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Wow! Esmé Quartet made their debut at Segerstrom Center for the Arts on 18 March 2022 in the intimate Samueli Theater and WOW.
Who is the Esmé Quartet?
The name of the quartet– Esmé is borrowed from an old French word meaning ‘being loved‘.
The Award Winning Esmé Quartet is made up of four exceptionally talented Korean musicians based in Germany.
- Wonhee Bae – violin
- Yuna Ha – violin
- Jiwon Kim – viola
- Ye-Eun Heo – cello
Formed in 2016 at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne, Germany by four Korean musicians, friends since their youth, the Esmé has been praised for its warm sound and powerful stage presence. With shared common interests and passions in music, the arts, and life, the quartet brings together the performers’ brilliant and distinct musical personalities to form a cohesive, close-knit group that is passionately dedicated to the string quartet repertoire.
The Esmé Quartet has performed all over the world including the renowned Wigmore Hall in London, and are scheduled to finish their North American tour with stops this month in Canada and the East Coast. For a full calendar visit their official website at esmequartet.com.
“Yessori” (Sound from the Past) for String Quartet and Haegeum by Soo Yeon Lyuh
For their debut at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, the quartet was joined on stage by composer and haegeum virtuoso, Soo Yeon Lyuh, for their first number, “Yessori” (Sound from the Past) for String Quartet and Haegeum.
The Korean song evoked memories of my childhood when we would go see the Korean folk dancers and drummers. As David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet said,
“the sounds she [Soo Yeon Lyuh] is able to create on the haegeum are wholly unique and open up a vast new realm of sonic possibilities to Western ears.”
While it might be a jarring contrast from the romantic and melodious pieces played by Esmé later in the evening with its dissonance, it made for a very educational start to the program and evoked their beautiful Korean heritage.
String Quartet in G Minor, Op 10 by Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Originally the Esmé Quartet was slated to perform a string quartet by Ravel however we were pleasantly surprised to see in the printed program that the quartet was to perform Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor, and it turned out to be the star performance of the evening.
This romantic string quartet written by Debussy allowed the four young women to truly showcase their exceptional musical talents while playing both the melodious and even softer melodies with a passion and brilliant flair. An artist can play the loud and exciting refrains but it takes a truly accomplished musician to play both equally as well.
Note – this was Debussy’s only string quartet written when he was 31.
String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2 – “Rasumovsky” by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
After a brief intermission, the Esmé Quartet picked up their bows and treated the audience at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts with a riveting performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet in E Minor.
And what a performance! In this stirring conclusion, the quartet were able to truly showcase their skills not only as musicians but also as interpreters of classical music. It was a truly agile, virtuosic, and clear performance performed with a passion to match especially by the first violinist, Wonhee Bae, whom you could see transfixed by the music from the moment she picked up her bow for the first time. Truly, all four young women were worthy of the standing ovations they received.
Esmé Quartet – To Be Loved (Album)
I could watch these young ladies all day long. But if you are not so lucky as to be able to sit in front of YouTube all day long or to feast your eyes (and ears) on a performance in person, they also have an album available for purchase wherever music is sold – To Be Loved – which features music from Beethoven, Bridge and Chin.
Released in 2020, the album features Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 1, Op. 18 in F Major, ParaMetaStrings for String Quartet and Tape by Chin, and Novelletten, H. 44 by Bridge.
I have already started to listen to and enjoy their album and would say that the first two descriptive words that come to mind are “warmth and passion“. The Beethoven piece is attacked with gustos, the Chin piece invkes lively colors and textures, and the Bridge piece rounds the album out with passion and warmth. Charisma would be another great description for the music performed by Esmé.
This is an album that would make for excellent listening while on your commute, at home making dinner, or even to lull you into a restful and enchanting sleep after a long day.
I cannot wait to see what next these four young women choose to record! Bravo! Bravi!
The Samueli Theater at Segerstrom Center for the Arts
This review would be incomplete without a thank you to Pacific Symphony for providing the tickets although all opinions are my own.
And if you are interested in subscribing to their chamber music concert series or seeing any of their upcoming performances at the Samueli Theater, I would heartily recommend the space. The acoustics are divine and the intimacy of the theater space (that can be modified to include tables with chairs for a cabaret feel or a high riser like the Esmé concert for a standard concert setup) make for a rich evening at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
Future performances in the Samueli Theater include:
- Matthew Whitaker (Jazz Pianist) on March 27, 2022
- Danish String Quartet on April 26, 2022
- Ravel’s Piano Trio on May 8, 2022