obliged with a private performance in his bedroom. The strains and swirls of the Leipzig Quartet melted over each other as the sun fell further behind the trees. The musicians wound their way through developments of a recurring theme to a final, breathtaking cadence, but they didn’t stop there. Our encore, fittingly enough, was Mozart’s String Quartet in D major, K.499, the sprightly notes lending us a light-hearted farewell as they mimicked the birds chirping overhead (or was it the other way around?).