Gelato gives classical music a raucous, delightful twist

The Billings Gazette, Saturday, October 9, 1999
By Ed Kemmick of The Gazette staff 
     The Quartetto Gelato - a loose translation from the Italian would be: "four instrumental wizards having too much fun" - should have no trouble making classical music relevant in the new millennium. 
     They appeared to have satisfied everyone at the Alberta Bair Theater Friday night, playing with impeccable skill but throwing in melodies from all over the musical map, full of surprises, inventiveness and whimsy. 
     Not to mention an accordion. No doubt because it is the last instrument one expects to hear at a chamber concert, the man wielding it, Joseph Macerollo, quickly established himself as the crowd's favorite. He looked like a Neapolitan shopkeeper moonlighting as a mad scientist.  With his wire-rim glasses slipping down his nose, his eyebrows arching up to his balding pate, and his whole body bouncing in time with the music, he was as much fun to watch as to listen to. 
     It took a little getting used to, but the accordion definitely "worked." It had all the expressiveness of a piano, all the somber sustain of an organ. His rendition of "Dark Eyes," played just before the intermission, was per- formed with melodramatic emotion and an impressive bit of "bellow shaking," and it brought the audience of 730 to its feet amid whoops and cheers. 
     And yet ... for all Macerollo's excellence, the accordion is a difficult instrument to fit into every kind of song. On a piece called "Waltz Brillante," the accordion carried with it an unmistakable air of the roller rink. Like the bag- pipe, the accordion has a lot of bad associations to live down, and one could hardly expect Macerollo to escape them all. 
I doubt the audience minded, though. Humor was an integral part of the show, and for all I know the schmaltzy passages were intentional. 
     Come to think of it, it's hard to believe any of the quartet's effects' were unintentional. They had a knack for making perfect ensemble playing look like improvisation, of making consummate skill look like a lark.

The other three musicians - Cynthia Steljes on oboe, Peter De Sotto on violin and tenor vocals, and George Meanwell on cello and guitar - all had their moments to shine, both during and between the musical selections. They took turns introducing the pieces, turning in routines that were part music history and part standup comedy. 
     Meanwell said their native city, Toronto, comes from a Huron word meaning "I've never been there but I hear it's very nice." De Sotto described his arrangement of "Hungaria" as an illustration of the quartet's "multi-personality disorder," a piece that degenerates from chamber music to all-out war. 
     "We've been asked to play this on Jerry Springer," he said: "Music too hot for TV." 
     It was, in fact, De Sotto's showpiece. He blazed away on the violin until his bow began shed- ding, and by the end, as he battled the other instruments in a kind of musical shootout, he was stamping his foot like an Irish fiddler. n two Italian pieces, De Sotto laid aside his violin and sang in a passionate, expressive tenor. 
     Steljes played her oboe, which she described as "the bringer of doom and gloom," with great feeling and amazing rapidity. On "Rondeau Hongrois" by Ernst Krahmer (a duet described by Meanwell as "Krahmer vs. Krahmer"), Stelies and Meanwell engaged in a wonderful interplay of music and facial expressions. 
     Ranging from a lightly skip- ping melody to what sounded like a waltz played at the speed of a Gypsy dance, Steljes kept looking at Meanwell with a quizzical look on her face, as if surprised to have found a particular note, and he looked at her as if anxiously awaiting her next discovery. 
     After an extended standing ovation, the quartet came back for one more song - a surprisingly moving version of "Danny Boy." Who would have thought anyone could dust off that old song and perform it with all its native emotion but none of its beer-soaked bathos? 
     De Sotto sang it with operatic depth, aided by the understated playing of his colleagues. 
     It was probably just my new contacts, but I almost thought I might have had a tear in my eye.

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