Kurtag, 6 Moments musicaux for string quartet

March 5, 2018

György Kurtág (born 1926)

6 Moments musicaux, Op. 44 (1999-2005)

György Kurtág György Kurtág, a living composer now in his early nineties, is widely regarded as one of the most important avant-garde composers coming into prominence in the second half of the 20th century. Kurtág was born of Hungarian parents but grew up in a part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire that became part of Romania in 1918. Speaking Hungarian at home and Romanian at school, he moved to Budapest in 1946 to study music at the Franz Liszt Academy and soon became a Hungarian citizen. Kurtág graduated with degrees in piano, chamber music and composition and established his initial reputation as a pianist. Despite the disastrous uprising of 1956 and a brief yearlong sojourn in Paris in 1957/8, Kurtág chose to remain in Hungary and has been cited as the only composer to live through the communist regime (lasting until 1989) and achieve an international recognition.

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Schubert, Quartettsatz

February 24, 2018

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

String Quartet No. 12, “Quartettsatz”, D. 703 (1820)

Franz Schubert Franz Schubert wrote at least 17 works for string quartet, the bulk of which he composed for the practical purpose of playing chamber music at home with his family. These earlier works, designed for his father, brothers and himself, are skillful, winning and, due to the technical limitations of his family members, suitable for amateur players. This all changed with the so-called “Quartettsatz” (a posthumously applied title meaning “quartet movement”) of 1820 written when Schubert was in his early 20s.

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Webern, Fünf Sätze for String Quartet, Op. 5

February 19, 2018

Anton Webern (1883-1945)

Fünf Sätze (Five Movements) for String Quartet, Op. 5 (1909)

Anton Webern 100 years after Beethoven’s “Harp” quartet, as the hallowed history of the string quartet reached its 150 year anniversary, the few years of 1908-1909 witnessed the beginnings of a tectonic shift in the genre and, indeed, classical music in general. Arnold Schoenberg, the founding father of the radical Second Viennese School, completed his infamous second string quartet in 1908 and self-published it the following year. The first bold innovation was adding a human soprano to sing song texts in the third and fourth movements. The second more radical departure was Schoenberg’s abandonment of tonality in the finale, the first important instance of atonal music for string quartet. Significantly, the text from a poem by Stefan George begins “I feel the air of a new planet.” The premiere caused a scandal.

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Schumann, Piano Quintet, Op. 44

February 8, 2018

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44 (1842)

Robert Schumann Robert Schumann is one of the quintessential Romantic figures of the 19th century. He grew up with twin loves for literature and music and became a great composer and well as a great literary figure, one of the most esteemed and insightful musical commentators of his time. He fell passionately in love with Clara and fought a two-year legal battle against her father to win her hand in marriage. Schumann almost manically attacked the great genres of music and composed, in concentrated fits, piano works, art songs, symphonies and chamber music amassing a formidable catalog of masterworks before madness set in.

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Igor Stravinsky, Petrushka (chamber transcription)

February 8, 2018

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Petrushka (1910–11, revised 1947)

Arranged by Yuval Shapiro for flute, clarinet, violin/viola, cello, harp and piano

Igor Stravinsky with Vaslav Nijinsky in costume for Petrushka, 1911 One of the towering composers of the 20th Century, Igor Stravinsky secured his initial reputation with three extraordinary ballet scores for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913). Marshalling huge orchestral forces, a dazzling technique initially drawn from the Russian Nationalists such as Rimsky-Korsakov, and an innovative approach above all to complex, bristling rhythms, Stravinsky astonished Parisian audiences initially to riot and then quickly to unbridled adoration. While The Firebird seems an extension of his Russian forebears and the Rite of Spring a milestone of nearly apocalyptic modernism, Petrushka strikes a brilliant balance and may well be the foremost of the triptych to most music lovers.

