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Both Cascade Quartet, Chinook Winds play masterful set of pieces at Chamboree

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Around the state, both the Cascade Quartet and the Chinook Winds quartets have been talked about, in terms of musical talents, as “the best-kept secret in all of Montana.”

As a person who’s seen them play multiple times, I’m not quite sure I agree with that assessment because it’s not like they’re trying to keep their shows a secret. But, it still is high praise from folks far and wide who have seen their performances.

Norman Gonzales and Thad Suits perform together Tuesday at the C.M. Russell Museum.
Norman Gonzales and Thad Suits perform together Tuesday at the C.M. Russell Museum.

On Tuesday night, both quartets joined forces to play a mixture of pieces that combine woodwinds with stringed instruments that allowed them to flex their musical muscles in front of a packed crowd at the C.M. Russell Museum.

Truth be told, there wasn’t a bad performance among the five that were played. There could have been a little more violin pieces, but that’s a matter of personal preference and is no way indicative of the show’s quality.

As I was watching the performance play out, my first thought I kept coming back to was “what a gift this community has. We’re lucky enough to have a collection of professional musicians showcasing some rare pieces.” Rare because, comparatively speaking, there aren’t a whole lot of written quartet concertos that combine the winds and strings.

The pieces played were Joseph Haydn’s “London Trio No. 3 in G Major,” Alberto Ginastera’s “Duo for Flut and Oboe,” Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Assobio a Jato (Jet Whistle),” Joseph Cateloube’s “Rustiques” and Alfredo Casella’s “Serenata, Op. 46.”

My favorite pieces were either between “Assobio a Jato” or “Serenata, Op. 46.”

I enjoyed the Villa-Lobos piece because it showed off the contrasts between Norman Gozales’ flute playing and Thad Suits’ cello.

Casella’s piece was magical because not only were Mary Papoulis, Suits, Useon Choi and Elizabeth Crawford playing controlled, dramatic music, it also included the talented John Gemberling on Trumpet, who hit the ground running with an upbeat, memorable melody. As a fan of trumpet music, I loved hearing how his playing meshed with the rest of the quartet.

And while I thought there could have been more pieces that were highlighting the violin, three of the five pieces were flute-driven, which was fun to hear.

Gonzales exhibited pure mastery on his instrument. and as someone who has tried, and failed miserably, playing the flute, I understand how difficult it is to play anything and that it takes hours upon hours to play anything well.

In fact, all of these musicians have dedicated their lives to their music and it’s a treat to hear them share their gifts with Great Falls.

One minor problem I had with the show was that the program, while it had all of the pieces listed on it, they weren’t in the correct order, nor did they all have the correct musicians listed on them as Papoulis ended up performing the Haydn piece, not Melanie Pozdol on oboe.

An audience member may have been slightly confused, however after the first piece the players did a good job at explaining what piece they were about to play, along with a few helpful tidbits about them.

I later found out that the reason the program was changed was because the way it was originally programmed, Gonzales would have been playing three pieces in a row.

It was quite a feat for him to play three good-sized pieces  in one show, so it may have been even more tricky to play all of those back-to-back.

Gonzales also made a bold choice for his outfit — donning maroon pants and a white top. I liked the choice because it showed some of his youthful energy and style without him having to say a word about it.

Aside from the music, the room felt a little empty without any of the artwork in it, but with the Russell Museum preparing for it’s big Western Art Week exhibit, that’s easily forgiveable.

Finally, as someone who’s a classical music aficionado, I kind of wished that the full quartets were able to play some kinds of pieces together. Absent from the evening were Madison Johnson’s viola, Mike Nelson’s French horn and Megan Karls’ violin. Perhaps there aren’t any good pieces that include every instrument. Even without the rest of the musicians, though, the chamber orchestras played like the talented professionals they’ve been expected to be.

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