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Program Notes © 2017 by Miriam Villchur Berg*

The Dover Quartet

Joel Link, violin
Bryan Lee, violin
Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, viola
Camden Shaw, cello



Sunday, August 6, 2017, 4pm



PROGRAM

String Quartet No. 2 in F Major, Op. 41, No. 2 (1842)    Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
Allegro vivace
Andante quasi variazioni
Scherzo: Presto—Trio: L’istesso tempo
Allegro molto vivace

String Quartet No. 3 (1945)    Szymon Laks (1901–1983)
Allegro quasi presto
Poco lento, sostenuto
Vivace non troppo
Allegro moderato, giusto

INTERMISSION

String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 11 (1871)    Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Moderato e semplice
Andante cantabile
Scherzo: Allegro non tanto e con fuoco
Finale: Allegro giusto




NEXT WEEK

Saturday, August 12, 11 am    |    Young People’s Concert    |    Harlem String Quartet    |    New Foundations VIII

Saturday, August 12, 6 pm    |    NEXUS percussion group

Sunday, August 13, 4 pm    |    Harlem String Quartet    |    New Foundations IX
Music of Borodin, Joaquin Turina, Gabriela Lena Frank, and Guido López Gavilán


The Yamaha DC7XE grand piano in the Maverick Concert Hall is
a generous loan from Yamaha Artists Services.



 

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

The Dover Quartet catapulted to international stardom following a stunning sweep—Grand Prize and all three Special Prizes— of the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition, becoming one of the most in-demand ensembles in the world. The New Yorker recently dubbed them “the young American string quartet of the moment,” and The Strad raved that the quartet is “already pulling away from their peers with their exceptional interpretive maturity, tonal refinement, and taut ensemble.” In 2013-2014, the Dover was the first ever Quartet-in-Residence for the venerated Curtis Institute of Music, and is now faculty Quartet-in-Residence at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music.

The Dover Quartet has continued to receive accolades. In 2015, the group won the highly prestigious Cleveland Quartet Award, and shortly thereafter, Lincoln Center honored the Dover as Emerging Artists, with the first annual Hunt Family Awards. In its early years, the quartet won the grand prize at the Fischoff Competition, and took special prizes at the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition.

This season, the Dover will participate in week-long residencies for Chamber Music Northwest, the Phoenix Chamber Music Festival, the Chamber Music Society of Logan, and the Festival Internacional de Musica de Cartagena. The quartet has been re-engaged a remarkable number of times for return appearances throughout the United States, Canada, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Great Britain.

The Dover Quartet participates regularly in festivals such as Chamber Music Northwest, Artosphere, La Jolla SummerFest, Bravo! Vail, and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. During the 2013-2014 season, the quartet acted as the Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence at the Caramoor Festival. Additionally, members of the Dover have appeared as soloists with some of the world’s finest orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Tokyo Philharmonic. The ensemble is an active proponent of new music: Recent performances have included a premiere of Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw’s new quartet at Dumbarton Oaks, and the premieres of multiple commissions, including works by Richard Danielpour and Michael Djupstrom.

The Dover Quartet was formed in 2008 at the Curtis Institute of Music, and continued their studies as Graduate Quartet-in-Residence at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music in 2011-2013. Because of the exceptional faculty at both of these institutions, the group draws from the musical lineage of the Cleveland, Vermeer, Concord, and Guarneri Quartets. The Dover has been mentored extensively by Shmuel Ashkenasi, James Dunham, Norman Fischer, Kenneth Goldsmith, Joseph Silverstein, Arnold Steinhardt, Michael Tree, and Peter Wiley. The ensemble is dedicated to sharing their music with underserved communities, and is an active member of Music for Food, an initiative to help musicians fight hunger in their home communities.


ABOUT THE MUSIC

Robert Schumann sometimes played the piano for seven hours a day. He was first of all a pianist—indeed, all his works were composed at the piano. Every one of Schumann’s chamber works has a piano part, with the exception of the three Opus 41 string quartets. And even these works are imbued with his pianistic style and his gift for dreamy improvisation.

Schumann set about composing in various genres in a systematic way—piano works for several years at the start of his career, then a year of songwriting, then periods of concentration on symphonies, dramatic works, or chamber music. These periods of specific compositions were interspersed with times of enormous and varied creativity, during which music in every possible genre came from his fertile imagination.

At the root of Schumann’s creativity lay storytelling, songwriting, and piano improvisation. He was the ultimate Romantic composer, and his small forms—lieder, keyboard fantasies, and collections of miniatures—were his best means of expressing the floods of emotion that welled up inside him and that sometimes tortured him. The feeling of improvisation runs through much of his music. Some have said that Schumann’s music meant more to the composer himself than it ever could to anyone else.