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Ravel, Introduction and Allegro

February 8, 2018

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet (1905)

Maurice Ravel In the first years of the 20th Century, Debussy and Ravel were championed as the latest important voices in French Art Music, each playing important roles within an intoxicating style generally labeled Impressionism. In a reflection more of fans and critics than the actual relationship between the two composers or their musical styles, Parisians would even take sides in a feisty rivalry of Debussy vs. Ravel. This passionate dichotomy lent itself to another contest of the period: a competition between two rival manufacturers of the concert harp, each with a different solution for equipping with instrument with the complete array of chromatic tones.

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Elliott Carter, Esprit Rude / Esprit Doux

February 8, 2018

Elliott Carter (1908-2012)

Esprit rude/Esprit doux for flute and clarinet(1984)

Elliott Carter American composer Elliott Carter was a true phenomenon. Born in 1908, he lived to the age of 103 writing more than 60 new works even after the age of 90. Carter studied at Harvard where he was mentored by Charles Ives, studied in Paris with the esteemed Nadia Boulanger and was eventually awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice (for his second and third string quartets) among several other awards and prizes. Growing out of numerous influences including Stravinsky, Copland, Roy Harris and Paul Hindemith, Carter’s mature style occupies an individual world all his own featuring a predominantly atonal vocabulary, a systematic exploration of pitch collections, and, especially, a daunting exploration of rhythm and tempo often assigning a different character of motion to each part forming complex, ever-changing polyrhythms.

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George Enescu, Octet for Strings

February 2, 2018

George Enescu (1881-1955)

String Octet, Op. 7, 1900 (published in 1905, premiered in 1909)

George Enescu Enescu was a true musical prodigy of the rarest kind. He started playing violin at 4, composing at 5, became the youngest student ever admitted to the Vienna Conservatory when he was 7, graduated when he was 13, spent 4 years at the Paris Conservatory while premiering his first mature composition at the age of 16. As he would spend much of his life and earn much of his fame in Paris as well as Romania, Enescu is also widely known by the French version of his name, Georges Enesco. While he thought of himself first and foremost as a composer, over time, Enescu blossomed into one of the most complete musicians in history: a virtuoso concert violinist (one of the finest of his generation), superb pianist, conductor, teacher, mentor, dedicatee of numerous extraordinary masterworks emerging from the best composers of the day, and finally, as well, a truly original and astonishing composer.

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George Enescu, Aubade for String Trio

February 2, 2018

George Enescu (1881-1955)

Aubade in C Major for String Trio, 1899

George Enescu Enescu penned his Aubade for string trio one year earlier than the stunning Octet and there is no more perfect contrast for a mini-showcase of Enescu’s fine art. Concise, charming and so skillfully crafted, this little lilting scherzo and trio is a lovers’ goodbye kiss, an aubade being the opposite of the serenade: one at night, one in the morning, both sharing the lovers’ impetus to woo with music. At the other end of the spectrum from the sprawling epic for octet, this little ditty for spare string trio still projects a layered, rich texture possibly evoking a joyfully whistling lover departing on loping horseback to the accompaniment of a country fiddle, a rustic Romanian folk tune in a fresh, new morning after love.

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Bartók, Romanian Folk Dances

February 2, 2018

Béla Bartók (1881-1945)

Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56 BB 68, 1915

Béla Bartók The great 20th century Hungarian composer Béla Bartók needs no introduction to most music lovers. It is a wonderful thematic coincidence that he was born the same year as Enescu. Their deeper connection is a shared Eastern European heritage and, specifically for our Fantezie program, Bartók’s famous setting of six Romanian Folk Dances. Bartók’s profound musical legacy stems from two different but interrelated aspects of his identity as both an early 20th Century avant-garde composer of art music, and a skillfully devoted ethnomusicologist cataloging a diversity of Eastern European folk musics which he sensed would quickly disappear in the modern world.

