This Saturday will see a combination of old and new, as one of America’s greatest and most venerated quartets joins its fresh quartet -protégé in a concert at Rackham.

The Guarneri Quartet has been performing since 1964, and their excellence has become the stuff of legend. The Guarneri specializes in classical music, and their dedication and focus to the art has enabled them to produce what many consider the definitive interpretations of a variety of pieces.

University of Michigan Music Professor William Bolcom, a composer whose work will be performed this Saturday, names them “Among the best players in the world.” According to Bolcom, the Guarneri’s influence on the interpretation of modern classical music is so strong that younger quartets use their past recordings to learn how to play new pieces.

Just last year the Quartet announced that they would retire at the close of the 2008-2009 concert season, with an incredible 45 years of performance. They are not leaving a vacancy, however. The Johannes Quartet, a musical force in their own right, is touring under the instructive wing of the Guarneri and hopes to continue the legacy of excellence when their tutors retire.

The Johannes Quartet is formed from four of the finest young players in America, including the principal viola of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the principle cello of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. These four are ones to watch – they are a quartet of exceptional promise, and under the tutelage of the Guarneri they are likely to develop into one of the leading quartets of the new generation.

Saturday’s performance features the Quartets performing both individually and as an octet. The two octets should be especially exciting – one is a world premier, and the other is a Mendelssohn, “the world’s octet,” in the words of Professor Bolcom.

Bolcom ought to know. As the composer of the first octet, he said that he expected a superlative first performance from the Guarneri.

“I’ve known them for a long time,” said Bolcom, expressing his confidence in their performance of his piece, called simply Double Quartet. “Great musicians can make the composer see something in his music which he didn’t expect. They can find what’s in it,” said Bolcom.

As an octet, Bolcom’s piece will allow both the young and old quartets to play together. In fact, the piece is written to bring out what Bolcom called “tension between the quartets. Not bad tension, but an emotive tension. It’s meant to be a knitting of the quartets.”

The concert is an excellent opportunity to witness a musical passing of the torch – from Mendelssohn to Bolcom and from one of the greatest quartets of this era to one that could prove one of the greatest in the next.

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