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Program Notes © 2016 by Miriam Villchur Berg*

Jupiter String Quartet

Nelson Lee, violin
Megan Freivogel, violin
Liz Freivogel, viola
Daniel McDonough, cello

Ilya Yakushev, piano


Sunday, July 3, 2016, 4 pm


PROGRAM

String Quartet in B Flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6 (1795–1800) Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Allegro con brio • Adagio ma non troppo
Scherzo: Allegro • La Malinconia: Adagio — Allegretto quasi Allegro

String Quartet No. 1, “Metamorphoses nocturnes” (1953–1954) (1923–2006)
Allegro grazioso • