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Quartet breaks down Bartók

There's nothing easy about Béla Bartók's music. The 20th century Hungarian composer penned intense pieces for the piano, strings and symphony, using traditional folk songs from his native country for inspiration.

There's nothing easy about Béla Bartók's music.

The 20th century Hungarian composer penned intense pieces for the piano, strings and symphony, using traditional folk songs from his native country for inspiration.

But a relatively new string quartet, which is performing two of his works in Port Moody on Sunday, is trying to break down Bartók by playing his music over and over at small venues around Metro Vancouver.

"Bartók is just like Beethoven," said Tawnya Popoff, a violist with Microcosmos that also includes violinists Marc Destrubé and Andrea Siradze, and cellist Peggy Lee. "He was foreign and crazy and nobody understood what he was doing because he was trying new things. Some people loved it, some people didn't but now he's a classic because we've heard his music so much.

"What we want to do is bring familiarity with Bartók, too, because he hasn't had the same deserving exposure," she said.

Popoff, a Calgary native who has her master's degree from Rice University and was in a New York-based string quartet, described Bartók as a game changer for modern strings. An ethnomusicologist, Bartók wrote six string quartets, which form the core of Microcosmos' repertoire. The quartet plays at least one per show as well as some 20th and 21st century pieces from other composers.

Still, despite their heavy program, the Microcosmos' performances are simple as they prefer intimate spaces. Popoff said the most unusual settings they've played have been in an art gallery in Brackendale and a courtyard in Yaletown.

"Our goal is to bring music into people's lives instead of asking them to come to the music," she said. "We want to avoid being part of a list of concert series in a big concert hall where there's a separation from the stage and you can only hear the performance once, and if you can't, you're out of luck.

"That's not our style," she said. "We learn so much more from repeated performances and we want to provide a setting where the audience can connect with us, too."

Anna Levy, founder of the non-profit Yarilo Music Society who is hosting Microcosmos at her Glenayre home, called the group "the very best Vancouver musicians. Some of them enjoy an international reputation and I really, really hope that our Tri-City community will appreciate this."

Tickets to the Microcosmos recital at 34 Shoreline Circle on Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. are $20/$15. For more information, call 604-936-9752 or visit yarilomusic.com. The Yarilo series continues Jan. 22 with Mexican concert pianist Edison Quintana; May 12 (Contemplating After Easter: Ritual and Prayer); June 10 (Saxophilia Saxophone Quartet: Metamorphosis); and July 7 and 8 (Alexander Scriabin's Prometheus and the Prefatory Act).

jwarren@tricitynews.com