LOGO
Program Notes © 2015 by Miriam Villchur Berg*

Dover Quartet

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

A Concert for the Friends of Maverick
Sunday, September 6, 2015, 4 pm

program

Italian Serenade (1887)
Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)

Molto vivo

String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters” (1928)
Leoš Janáček (1854-1928)

Andante – Con moto – Allegro
Adagio – Vivace – Andante – Presto – Allegro – Vivo – Adagio
Moderato – Adagio – Allegro
Allegro – Andante – Con moto – Adagio – Tempo I

intermission

String Quartet No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 41, No. 1 (1842)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Andante espressivo – Allegro
Scherzo: Presto
Adagio
Presto

next week

Saturday, September 12, 8 pm | Marc Black and Warren Bernhardt

Sunday, September 13, 2 pm | American String Quartet

Music of Mendelssohn and Beethoven, and the world premiere of
a new work by George Tsontakis, commissioned for the Maverick centennial.
This commission is made possible in part through support from County of Ulster’s
Ulster County Cultural Services & Promotions Fund, administered by Arts Mid Hudson.


 

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

The Dover Quartet (Joel Link, violin; Bryan Lee, violin; Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, viola; Camden Shaw, cello) catapulted to international stardom following a stunning sweep 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 2013-14, the Quartet became the first ever Quartet-in-Residence for the venerated Curtis Institute of Music.

During the 2014-15 season, the Dover Quartet will perform more than one hundred concerts throughout the United States, Canada, South America, and Europe. Highlights include concerts for the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, Schneider Concerts in New York City, and Wigmore Hall in London. The Quartet will also perform together with the pianists Andre Watts, Anne-Marie McDermott, and Jon Kimura Parker; the violists Roberto Díaz and Cynthia Phelps; and the Pacifica Quartet.

In addition, the Quartet 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 reengaged a remarkable number of times for return appearances throughout the United States, Canada, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Great Britain.

Last fall, the Dover Quartet won not only the Grand Prize but all three Special Prizes at the Banff International String Quartet Competition. The Quartet also won top prizes at the Fischoff Competition and the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition, and has taken part in festivals such as Chamber Music Northwest, Artosphere, La Jolla SummerFest, Bravo! Vail, and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. During the 2013-14 season, the Quartet acted as the Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence at the Caramoor Festival. Additionally, members of the Quartet have appeared as soloists with some of the world’s finest orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Tokyo Philharmonic.

The Dover Quartet draws from the musical lineage of the Cleveland, Vermeer, and Guarneri Quartets, having studied at the Curtis Institute and Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, where they were in residence from 2011 to 2013. The Quartet has been mentored extensively by Shmuel Ashkenasi, James Dunham, Norman Fischer, Kenneth Goldsmith, Joseph Silverstein, Arnold Steinhardt, Michael Tree, and Peter Wiley, and 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

Hugo Wolf is best known as a masterful and prolific composer of art songs. He stood with the avant-garde Wagnerites, calling the more classically oriented Brahms a reactionary. In a letter to a friend, Wolf wrote that the opera he envisioned writing would be filled with the strumming of guitars, sighs of love, moonlit nights, and champagne banquets.

We do not know if the Italian Serenade had a specific story behind it. We do know that Wolf was setting the poems of Eichendorff at the time. That poet also wrote a novella that tells of a young musician who charms some and antagonizes others—just as Wolf himself did. The novella contains a performance of an Italian Serenade.

Although Wolf sketched other movements, the Molto vivo is the only one completed. It starts with a carefree theme (perhaps representing the charming hero), accompanied by fast and light chords that may be imitating strummed guitars. This theme recurs, interspersed with different musical episodes, making this movement a loosely organized rondo. One of the episodes is a cello solo in recitative style, like the anguished declamation of a jilted lover. But the heaviness is belied by the delicate little figures in the other voices that punctuate the cello’s phrases. Wolf is parodying his own dramatic intensity.

At the end, the anguished theme returns, followed immediately by the cheery theme, and we hear that they are in fact merely different treatments of the same musical thought.