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Eugène Ysaÿe, Ballade for Enescu

February 2, 2018

Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931)

Sonata in d minor, Op. 27, No. 3, Ballade, 1923 (Dedicated to George Enescu)

Eugène Ysaÿe Eugène Ysaÿe was at least generation or so older than George Enescu. A Belgian violinist, composer and conductor, Ysaÿe was widely regarded as among the greatest violinists of his age particularly as an exponent of the Franco-Belgian school. Known as the “King of the Violin” and even “The Tsar”, famous musicians and composers lauded him with superlatives. He performed and taught throughout Europe receiving eminent praise in the form of composers’ dedications for such works as César Franck’s Violin Sonata in A and Ernest Chausson’s Poème while, as a member of the Ysaÿe Quartet, he premiered Claude Debussy’s String Quartet. As his technique faded with age, Ysaÿe turned to teaching, composing and serving as artistic director with the Cincinnati Orchestra at which time he made some recordings.

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Fauré, Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor

October 31, 2017

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)

Piano Quartet No. 2 in G minor, Op. 45 (1886)

Gabriel Fauré It has been said that Gabriel Fauré was the most important French Composer between Berlioz and Debussy, particularly in the genre of instrumental music. Opera dominated the French music scene for much for much of the 19th century until Saint-Saëns, Franck and a whole generation of late-Romantic French composers turned to writing sonatas and quartets. Over time, they established a new emerging school of French chamber music culminating in Debussy and Ravel with the turn of the 20th century. Fauré may well have been the most important force in this history. Within France, he is highly regarded; beyond France, he is known for a handful of beautiful pieces, but is otherwise elusive, a less than major composer that slips through the cracks.

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Frank Martin, Trio on Irish Folk Tunes

October 24, 2017

Frank Martin, 1890-1974

Trio sur des mélodies populaires irlandaises (Trio on Irish Folk Tunes), 1925

Frank MartinThe 20th century Swiss composer Frank Martin is not even mentioned in standard "listener's guides" to Classical music, chamber music or otherwise. A descendant of French Huguenots (devout Calvinists who fled persecution in France and resettled in various places including Geneva), Martin would turn to composing deeply religious choral and instrumental music in his final years producing some of the most highly regarded sacred vocal works of the 20th century. But his instrumental music is equally marvelous. Martin's most widely known work is the novel Petite symphonie concertante featuring piano, harpsichord, harp and two small string orchestras. Martin played piano and harpsichord and throughout all of his music he displays a great sensitivity to timbre and its combinations in dazzling ensemble textures. Even in a symphonic concerto, he displays a masterful chamber music sensibility.

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Beethoven, String Quartet No. 12 in E-flat Major, Op. 127

October 22, 2017

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

String Quartet No. 12 in E-flat Major, Op. 127, 1824-1825

Ludwig van BeethovenBeethoven's Op. 127 is the first of his legendary "late quartets," six string quartets that comprise Beethoven's final and perhaps greatest musical achievement. Besides some aborted sketches, he had not worked significantly in the genre for over a decade since the Op. 95 "Serioso" quartet of 1810. In the interim, Beethoven composed his final piano sonatas, the Missa Solemnis and the 9th Symphony, all magnificent works of a towering stature. The last piano sonatas, "late" in the same profound sense as the late quartets would be, inaugurated several of the stylistic traits of his final period: innovative forms bordering on fantasia, sublime beauty, deeply intimate emotion, epic lengths, superhuman virtuosity and a beautiful obsession with seemingly inexhaustible variation.

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Hindemith, String Quartet No. 4, Op. 22

October 22, 2017

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)

String Quartet No. 4, Op. 22, 1921

Paul HindemithThe chamber music of Paul Hindemith is rare on the concert stage these days. This is somewhat ironic, perhaps doubly so. For most of his life in the first half of the 20th century, Hindemith was considered one of Germany's greatest composers. In addition, one of his chief aesthetic concerns was Gebrauchsmusik, music for use in everyday life with a practical purpose. In opposition to the increasingly arcane and alienating music from a musical ivory tower pursing "art for art's sake," Hindemith hoped to engage the common man, fulfilling his need to make and enjoy music as a natural capacity. Nonetheless, after his death, Hindemith and his prolific output have seemed to largely elude both the avant-garde and the man on the street.

