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Romany musical cultureThe mission of keeping a rare musical flame alight is a noble and often challenging one, but The Bohemian Quartet is more than up to the task. In this case, the acclaimed Providence, Rhode Island-based ensemble-featuring violin, viola, cello, and bass-specializes in music of the “Romany” or “Gypsy” tradition, along with related Eastern European folk styles.
The Bohemian Quartet was formed in 2005. Violinist Stan Renard, a composer and virtuoso player with an impressive list of credentials, assembled the group with the idea of preserving the tradition and indulging in the virtuosic playing of classic gypsy music. Renard recruited like-minded and ambitious friends: Christine Harrington on cello, Nancy Richardson on viola, and John DeBossu on upright bass. Together, they’ve made a commitment to the genre, and aspired to performing it with both reverence and adventure. Indeed, like every good curator, the BQ at once embraces the ancient traditions, and still wanders off in newer, lovely, unpredictable directions.
BQ borrowed its name from a quartet formed over 100 years ago in Czechoslovakia. That group, later called the Czech Quartet, ultimately disbanded in 1934. Appropriately enough, the two entities-BQ v.1 and today’s iteration-share much more than a name. They shoulder a passion for the deep-rooted authenticity of the Romany tradition, as well as the ability to play that historic repertoire with extraordinary joie de vivre. On the aptly titled Beyond Tradition, the quartet’s new recording, the group’s intentions are true and accomplished. The project was recorded live at the lovely Blackstone River Theater (http://www.riverfolk.org) and St. Paul’s Church in Portsmouth, RI (home of The Portsmouth Arts Guild). Produced by Harrington and the quartet, the recording is a journey through the musical vernacular of gypsy life, with zippy tempos, virtuosic playing, spry strings crying and dancing, and above all the flair of performance that makes this sound so utterly riveting. On “The Violins Stopped Playing,” an epic, two-part piece commissioned by the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, the music ebbs and flows through the romance, heartbreak and exhilaration of great Romany music. Other tracks on Beyond Tradition, which consists of songs interspersed with insightful commentary, are also noteworthy and informative. The band’s performance clearly demonstrates the musicians are up to the task of playing these intricate melodies.
Accolades have followed the quartet since its inception. The quartet was featured on the “One World Show,” produced by Robert Malin, for which they received an award for Best Music Documentary. Beyond Tradition also enjoyed placement on the 2010 preliminary ballot by the Grammy Association.