The Brentano String Quartet began its concert in Zankel Hall with a joke—with Haydn’s String Quartet in E flat, Op. 33, No. 2, nicknamed “Joke.” This is because the composer teases the audience with several false endings. The glory of this work, I think, is the slow movement, marked Largo e sostenuto. It is beautiful, and our ensemble played it that way, with the four lines lovingly knitted together. The joking at the end was well-timed, though I found it a little sober. The audience disagreed, apparently, as they virtually exploded in mirth and appreciation.

So, the concert had begun nicely, but its momentum was quickly stopped when a composer came out onstage to talk. He said he liked an audience to meet him, to see what a “playful, mischievous...