Gwyneth Walker

World Premiere Work a Big Hit for Quartet

by Eric E. Harrison, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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A world premiere is always fun, and the audience attending the premiere of Gwyneth Walker's Traveling Songs for string quartet had, well, a ball Friday as the Quapaw Quartet of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra debuted the piece at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Walker's work is light, charming, accessible and enjoyable for both its musical and extra-musical effects. It should be a big hit as the quartet -- Eric Hayward and Lei Zhang, violins; Lin Chang, viola; and Elise Buffat Nelson, cello -- takes it onward to schools, nursing homes and state parks.

The piece, jointly commissioned by the Quapaw Quartet and the Chamber Musicians of Northern California (who get to play it in October), is based on four well-known American songs. In the first, "Sweet Betsy from Pike," in honor of the Californians, Walker has highlighted the cadences with harmonics and glissandi.

The contemplative second, "I Wonder as I Wander," features touches of Charles Ives, Aaron Copland -- both noted for their Americana -- and Briton Ralph Vaughan Williams. And in the fourth, "Arkansas Traveler," each member of the quartet becomes a fiddler as they split the melody between them.

Walker, who attended the concert, has tried to surround the third song, "Coming Home," with a little mystery, but a ball and glove on the nearby piano sort of tipped her hand. The four musicians pretended to pitch, catch, commit errors and bat (Hayward hit a two strike "home run") before and during the actual musical portion. (Note that I have not given away the name of the song, but you should be able to puzzle it out. ...)

The composer was presented with -- appropriately -- an "Arkansas Traveler" certificate to take back to her Vermont home.

From Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Little Rock, Arkansas, May 4, 1996