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Quartet Starts Kirkwood Concert Season

Concerts from Kirkwood kicks off its free season on Sept. 25, with The Shanghai Quartet.

It may not have the trappings of the Kennedy Center, but Pat Hodgdon admits to feeling a little spoiled that she gets to hear music she enjoys right in the pews of her home church.

Hodgdon, a member of Kirkwood Presbyterian Church in Springfield, plans on being in attendance when the Concerts from Kirkwood 2004 season kicks off Saturday, Sept. 25, at 4 p.m., with a performance from the Shanghai Quartet, an award-winning string quartet based in New York City.

"I think it’s great that there are high-quality musical performances right in our own community," said Hodgdon, a Burke resident. "It takes five minutes to get there. You don’t have to worry about parking, about paying high prices for the tickets, and these are really top-notch performers."

The veteran string quartet, now in its 21st season, reflects exactly what the free concert series is targeting.

"They’re always looking for new things. They’re technically sound, but they’re always looking for new things. They have a lot to offer," said Miriam Bradley, the series’ artistic director. Bradley, a viola player, studied under the Shanghai Quartet while at the University of Richmond and considers them a the perfect kickoff to the new season.

"As artistic director, that’s what I’m striving for — variety, and high quality musicians," said Bradley.

The Shanghai Quartet is composed of violinists Weigang Li and Yi-Wen Jiang; violist Honggang Li; and cellist Nicholas Tzavaras, and has performed many times at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery. Three of its members, Li, Li, and Jiang, are from China, and the group is currently Quartet-in-Residence at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Bradley noted the quartet will include in its concert two classical offerings, including the "American" Quartet from Czech-born composer Antonin Dvorak.

THE CONCERTS from Kirkwood series will continue in October with a concert featuring San Diego-based organist Tom Hazelton. That concert, said Bradley, is designed to also showcase the new organ recently installed at the church, which she hopes can be used in future concerts. In January, the Marcolivia Duo will feature Mozart’s music for violin and viola and the music of Eastern Europe and Asia. The March concert is still to be determined.

The concert series started with a donation from former church member Duane Benton, whose wife passed away and left $1,200 to the music program. A life-long attendee of the church, Bradley used the initial donation to fund the first concert in the fall of 2003, an afternoon of opera with a quartet from the Washington Opera Chorus. Other concerts last year included a Russian-themed evening, the Monumental Brass Quintet and the Mark Lomanno Afro-Cuban Jazz Project.

"We want this to be an outreach to the community. We want to provide a place where people in the Springfield area can come and meet other people and enjoy this wonderful performances," said Hodgdon, who said the church members pitch in with publicity and with refreshments. After the show, the performers mingle with patrons over cookies and punch.

"The performers have told me they like the intimate venue. They feel like they’re right there with the audience," said Hodgdon.

The series runs on donations, which are suggested at the door. Average attendance last season was 200 for the four concerts, with Kirkwood’s capacity around 350. The biggest draw was the all-Russian music night in the winter, dubbed "From Russia With Love." For that show, the church members put on a spread of Russian tea cakes and Russian tea at the reception.

The series has confirmed for Bradley that her neighbors in Fairfax County wanted to see professional musicians in concert a little closer to home than Washington, D.C.

"There’s no reason why the suburbs can’t have high-quality offerings too," she said.