“When I make chocolate I become a composer. In the confectionary lab I try to produce a melody of flavors. Balanced. I believe it’s the same with a string quartet. The balance is crucial,” said Pierre Marcolini at Flagey on Tuesday November 7th. It was the first event in a series called Sonic Tastings, where the idea is to stimulate the audience by bringing its senses into a different level of appreciation, to experience the music of the String Quartet in a unique way. There will be three more sessions called: Why four? With mathematician Isar Goyvaerts; Who is the boss? With psychologist Jean Van Hemelrijck; A mirror of Society? With music agent Sonia Simmenauer.
The first session, What does it taste like, started with wistful piano music from the late 30’s in Flagey’s studio one: Over the Rainbow, performed by Julien Libeer at the piano. Besides being Flagey’s pianist in residence, Libeer is the host of the Sonic Tasting series, along with Elsa de Lacerda, violinist of the well known Alfama Quartet. Libeer and de Lacerda greeted the public, then mentioned how fortunate Flagey was to be able to host a concert by the Emerson String Quartet. A moment later, two members of the quartet had joined them.
“We came to Belgium for the first time back in 1976,” said Eguene Drucker, violinist from the Emerson Quartet. “Both Philip and I participated in the Queen Elizabeth competition. We hold dear memories from that time.”
Both of them were Queen Elizabeth laureates that year; Drucker number eight, Setzer twelve. “We had an embryonic form of the quartet back in Juilliard,” continued Drucker. “But after the competition, we had twenty one concerts lined up for the season.”
“And we’ve been together ever since,” said Setzer, then looked at Drucker. “Of course, had I won first prize that year, who knows,” he quipped, before he and Drucker laughed.
Humor is a very important reason why the quartet has lasted this long, added Drucker. “If we weren’t able to laugh at ourselves, we wouldn’t be here.”
After both violinists left, Gilles Ledure, CEO of Flagey shared his thoughts on the evening. “We are here tonight to learn how to discover new flavors with our ears,” he said. “The string quartet music requires a lot of attention to detail, just like tasting Pierre Marcolini’s chocolates. We’d like you to learn how to experience all the flavors of music through these Sonic Tasting experiences.”
Then the first chocolates arrived. “This is a mix of two types of beans,” said Marcolini. “Arriba Nacional, from Ecuador, and Forastero, from Cameroon.” The praline had the shape of a flat square, with four different ingredients on each corner. “When I created this, I was thinking of the string quartet. The four players. And so I put salt, vanilla, roasted nuts, and even a fine sprinkle of pepper. Try it.”
The second one was a smaller square, but thicker. “This one has what is commonly known as toffee,” Marcolini said. “And I want you to remember that cocoa butter is very special. Its melting temperature is lower than the human body’s temperature, so it melts the moment it touches your mouth. And then what? All those flavors and aromas are released.”
The music program of the evening included pieces by Joseph Haydn, Anton Webern, Béla Bartók, and Ludwig van Beethoven. In between tastings, Libeer and de Lacerda, made some interesting and insightful remarks about the pieces; Haydn as the “father” of the string quartet; Webern as the talented student of Arnold Schönberg; the complexity of Beethoven’s late string quartets.
“Some people believe that the language that a composer speaks has an influence on the kind of music he or she composes,” said Libeer. “And that’s the case with Bártok. Hungarian (Magyar) has a very peculiar rhythm. It’s a pleasure to enjoy his music, specially the string quartets.”
The last praline had the shape of an elongated drop, dark and shiny. On the tray, each praline looked as if it were polished ebony. Marcolini wrapped up the evening by saying, “This might be true or not, but I once heard that the memory of taste is the one that lasts the longest. Enjoy.”