ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Founded at Yale University in 1999, the Enso String Quartet has, in a little more than a decade and a half, risen to the front rank of string ensembles. Described by The Strad magazine as “thrilling,” and praised by the Washington Post for its “glorious sonorities,” the Enso has won numerous awards, including top prizes at the Concert Artists Guild competition and the Banff International String Quartet Competition. In the words of Classical Voice, it is “one of the eminent string quartets of our era.” Apart from a busy touring and teaching schedule, the New York-based quartet has made a number of critically acclaimed recordings for the Naxos label.
The group tours extensively in the United States, with concerts at Bargemusic in New York, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. Recent highlights include debuts at the Kennedy Center and in Seattle at Town Hall, and returns to Interlochen and Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music in Houston. In 2013 the group made debut appearances in both Brazil and Mexico, at Festival Internacional de Inverno de Campos do Jordão and Festival Internacional de Musica de Camera San Miguel de Allende.
The Enso’s members all were drawn to the string quartet repertoire because of its richness and diversity, and the ensemble is committed to exploring the four corners of that repertoire. The Enso regularly performs the classics of the string quartet literature, but also champions lesser-known works that deserve to be heard, along with much contemporary music, including works the Enso has commissioned. The ensemble also performs many of its own transcriptions, including arrangements of sixteenth-century Renaissance music. The Palm Beach ArtsPaper said, “The quartet’s ability to present music of three completely different idioms so persuasively puts it in the running for the mantle of Quartet of the Future.” World premieres include commissioned works by the esteemed New Zealand composer Dame Gillian Whitehead and by the American composer Kurt Stallmann. The Enso also gave the world premiere of Joan Tower’s Piano Quintet, with the composer at the keyboard.
In addition to their in-demand performances at concert halls around the world, the Enso and its individual members are sought after as instructors. The ensemble gives master classes for the next generation of professional musicians, and also works with enthusiastic amateurs, young and old, and with the autistic, in conjunction with the UK-based organization Music for Autism. The Enso has been praised for its work with schoolchildren in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Based in New York City since 2007, the Enso String Quartet was previously in residence at Rice University in Houston, Texas, and at Northern Illinois University, in DeKalb, Illinois.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
At the end of the eighteenth century, Joseph Haydn was the elder statesman of music. His obligations at the princely court of Esterháza were finished, and he had made two visits to London, where his music was widely acclaimed. He was now free to write for other patrons, and dedicated the two quartets of his Opus 77 to Prince Galitzin (the Russian ambassador to Vienna who also commissioned Beethoven’s late quartets). Over his career, Haydn made the string quartet into the pre-eminent genre of chamber music. These late quartets are considered his greatest.
In the opening Allegro moderato of the String Quartet in G Major, Op. 77, No. 1, a short dotted motif is accompanied by a sturdy march beat. The motif is highly developed, taken into different keys, put into the minor mode, and traded among the instruments.
The Adagio makes use of the cantabile (song-like) line, as is common in slow movements. After the quartet presents the theme in unison, the violin and cello take solos as the other lines provide a simple accompaniment. This beautifully mellifluous movement imparts an overall feeling of peace and serenity.
Although Haydn names the third movement a minuet (Menuetto: Presto), the rhythmic feel is one beat to a measure rather than three, and it has none of the genteel feeling of the courtly dance. The central section, (known as the Trio because in early courts it would be played on just three instruments rather than the whole orchestra) has a more rustic feeling, its emphatic bass lines contrasting with the delicate high melodies of the earlier section. The Minuet returns to round out the movement.
In the Finale (Presto) we are reminded of the playful side of Haydn. The light-hearted theme becomes the material for flights of fancy on all sides, now delicate and now full-bodied, all leading up to a satisfying final cadence.
