The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.
After the pandemic hit and musicians migrated online to share their performances, Nicholas Kitchen, the first violinist of the Borromeo String Quartet, built a little "concert shell" in his Boston-area loft he calls "MusicKitchen." It's a practice space for the group which he shares with his wife, the Borromeo's cellist Yeesun Kim. Like the shells in regular concert spaces, but on a tinier scale, the Kitchen shell (seen behind the players in this video) helps project the sound. And the sounds Kitchen wants to emphasize in this concert come by way of Beethoven, the composer born 250 years ago this week.
Beethoven doesn't score high when it comes to positive personality traits. Paranoid, litigious and a micromanager, Beethoven didn't suffer fools and often fought with friends. Still, he possessed a well-developed funny bone, which Nicholas Kitchen and company put on display here, along with their own whimsical tiny "desks." Because of the virus, and the confined space, the players wear masks.
The humorous side of Beethoven's personality seeps into his music, such as the false stops and musical giggles that fuel his two-minute-long Presto from the Quartet Op. 130, which opens this performance. For contrast, the Borromeos follow with a serious movement from later on in the same piece, the prayerful Cavatina, which Beethoven said even got him choked up. More hijinks ensue in the Vivace from the Quartet in F, Op. 135, where Kitchen says the music becomes "completely berserk." And finally, in the last movement of the same quartet, Beethoven inserts a musical inside joke, the brunt of which falls on a wealthy music lover who displeased the great composer by not showing up at an important concert.
Grumpy or gleeful, raging or reflective, Beethoven's music endures for everyone in these compelling performances.
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