Reprinted from The Salt Lake Tribune
April 27, 1999

Give Me 'Refuge'

by Jeff Manookian, Special to the Tribune

A Musical 'Refuge'

The Abramyan Quartet received a rambunctious greeting Sunday evening at Salt Lake City's Cathedral of the Madeleine for this week's Madeleine Festival event. It was performing the premiere of Phillip Kent Bimstein's "Refuge."

Six years ago the Abramyan Quartet asked Bimstein to write it a new work. The group hoped that the composer would somehow employ Terry Tempest Williams' Refuge in the composition.

Dividing the work into four sections -- "Desert," "Silence," "Rabbits" and "Birds" -- Bimstein recorded Williams reading excerpts from her extraordinary texts and remastered her voice to become part of the composition. The dialogue was more than an impressive narrative. Bimstein shaped it to provide his work with captivating rhythmic, timbrel and pitch elements to play into the string scoring. The composer has penned pure music magic, while once in a while venturing into programmatic effects.

A secret to the success of this and other Bimstein works is the composer's distinct and honest musical articulation. The full house of listeners was understandably moved to its feet at the conclusion of "Refuge."

Salt Lake's avid concertgoers expect the best from the Abramyan Quartet. And judging by the performance by violinists Gerald Elias and Lynnette Stewart, violist Scott Lewis and cellist John Eckstein, the audience got what it came for.

As in the Bimstein work, this was evident in the ensemble's vibrant reading of Beethoven's Op. 95 Quartet. The Abramyan Quartet indeed took the subtitle, "Serioso," seriously. Amid the brilliant acoustics of the venue, nuances and poignant musicianship were generously wrought.

Debussy's only opus for string quartet received a definitive reading. This work could become a signature piece for the Abramyan. Within the breathtaking virtuosity of the three faster movements, the inherent beauties elicited in the Andantino movement became memorable an soul-touching.

Listen to Refuge

Jeff Manookian, a Salt Lake-based pianist, composer and conductor, is the classical-music critic for The Salt Lake Tribune.