Come, bathe in the glory of the mandolin, was the invitation offered by the Modern Mandolin Quartet at the start of Saturday's concert.
A global, historical, musical trip through "Mando-land" was promised. And at the end of the two-hour-plus performance, packed with Brazilian jazz, folk, blue grass, classical, polkas and a little rock 'n' roll, the audience showed its enthusiasm for an entertaining journey into "mandolin heaven" with a standing ovation.The wide range of dynamics and unique tonal qualities of the venerable instrument created intriguing sounds, causing listeners to question, "How'd they do that?"
Familiar pieces such as Bernstein's "Cool" from West Side Story and Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite took on a new dimension when interpreted by this energetic quartet. Explaining that it takes four mandolin players to play what can be performed by a single pianist, the group masterfully met the challenge of expanding the limits of their instruments with an appealing, feisty twist. There was no opportunity for the audience to sit back comfortably and anticipate the melody to come. Each piece - from Bach to Bernstein - was fresh, engaging.
The talented musicians are natural comedians as well. Their unpretentious style and casual chatter with the audience built an easy rapport. ("Hmmmm. This was in tune when I bought it," muttered Mike Marshall with a smile, as he tuned his mandolin.)
The San Francisco-based quartet features Mike Marshall and Dana Rath on the mandolin, Paul Binkley on the mandola and John Imholz playing the mandocello.
To create a uniform sound as though the music is coming from "one big mandolin," the group recently commissioned an American craftsman to design and build all their instruments, Rath told the audience. The effect is just what they ordered - a balanced, cohesive tone of rare quality.
But the mandolin players' ease with their instruments does not distract from their formidable technique. They make it look easy, but the compositions are obviously demanding. Whether playing a Mozart overture or Bill Monroe's bluegrass suite, the pluckin', strummin', thumpin' and pickin' was impeccable.
In a poignant moment, Imholz dedicated Bernstein's "Cool" to the memory of his son, Dante, who was killed less than two weeks ago in a car accident. The 14-year-old had frequently traveled with the quartet to assist with equipment and sales. Admitting his is "hanging on by a thread" emotionally, Imholz expressed his love for his son and his love for his music which has helped him cope with his loss.
The Utah audience generously expressed its appreciation for an evening of remarkable music - and the devotion of its players to share, under difficult personal circumstances, their infectious enthusiasm for the so-called "mandolin renaissance."
As part of the Utah Performing Arts Tour, the quartet had spent several days conducting workshops, master classes and lecture demonstrations in Utah communities. Saturday's concert at the University of Utah Museum of Fine Arts Auditorium was a fund-raising concert sponsored by the Salt Lake City Arts Council.