Schumann dedicated the three string quartets of Opus 41 to Felix Mendelssohn, who greatly admired them. Schumann himself said that he considered them “my best early work.” His String Quartet No. 2, the second of the Op. 41 collection, is upbeat and optimistic throughout. The first two movements are set in triple meters, somewhat counter to what is usual. The opening Allegro vivace presents a warm, singable theme. One can imagine this movement played on the piano. Most of the melody is played by the right hand—i.e., the first violin—with occasional melodic excursions by the left hand—i.e., the lower parts. The meter is a dance-like 6/8.

For the slow movement (Andante quasi variazioni), Schumann again chooses a compound triple meter, here 12/8 (four slow beats to a measure, each of which is divided into three). This is a theme and variations—a favorite technique of Schumann, as it was for Brahms. Here the lower voices are given more independence. In some variations, the theme is barely recognizable, serving only as a harmonic framework. Once again, we hear the pianistic style, with the composer letting his imagination run free as he plays with the possibilities of his theme.

Although the Scherzo is written in C minor, it changes keys so often that we rarely get a minor feeling. Again, he uses a meter with an underlying triple beat; this is as typical for a scherzo as it was unusual for the first two movements. The first violin—i.e., the right hand on the piano—plays virtuosic runs over a syncopated accompaniment. The Trio section lets the cello—i.e., left hand—start the melody, with the syncopation in the upper three voices. After the repeat of the first section, the two themes are combined for a brief coda.

The final movement (Allegro molto vivace) gives the greatest amount of independence to the four instruments, and also follows the rules of Classical form to the greatest extent. Several themes are presented, developed, and recombined. But rather than a typical structure in the manner of Beethoven, Schumann lays each new theme against the last, in a pastiche or mosaic style. This is the only movement written entirely in duple time, but even this one has a dancing lilt to it. The piece concludes with an even faster section.

Polish composer Szymon Laks studied mathematics and music in Warsaw. One of his compositions was performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic in 1924. He worked providing music for silent films before moving to Paris, where he continued his studies at the Conservatoire. In 1941, he was arrested as a Jew, and spent the next four years in concentration camps, including Auschwitz–Birkenau. He became the head of the orchestra, which played for the German Kommandos twice a day. In 1944 he was transferred to Dachau, and after the liberation of the camp in 1945 by the American army, returned to Paris, where he became a French citizen and lived for the rest of his life.

Laks spoke Polish, Russian, French, German, and English. In addition to composing, he wrote many books, including a history of his experiences in Auschwitz. Unable to find a publisher, he had the books printed at his own expense. He wrote that music in the camp was not a medium of resistance, but was actually part of the torture. The orchestra was required to play upbeat marches to keep laborers moving as quickly as possible, and to perform those same marches as prisoners were led into the gas chambers.

Laks’s style was neo-Classical, with formal construction and tonal harmony. He was a master of polyphonic technique, and his music has a simple and pure style that is very accessible to modern audiences. His String Quartet No. 3, “On Polish Airs,” was the first piece he composed after his liberation. It incorporates folk melodies from the many different ethnic regions of his native Poland.

Tchaikovsky was a composer torn between traditions. The Germans thought him too Russian, and the Russian nationalists considered him a sellout for adhering to Western European techniques of musical composition.

The String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11, was written specifically for a concert to promote the composer’s work: Tchaikovsky was putting his compositional capabilities on display. In the first movement, Moderato e semplice—At a moderate tempo and simply), all four instruments play the opening theme together—the most uncomplicated exposition possible. After this, the music expands in many directions, increasing in complexity and intensity and occasionally returning to some form of the initial simple presentation.

The main theme of the slow movement (Andante cantabile) became instantly popular after its first performance, and has remained so up to this day. The tune came from a Russian folk song that Tchaikovsky heard while visiting his sister in the Ukraine. Tchaikovsky was somewhat concerned by its popularity, since he wanted the public to admire his compositions, not the folk songs he borrowed. But he need not have worried, since it is his treatment of the tune that imbues it with its enduring charm.

In the scherzo (Allegro non tanto e con fuoco—Not too fast, with fire), syncopations and cross-accents add an exotic Russian feeling to the dance. The central Trio continues the syncopation, adding a melodious theme to the mix. The scherzo section is, as usual, a reprise to end the movement.

The finale (Allegro giusto) is fairly lengthy, and has numerous sections. The first theme is bright and uses a dotted rhythm, while the second, introduced by the viola, is more lyrical. The music seems to reach a climax several times, only to start again with a new perspective. At the very end, the tempo takes off for the emphatic finish.





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 © 2017 by Miriam Villchur Berg