Ensemble performs with acclaimed pianist Orion Weiss

Pacifica Quartet: With Orion Weiss, piano. Sarasota Concert Association Great Performers Series. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets $30-$65. 941-225-6500; scasarasota.org

When Mark Holloway, violist with the Pacifica Quartet, describes pianist Orion Weiss as “honest,” he has a particular meaning in mind.

“It’s someone who tries to convey the emotions and characters of the composer’s writing, not trying to impose other things and show off for the sake of showing off,” said Holloway in a phone interview from Bloomington, Indiana, where the Pacifica Quartet is in residence at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. “I feel like Orion is not just a poet on the piano, but a person who cares deeply about bringing the composer’s intentions to life.”

Weiss will join the quartet at a Sarasota Concert Association performance Thursday at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall that includes Dvorak’s Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 81, Beethoven’s Quartet in F Major, Op. 18, No. 1, and Ligeti’s Quartet No. 1, “Metamorphoses Nocturnes.”

Weiss, 38, has been stunning audiences since he served as a last-minute replacement for Andre Watts at a 1999 performance with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. He studied at the Cleveland School of Music and the Juilliard School and now performs as a recitalist and chamber musician at festivals and concerts across the country.

Holloway has worked with Weiss in other Pacifica concerts and on his own. “He’s such a great guy and such a great pianist,” Holloway said.

Now in his second year with the quartet, which has developed an exuberant performance style over its 25 years of life, Holloway said his tenure there has been filled with learning.

“The first thing I’ve learned is a lot of notes,” he said. “A lot of repertoire, a cycle of pieces, collaborations, and we play here at school. I’ve learned the thrill of performing the same piece in different locations and with different pieces surrounding it.”

The quartet presents four or five different programs each year, sometimes offering ongoing compositions in combination with different pieces. Combining compositions in new ways has helped Holloway form new opinions about various pieces of music when they are set against others.

This week’s program is “three total masterpieces,” he said.

“That Beethoven quartet is such a dramatic, theatrical key for Beethoven, a concise and distilled quartet that’s very dramatic,” Holloway said. “There are strong contrasts between major and minor, between lyrical and aggressive. The slow movement is replaced by a motif that has a clock-like precision to it, like a toy workshop. It’s very interesting and playful what he does with this short motif. Then there’s the normal sort of minuet and trio, highly contrasting in this case. The last movement is sort of folksy.”

The 1808 composition is connected to Ligeti’s 1958 “Metamorphoses Nocturnes,” in that the Hungarian composer takes a motif and develops it throughout the work. “It’s full of special effects, playing on the bridge to make this metallic sound. It’s a very, very colorful piece, a total masterpiece.

“The Beethoven and the Ligeti really have a bond in that they were both groundbreaking compositions in their (composers') careers at the time they were writing these, and from then on,” said Holloway. “They were breaking the boundaries of what could be. Ligeti was writing really haunting music that really changes the players and the audience.” And when a violinist complained about how difficult Beethoven’s work was to perform, the giant of classical music said something to the effect of “what do I care about your lousy fiddle when the spirit speaks to me?”

The concert will close with Weiss at the keyboard for the Dvorak Piano Quintet, an 1888 composition that “is just a total joy to play. There’s a beautiful cello duo with the piano. You couldn’t get further from the Beethoven,” said Holloway. “The slow movement is a melancholic, nostalgic piece where the viola opens it with a wistful, nostalgic theme. The third movement is a Bohemian dance with a reflective trio. The last movement is an allegro in a sonata movement. The audience loves it and we never get tired of it.”

The concert marks Pacifica’s second appearance in Sarasota in less than a year. Last June, the musicians joined the faculty to work with student musicians at the Sarasota Music Festival.