The passing of Abbot Francis Kline last August left the Lowcountry bereft of one of its most intriguing and talented residents. While he left behind a promising career as a professional musician, his talents found a broader outlet as a Trappist monk. As a longtime friend of Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto, this concert featuring his friends and colleagues promises to be a fitting tribute to his life and work.

The St. Petersburg Quartet has graced Spoleto with their presence for quite a few years now. Every year, even die-hard, crusty aficionados leave this quartet’s performances with their mouths agape. Rich and full, their sound is typically “heart-on-the-sleeve” Russian, while never sacrificing precision for the sake of sentimentality. The members include first violin Alla Aranovskaya, second violin Alla Krolevich, viola Boris Vayner, and cellist Leonid Shukayev. Their performance at Mepkin will feature Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 and Dvorák’s American Quartet.

Shostakovich’s eighth careens through several seemingly conflicting emotional states tied together by a motif based on the composer’s initials and is filled with quotations and references to other works by the composer. He may have intended for it to serve as his own epitaph. A diagnosis of myelitis and his Communist Party membership led him to contemplate suicide. Fortunately, the completion of this quartet served as a purgative and did not bear his last opus number. It is dedicated “to the victims of fascism and war,” which may or may not have been his intent; just another one of the mysteries surrounding the life of this genius who lived under a totalitarian government. His entire quartet cycle is a cornerstone of the St. Petersburg Quartet’s repertoire, and it’s one of the most intimate and personal works of the 20th century.

Dvorák’s String Quartet No. 12, known as the “American,” came to life during a summer retreat the composer took in the small town of Spillville, Iowa. While the composer said that he would “never have written these works ‘just so’ if I hadn’t seen America,” the common debate remains about whether their origin and themes are more American, African-American, or Czech.

Arguments such as these completely ignore the fact that folk music the world over is based in relatively similar tonal palettes. Dvorák’s work brilliantly captures themes of homesickness, love of nature, and the movement of progress with a quality that transcends any localized idiom to give us a universal ideal of beauty.

The events at Mepkin Abbey always turn out to be major highlights of any Spoleto season. Hearing the St. Petersburg Quartet perform in honor of the Abbot makes this performance one not to miss.

St. Petersburg String Quartet • Piccolo Spoleto’s Mepkin Abbey Concerts • June 2 at 2 p.m. • $35 • (2 hours) • Mepkin Abbey, 1091 Mepkin Abbey Road, Moncks Corner • 554-6060

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