Program Notes © 2015 by Miriam Villchur Berg*

Steve Gorn, bansuri flute
Samarth Nagarkar, vocal
Ray Spiegel, tabla
Rohan Prabhudesai, harmonium

This concert ​is ​underwritten by a generous gift from Sally Grossman.

Saturday, July 25, 2015, 8 pm



The program will be announced from the stage.

There will be an intermission.



Sunday, July 26, 4 pm | Latitude 41 piano trio
Music of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Daron Hagen



next week

Saturday, August 1, 8 pm | Fred Hersch, jazz piano

Sunday, August 2, 4 pm | Escher Quartet
Music of Haydn, Schubert, and Bartók


Acclaimed as one of America’s outstanding ensembles, the Manhattan-based Cassatt String Quartet (Muneko Otani, violin; Jennifer Leshnower, violin; Sarah Adams, viola; and Elizabeth Anderson, cello) has performed throughout North America, Europe, and the Far East, with appearances at New York’s Alice Tully Hall and Weill Recital Hall, the Tanglewood Music Theater, the Kennedy Center and Library of Congress in Washington, DC, the Theatre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, and Maeda Hall in Tokyo. The Quartet has been presented on major radio stations such as NPR, WQXR, WNYC, Boston’s WGBH, and on Canada’s CBC Radio and Radio France. The New York Times called a recent concert “... an undulant, lyrical and insightful performance...”

Formed in 1985 with the encouragement of the Juilliard Quartet, the Cassatt initiated and served as the inaugural participants in Juilliard’s Young Artists Quartet Program. Their numerous awards include a Tanglewood Chamber Music Fellowship, the Wardwell Chamber Music Fellowship at Yale (where they served as teaching assistants to the Tokyo Quartet), first prizes at the Fischoff and Coleman chamber music competitions, two top prizes at the Banff International String Quartet Competition, two CMA/ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming, and commissioning grants from Meet the Composer and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2004, they were selected for the centennial celebration of the Coleman Chamber Music Association in Pasadena, California.

The Cassatt Quartet has performed at the Beijing Modern Music Festival as well as at Chamber Music America’s National Conference, Music Mountain, and Bargemusic with pianist Ursula Oppens. They will continue their unique collaboration with the Kyo-Shin-An Ensemble at New York City’s Tenri Cultural Center to give performances for quartet, koto, shakuhachi, and shamisen. This year marks their ninth annual Cassatt in the Basin! educational chamber music residency at Texas A&M University with Maestro Benjamin Zander.

Equally adept at classical masterpieces and contemporary music, the Cassatt has collaborated with a remarkable array of artists and composers including pianist Marc-André Hamelin, soprano Susan Narucki, flutist Ransom Wilson, jazz pianist Fred Hersch, didgeridoo player Simon 7, the Trisha Brown Dance Company, members of the Cleveland and Vermeer Quartets, and composers Louis Andriessen and John Harbison.

With a deep commitment to nurturing young musicians, the Cassatt, in residencies at Princeton, Yale, and Syracuse universities, the University at Buffalo, and the University of Pennsylvania, has devoted itself to coaching, conducting sectionals, and reading student composers’ works, while offering lively musical presentations in music theory, history, and composition. They were selected by Chamber Music America as guest artists for its New Music Institute, a series to help presenters market new music to their audiences.

The Cassatt has recorded for the Koch, Naxos, New World, Point, CRI, Tzadik, and Albany labels, and has been named three times by The New Yorker magazine’s Best Of...CD Selection. The ensemble is named for the celebrated American impressionist painter Mary Cassatt.




Joan Tower was born in New Rochelle, but spent much of her childhood in South America. She returned to the US and earned a doctorate in composition from Columbia. She founded and performed with the award-winning Da Capo Chamber Players, and was appointed composer-in-residence with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. She now serves as the Asher Edelman Professor of Music at Bard College. Ms. Tower has been honored with the highest awards, including a Naumburg, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Grawemeyer, and membership in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She has been the subject of television documentaries on PBS, CBS’s Sunday Morning, and MJW Productions in England.

The composer writes: “What I try to do in my music, and particularly in this piece, is create a heat from within, so that what unfolds is not only motivated by the architecture of the piece (which I consider the most important goal), but also that each idea or phrase contains a strong ‘radiance’ of texture and feeling about it. In other words, the complete ‘action’ of rhythm, texture, dynamic, harmony, and register has a strong enough profile that it creates an identity with a ‘temperature,’ one felt rather than observed.

