by GENEVIEVE FORTE
On July 29, Ottawa was treated to a performance by Quartetto Gelato, at the Governor Generals’ outdoor summer concert series. Over 4,000 people attended this event on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Quartetto Gelato is a unique Canadian group whose repertoire includes everything from classical favourites, operatic arias, traditional melodies, to tangos and gypsy fiddling.
Quartetto Gelato’s members play an unusual assortment of instruments. Cynthia Steljes plays Oboe and English Horn, Peter De Sotto sings tenor and plays violin and the mandolin, Joseph Macerollo plays accordion, and George Meanwell plays the cello, guitar, and mandolin.
“This is a group that only a lunatic would’ve designed,” joked Meanwell. “Joseph Macerollo plays accordian and that’s quite an unusual instrument to find in a classical music group. And we play a wide variety of music; Antonin Dvorak, Frederick Chopin, as well as tangoes, Neapolitan songs and gypsy fiddling. It’s a range of repertoire that on the page can seem incoherent, but in fact works very well in performance.”
Since they formed in 1992, their music has been steadily gaining in popularity. They have sold over 150, 000 cds and perform concerts all over the world. A big reason for their popularity is that they know how to have fun, or as Steljes put it, “We take the music very seriously but not ourselves — there’s a certain austerity the general public relates to classical chamber music and we try to dispense with that.”
They make their fusion of diverse styles and instruments work, Meanwell explained, by “trying to play everything that we play as beautifully as we can, whether it’s a folk tune by Dvorak or a traditional folk melody.”
The group’s attitude is that differences between musical genres are overemphasized anyway. “I think that the whole classical tradition of having music so segregated is really a 20th century phenomenon.” Steljes countered, “so what we’re doing is actually a retro thing.” The opinion of Meanwell is that “the roots of all different kinds of music, whether its pop or folk or classical or jazz, are really much closer than people sometimes imagine.”
Their choice of music and the spontaneity and virtuosity with which they play has proved to be a success with fans around the world. Meanwell put it simply; “The main thing is to play as beautifully as we can and to try and let the audience see why it is we love the music that we’re playing so much.”