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Escher String Quartet strives for cohesive masterpiece from individual strengths

Escher String Quartet strives for cohesive masterpiece from individual strengths
The Escher String Quartet is set to perform Nov. 1 at the Samueli Theater in Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts. (Courtesy of Segerstrom Center for the Arts)

Like the artist for whom it was named, the Escher String Quartet is all about the total work.

“Escher worked with three or four simple patterns, interesting and individual in themselves, but when put together, forms something more powerful and unified,” explained Brook Speltz, cellist of the Escher String Quartet, which returns to the Samueli Theatre at the Sergerstrom Center for the Arts Nov. 1 to present a program of Mozart, Britten and Dvorak. “We are four individual voices who result in something cohesive.”

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Maurits Cornelis “M.C.” Escher (1898-1972) was a Dutch graphic artist and illustrator known for his skewered perspectives and “impossible” angles that nonetheless still made sense. The Escher Quartet is an ensemble of four independent string players who unify through the interplay of their individual lines.

“It’s about blending and accommodating one another,” continued Speltz, who joined the Escher a decade after it was founded in New York City in 2005. “What we value is not sacrificing our individuality, yet having the same idea, which makes the piece unified and gives it a degree of cohesiveness, a shared musical heritage.

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“It’s similar to a marriage, in that we do have an unlimited amount of disagreements,” said the Juilliard-trained (2012) Speltz, who works out those “disagreements” with fellow “Escherites” co-founder Adam Barnett-Hart and Danbi Um, violinists and co-founder Pierre Lapointe, violist. “But we also have this old-fashioned sense of style and sound in our ears, and we admit when we’re wrong, even when we’re sometimes right. So we keep our individuality, even as our sum are greater than our parts.”

Artists of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Escher will perform Mozart’s final quartet, No. 26 in F Major, K. 590 (1790; the last of his three “Prussian” Quartets); Sir Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 25, which premiered in Los Angeles in 1941; and Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, the “American,” Op. 96 (1893), which the Escher recently recorded (the CD released in January).

“The Mozart and the Dvorak are two staples of the quartet repertoire, encompassing the highest form of string-quartet writing,” said Speltz, who performed with such orchestras as the Philadelphia and New York philharmonics. “This was Mozart’s last quartet, his third of a projected six he was supposed to write, but was prevented by his early death. It was a difficult time, he was practically broke and asking anyone and everyone for money.”

“The American” was written when Dvorak was in America and staying at a Czech community in Spillville, Iowa, and is a melting pot rooted in the European style of writing but containing or being influenced by African-American spiritual and Native American music.

Speltz, who made his Orange County debut with the Escher last year at Soka University in Aliso Viejo, joined the quartet based on what he heard.

“It was already a well-oiled machine with a sterling reputation,” he said, “and so I had such high artistic expectations. And I’ve enjoyed each player’s level of playing, which is at the highest standard.”

IF YOU GO

What: Segerstrom Center for the Arts presents the Escher String Quartet

When: 8 p.m. Nov. 1.

Where: Samueli Theater, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: Tickets start at $39

Information: (714) 556-2787; scfta.org

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