Musical Identity Crisis

The many styles of Quartetto Gelato

Quartetto Gelato would like to change your mind about chamber music. The Canada-based foursome doesn’t just regurgitate the same sonatas and arias that are standard for every classical musician. Quartetto Gelato makes classical music a performance piece. The repertoire includes everything from opera and classical, to folk and gypsy songs, and Neapolitan standards, all done with a passionate flare. Group founder Peter de Soto said he got Quartetto Gelato together out of a desire to play more eclectic music. “I started the group about 18 years ago,” he says by phone. “We got together four friends who wanted to play music for our own enjoyment. We also had other professional music jobs — I played for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. I also came from a background called strolling, which is one person who plays around tables, and he takes requests and plays pieces from peoples’ pasts. You have to know a very large repertoire … When we put Quartetto Gelato together, we wanted to include all of our ulterior interests. We ended up coming up with this very bizarre combination.” That “bizarre combination” included each member of the quartet playing more than one instrument, de Soto singing in his operatic tenor and a repertoire that can only be described as eclectic — and lightning-quick changes between all of those aspects in one show. Response was overwhelming. “We ended up getting 70 concerts in the first season,” de Soto says. ”I had to ask for some time off from the symphony to tour with Quartetto Gelato. Eventually I had to make a decision, and I decided to go full-hearted into Quartetto Gelato, and I never looked back.” De Soto admitted that changing musical styles and instruments as rapidly as Quartetto Gelato requires was a little overwhelming at first. “At the beginning, it was a little confusing. One day I felt like a singer, one day I felt like a violinist. It was a musical identity crisis. Overall it became who I am, and that’s the way the group is now.” Since those first shows, a lot has changed for Quartetto Gelato — most notably, the lineup. De Soto’s wife and fellow founding member, Cynthia Steljes, died of a rare form of lung cancer in 2006. Other members have come and gone — about nine total — but the current roster may be the best yet. Accordion player Alexander Sevastian is a four-time world champion player, cellist Elizabeth McLellan is a dancer and a double bass player, and oboist Colin Maier plays a dozen instruments in addition to being an acrobat. Everyone’s abilities become part of the show, along with some witty rapport between musicians and audience. “We exploit each member’s talents to the nth degree,” de Soto says with a laugh. Despite myriad on-stage activities, Quartetto Gelato doesn’t need sheet music to put on a show. “Our group is not a real classical group. We don’t use music on stage, it’s always by memory. It’s almost like a classical band. The whole show is very, very rehearsed, and we think it’s very well thought out. It’s more of a theatrical production — what you’ll see on stage. The banter in between songs is so important, and the way we talk to the audience, the audience will feel a personal relationship with Quartetto Gelato.” The foursome will perform a night of holiday music, but don’t think that just because a Quartetto Gelato show has a theme that it will be boring. “We’ll be moving between pop and sacred and secular songs. We’ll be doing favorites like ‘O Holy Night’ and ‘Ave Maria,’ and also doing things like ‘White Christmas’ and ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.’ With any Quartetto Gelato show, not only a Christmas show, we’ll be doing what we do best: eclecticism.” Quartetto Gelato, performs Friday, Dec. 3, at 8 p.m., at the Holland Center, 1200 Douglas St. Tickets are $19-$49, and available via 345.0606 or online omahaperformingarts.org.

posted at 08:21 pm
on Wednesday, December 01st, 2010

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