“In Incandescent, my third string quartet, basically five actions or ideas unfold, develop, interact, and gradually change their ‘temperatures.’ They are a three-note collection that initially appears as an upper and lower neighbor to a central note at the very opening of the piece and later turns around on itself repeatedly in the first violin; a repetitive, dense, held-in-place, and narrowly registered dissonant chord; a consonant arpeggiation that creates a ‘melody’ distributed throughout the instruments; a climbing motive that initially outlines an octatonic scale (whole steps alternating with half steps) and later shifts into both whole-tone and chromatic scales; and, finally, wide leaps that first appear in the first violin and are subsequently picked up by the viola. The extended sixteenth-note passages that occur throughout, finally arriving at a virtuosic, Vivaldi-like cello solo, include all these motives in different guises and temperatures.”

Woodstock composer Peter Schickele has written works on commission for the many major orchestras. His film credits include music for Fantasia 2000, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and the prize-winning Silent Running. For many years he hosted a weekly syndicated radio program, Schickele Mix, broadcast nationwide over Public Radio International. Schickele is also well known for touring with his close acquaintance Professor Schickele, performing and discussing the music of P.D.Q. Bach.

The composer writes this about his String Quartet No. 1: “There are several kinds of American music echoed in the quartet, but they are usually transformed or combined or interrupted or given a feeling of distance; hence the subtitle ‘American Dreams.’ The material is almost all original—the only actual quotes occur in the fourth movement—but the influence of the various folk styles pervades the whole work.”

Opening Diptych has the wide-open cadences of the music of the pioneers as they crossed the Great Plains, its steady, rhythmic accompaniment reminiscent of horses’ hooves. This is followed by a plucked cello aria with a soft, bowed ostinato (a constantly repeating phrase) beneath it.

Four Studies starts with the strings in unison, singing a blues tune. It is marked Dramatic, quasi Cadenza. The second study, Fast Driving but Cool, gives the first tune a compelling forward motion. The third study, Slow Foxtrot, has the inflections and dissonances of jazz standards, played as chords moving together in parallel. The fourth study, Blues Toccata, is in fast, perpetual-motion style, with irregular rhythms, high repeated notes, and occasional forays as different instruments take solos.

Music at Dawn starts with a musically accurate representation of the call of the wood thrush, with its varied leaps and chirrs. This bird keeps itself hidden, singing from deep in the woods only in the early morning and the late evening. The other strings add a mellow background, suited to the drowsy pre-waking hours.

In Dance Music, the violins are instructed to play senza vibrato (without vibrato), giving them the distinctive American sound of country fiddles. The Celtic origins of Appalachian music can be heard in the waltzes, two-steps, and jigs that are combined in this movement.

The Closing Diptych employs ethereal harmonics, the horse-hoof rhythm (very softly, in the cello), and familiar, upbeat Western tunes.

Schubert followed the musical forms and conventions of the Classical Viennese school, but employed the bold harmonies and emotional expressiveness of the Romantic composers. He did not provide any literary or textual explanations for his chamber or orchestral music except in the case of the String Quartet in D Minor, D. 810, titled “Death and the Maiden.” The quartet takes its name from the theme of the second movement, which is based on Schubert’s setting of a poem by Matthias Claudius. The poem (and Schubert’s song) describes an encounter between Death and a young girl — Death is portrayed as a seducer; the girl tries to reject his advances but finally succumbs with resignation. Schubert’s writings from the period convey his preoccupation with his poor health. It is possible that he chose this dark song as the basis for this quartet in order to express his inner turmoil about the possibility of his own death. The entire piece portrays the confrontation with death as a heroic struggle.

The opening measures of the Allegro establish an intense rhythmic figure—a long note followed by three very short notes (triplets) and another long. This triplet figure occurs in various forms throughout the movement and creates a feeling of agitation and anticipation. The descending minor scale figure adds to the mysterious quality.

The heart of the quartet is in the Andante, five variations on the “Death and the Maiden” song. After presenting the theme unadorned, Schubert puts the melody in triplets with a high descant. The second variation gives the cello the lead. The third starts with vigorous sforzati (sharp accents) on every beat, while the fourth is soft and legato with the theme subdued and the first violin playing high embellishments. In the last variation, the melody is once again emphasized, with dramatic changes in volume. The movement ends with a short coda.

The Scherzo (Allegro molto) uses syncopations to create a driving rhythm. This is contrasted by a central Trio, with one of Schubert’s signature sweet melodies, followed by a repeat of the opening scherzo.

The mood of the Finale (Presto) is in the style of the Italian dance known as the tarantella. This dance, with its fast and violent steps, was thought to protect the dancer from the poison of a tarantula's bite and is thus a kind of dance of death. The tarantella is contrasted with passages of long notes in a grand melody in the major mode, introduced with all the instruments together. The coda is marked prestissimo (as fast as possible), continuing the rhythmic intensity of the quartet up to the very last note. Each time it seems to end, it starts again, refusing to give up the ghost.

All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg.
It is permissible to quote short excerpts for reviews. For permission to quote more extensive portions, or to copy, publish, or make other use of these program notes, please contact her at miriam@hvc.rr.com.

Program Notes © 2015 by Miriam Villchur Berg