Henri Dutilleux lived to the age of 97, and was active as a composer from the World War II era until well into the twenty-first century. He studied, and later taught, at the Paris Conservatoire. His greatest influences were Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Bartók, and the late string quartets of Beethoven, with some of the rhythms of jazz mixed in. He also said that his work was informed by Vincent van Gogh and Marcel Proust. Dutilleux was a perfectionist, destroying works that did not meet his standards and constantly revising pieces even after they were published. Although he followed, and occasionally used, modern techniques such as serialism, he wrote that he rejected their dogma and authoritarianism. He refused to be associated with any school of composing. He is known for complex rhythms, atonality and modality, pedal points (single notes that continue as harmonies change around them), and “reverse variation,” in which the thematic basis of the music is not revealed until after the variations and embellishments have been presented.
Dutilleux’s only work for string quartet, Ainsi la nuit (Thus the Night) was commissioned by the Koussevitsky Foundation. Its seven movements are linked by short “Parenthèses.” Each parenthesis either recalls material from earlier in the work or introduces themes that will occur later in the work. The work is full of special techniques such as pizzicati (plucked strings), glissandi (slides), harmonics (special silvery, flute-like effects), and extreme highs and lows of pitch and volume. The basic scale of the work is a series of six notes (known as a hexachord): C#—G#—F—G—C—D.
Joaquín Turina began his studies in his native Seville and Madrid before moving to Paris in 1905 to study with Vincent d’Indy. He became acquainted with Ravel and Debussy, and began to incorporate their French style into his music. After class one day, Isaac Albéniz and Manuel de Falla took Turina out for coffee, and talked to him about the importance of remaining true to his Spanish heritage. He wrote: “We were three Spaniards gathered together in that corner of Paris, and it was our duty to fight bravely for the national music of our country.” In 1914 he moved back to Spain, and spent the remainder of his career composing music that glorified Spain and especially his beloved Seville. He wrote orchestral, chamber, piano, vocal, and guitar music, including works specifically for the master guitarist Andres Segovia.
The Serenata has movements of various tempo markings (Allegro vivace — Andante — Allegro vivace — Andante), but the work is played without pauses, and there are many variations in tempo within the larger pattern of fast—slow—fast—slow. It starts with the cello playing pizzicato (plucked), an evocation of the guitar, Spain’s national instrument. The violin takes on the role of the flamenco singer, with soaring, decorated melodies. Although Turina did not specify a key, the piece is firmly rooted in A minor, and makes use of the Andalusian cadence, a common harmonic progression found throughout Spanish music (A minor—G major—F major—E major). Sections of dreamy music and transposition into other keys are reminiscent of Debussy, but ultimately the Spanish sound of A minor prevails. One more expression of the Andalusian cadence is followed by a final plucked note to end the piece on a distinctively Spanish note.
Alberto Ginastera is considered one of the most important Latin American classical composers of all time. His career was advancing steadily in his native Argentina until pressure from the government of Juan Perón forced him to travel first to the United States, where he became a close friend of and collaborator with Aaron Copland, and then to Europe, where his music received great acclaim. His early works were nationalistic, employing indigenous dance rhythms and inspired by the tradition of the gaucho (the landless native horseman of the plains and the symbol of Argentina).
String Quartet No. 1, Op. 20 comes from Ginastera’s nationalistic period. It opens (Allegro violento ed agitato) with a forceful theme over highly accented chords. Since the guitar is the gaucho’s instrument, Ginastera turns the pitches of open guitar strings—E, A, D, G, B, and E—into the basis of his chordal harmony. The second movement is the scherzo (Vivacissimo), with wild dance rhythms and off-beat accents. In the third movement (Calmo e poetico), the mood changes entirely to one of gentle relaxation, with a lyrical violin melody. The finale (Allegramente rustico) is in rondo form, utilizing the rhythms of Argentine folk dances. The pizzicato (plucked) section is reminiscent of Ravel’s String Quartet, and again evokes the guitar-based music of the Argentine countryside. In this quartet, Ginastera portrays the rigors of the gaucho life, including the galloping horse hooves, the stamping dances, and the serenity of evenings strumming the guitar by the campfire.
All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg.
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Program Notes © 2016 by Miriam Villchur Berg