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Classical Pick: String Quartet Weekend

The Johannes Quartet — half of the musical firepower needed for Mendelssohn's Octet

Photo by Lisa Marie MazzuccoThe Johannes Quartet — half of the musical firepower needed for Mendelssohn's Octet

It’s rare indeed that three major string quartets perform at the same venue on the same weekend, but it’s happening at Royce Hall and it’s a great chance to get a glimpse of just how interesting the standard ensemble of violin, viola and cello can get. On Saturday, take a trip to Hungary, when the Grammy-winning Takacs Quartet explores the Gypsy roots in Béla Bartók’s music, with Hungary’s star folk ensemble Muzikas and beloved Hungarian vocalist Marta Sebestyen, whose hauntingly beautiful voice you might recall from the film The English Patient. Bartók devoted much of his life to unearthing and cataloging his country’s folk music, and between the Takacs, Muzikas and Sebestyen, prepare to get a genuine Roma rush as these top-drawer musicians belt out tziganes, czardas and other passionately rhythmic tunes and dances from their native land. On Sunday, it’s dueling string quartets — sort of — when the legendary Guarneri Quartet and their fellow Marlboro Music Festival alumni, the Johannes Quartet — share the stage for what should be a spectacular program that includes three L.A. premieres: a new octet by William Bolcom and new quartets by Derek Bermel and Esa-Pekka Salonen. But the highlight of the evening is sure to come when the two master ensembles lay into Mendelssohn’s whirlwind Octet — a chamber music tour de force that just might blow the roof right off. At UCLA, Royce Hall; Takacs Quartet on Fri., Nov. 21, 8 p.m.; Guarneri and Johannes quartets: Sat., Nov. 22, 8 p.m.; $26-$50. (310) 825-2101, www.uclalive.org.