The Vermeer Quartet hasn’t always reigned as our town’s preeminent string quartet. Around the time of its founding–in 1969 at the Marlboro Festival–that distinction belonged to the Fine Arts Quartet, but the Vermeer, made up of resident musicians at Northern Illinois University, soon overtook the veterans with its more modern, wiry, robust way of playing. So it’s somewhat ironic that these days the Vermeer is the flagship classical group for Performing Arts Chicago, the presenting outfit that started out as a North Shore fan club of the Fine Arts (which finally disbanded in the early 70s). Over the years as the Vermeer’s roster has changed, so have its taste and identity. In the early days it leaned heavily on Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and other masters of the classical and early romantic styles; and as an interpreter of the standard canon it was indeed very good. But it didn’t stand out in a crowded field that included the Juilliard, the Guarneri, and the LaSalle. In fact, though widely recorded, the Vermeer still hasn’t produced more than two or three performances that might be considered definitive. It took a departure from the core repertoire for the foursome to garner a Grammy nomination–last year, with its recording of Haydn’s majestic masterwork The Seven Last Words of Christ. This more venturesome spirit, reflected in the playing, is partly due to the addition four years ago of second violinist Mathias Tacke, who in his native Germany was a member of the Ensemble Modern, a renowned champion of contemporary music. At this recital, the Vermeer has just the right vehicle for displaying its intellectual acuity as well as its technical precision: Elliott Carter’s String Quartet no. 1. Also on the bill is Mendelssohn’s lovely Octet in E-flat, for which the Vermeer will join forces with a promising new kid on the block, the DePaul-affiliated Chicago String Quartet. A preconcert talk begins at 1:45 PM. Sunday, 3 PM, concert hall, DePaul University, 800 W. Belden; 773-722-5463. TED SHEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Vermeer Quartet photo.