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Gold Coast Chamber Players, Family Business

September 23, 2017

Family Business

For a program by the Gold Coast Chamber Players

Fanny MendelssohnMusical genius can be found in musicians and composers from all kinds of circumstances, even against all odds. But history shows a vivid pattern of musical families, even dynasties. The latest research suggests that musical aptitude and talent is rooted in nature, in our genes to some extent, as well as nurture: how that musical proclivity is encouraged, supported and nourished. With this in mind, it is perhaps not surprising that music "runs" in families: a combination of genes and lifestyle. This marvelous program is inspired by musical families, the Bach's, the Mozart's, and the Mendelssohn's.

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Mendelssohn, Piano Sextet, Op. 110

September 23, 2017

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Piano Sextet in D major, Op. 110

Felix Mendelssohn Moving forward a few decades, and from Vienna to Berlin, we encounter the Mendelssohn family. A distinguished upper-middle class family with ample nature and über nurture with the finest resources, luxuries and connections Europe could provide yielded perhaps the greatest musical prodigy of all time, Felix Mendelssohn. Felix was a very well educated and well-rounded musician who began composing serious masterworks by the time he was 14. To really grasp this extraordinary individual phenomenon, you need only listen to a short series of works spanning Felix’s meteoric rise to fame from aged 14 to 18: a string symphony, the piano sextet (on this program), the string octet, the overture to the Midsummer’s Night Dream, and his string quartet, Op. 13.

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Yinam Leef, Triptych (Homage to Oedeon Partos)

September 5, 2017

Yinam Leef (1953)

Triptych (Homage to Oedeon Partos) for clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano (1997)

Yinam LeefThe recipient of numerous prestigious awards, Yinam Leef is an Israeli composer, born in Jerusalem, educated in Israel and the United States and currently the chairman of the Department of Composition, Conducting and Theory at the Jerusalem Rubin Academy and Dance. His composition teachers have included Mark Kopytman, Richard Wernick, George Rochberg, George Crumb and Luciano Berio. Leef's substantial output includes concerti, symphonies, choral works and a variety of chamber music including two string quartets. In his book, Twenty Israeli Composers (1997), Robert Fleisher summarizes that Leef's works are "characterized by his threefold commitment: to universal, Western-oriented post-serial composition; to local or locally echoing musical traditions of Jewish and Middle Eastern modality and timbre; and to the young Israeli ("Canaanite") search for musical identity."

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Stravinsky, Suite from L'Histoire du Soldat

September 5, 2017

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Suite from L'Histoire du Soldat (for violin, clarinet and piano), (1919)

Igor StravinskyBy 1919, just barely into his first decade as a professional composer, Stravinsky was well on his way towards becoming one of the most important and sensational new composers of the 20th century. His successful partnership with Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes in Paris yielded three stunning ballet scores for massive orchestra, the works for which Stravinsky is most famous today: The Firebird (1910), Petroushka (1911) and the Rite of Spring (1913). Despite his stunning achievements, 1919 found Stravinsky stranded in Lausanne, Switzerland in rather dire financial straits. WWI had made a desperate shambles of Europe sapping any hope for staging large concerts or obtaining new commissions while the Russian Revolution cut Stravinsky off from his family fortune as well as any hopes for ongoing royalty payments.

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Gypsy Music-River of Fire

July 27, 2017

I met Eugenia Moliner, flutist of the Cavatina Duo, at a chamber music conference in January, 2017. As we chatted, I was instantly struck by her vibrant passion for music and life, her "Mediterranean" emotional expressiveness. When Eugenia told me she and her husband, guitarist Denis Azabagic were planning a new project inspired by Gypsy music with its roots going all the way back to India, I asked Eugenia if she had heard of Latcho Drom, the seminal Gypsy music documentary by Tony Gatlif. Her eyes grew wide, and with a huge, electric smile, she exclaimed “Yes! I LOVE that movie!” In that moment, I felt we made a deep connection in sharing a love for this vividly unique culture. "Musical soul mates", I thought. But aren’t we all?

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