Leoš Janáček did not come into his own as a composer until after the age of fifty, and wrote some of his best work, including the String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters,” after the age of seventy. One of the main inspirations for his late-life creativity was his passionate, though apparently unconsummated, love for Kamila Stosslova, a married woman thirty-eight years his junior. Each movement represents a letter to his beloved Kamila.

Even though the melodies and harmonies Janáček employs in the opening movement (Andante – Con moto – Allegro) are nontraditional, the composer manages to find irregular chords that retain their sweetness, and strange modulations that do not jar us overmuch. Rather than using dissonance for its difference, its modernity, or its shock value, he seems to be asking us to open our ears and notice that these unusual lines can also be beautiful. The many tempo changes in this and later movements probably correspond to the lover’s many moods. This is a very personal piece of music. We cannot know exactly what he was saying to Kamila, but we can respond to its emotional intensity.

The second movement starts with the usual slow tempo (Adagio), but again goes through many changes of speed. We hear moments of anguish and uncertainty, relieved by hopeful passages and a final sigh of contentment.

In the third movement (Moderato – Adagio – Allegro), Janáček starts with a more conversational tone, but his letter becomes more intensely romantic as it progresses. The ending is a high, intense cry.

The Finale (Allegro – Andante – Con moto – Adagio – Tempo I) is a wild emotional journey. A pizzicato (plucked) section imitates a strummed guitar accompanying a high aria, and the song continues with bowed strings beneath it. The only truly angry part of the work can be found in the dark, harsh, fast-bowed sections which interrupt the song several times. These tortured passages may have to do with Janáček’s despair at not being able to be with the one he loved. The sunnier sections seem to portray his intense joy at having found such a love in his life, even though the affair never went further than a kiss.

The love story between Leoš Janáček and Kamila Stosslova has a tragic ending. One dark and stormy night, Kamila was inconsolable because one of her children was missing. Leoš spent the night searching for him in the rain. The boy was found, but Janáček developed a lung infection from which he never recovered. We can assume that he died happy, however, knowing the he had helped reunite his beloved with her child.

Robert Schumann was the consummate Romantic composer. Many of his works have literary references, but even those that do not are expressive of his own inner thoughts. He was a dreamer, fascinated by the world of fantasy and imagination. In his youth, he sometimes played the piano for seven hours a day. The feeling of improvisation runs through much of his music. Some have said that Schumann’s music meant more to him than it ever can to anyone else.

Rather than follow the Beethovenian model of the development of musical motifs, he based his works on melody and its reformulation. Schumann was basically a miniaturist. His larger works often have a mosaic quality, like many small pieces joined into one. Schumann idolized Schubert (another melodist), and wept all night when he heard of Schubert’s death. Another important influence was Bach, whose music he studied at length. Like Bach, Schumann based his written music on the free flow of ideas that came to him while extemporizing. Although they use very different musical idioms, both Bach and Schumann use a wide range of textures and techniques within a small work.

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.

He composed his only three string quartets in the space of little more than a month in 1842. His diaries show that he studied the works of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven in preparation for composing. In the String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 41, No.1, he pays homage to the counterpoint of Bach in the slow introduction (Andante espressivo), as well as in the opening of Allegro proper. Throughout the movement, forceful statements alternate with gentle tuneful passages.

Schumann dedicated the set of three string quartets to his friend Felix Mendelssohn, and the Scherzo displays the qualities of some of that composer’s works—delicacy, excitement, movement, and mystery. The central section, which he calls an Intermezzo, provides the calm, poetic contrast. The scherzo returns to complete the frame.

The cello begins the slow movement (Adagio) with a rising arpeggio. The violin and other instruments build an aria-like song upon that foundation, and then provide bowed and plucked accompaniment for the cello’s turn at the aria. As the mood changes to one of intense drama, individual voices add their lines to the texture, creating a crescendo of emotion. Once again, the cello announces the gentle ending with a simple rising arpeggio.

The finale (Presto) is a tour de force with a Roma (Gypsy) flavor. Open fifth double stops (two notes bowed at the same time) in the cello emphasize the folk feeling. The development makes full use of the possibilities of the theme. A slow section with bagpipe-like accompaniment interrupts the action, until fragments of the theme reappear in the dramatic coda.

 


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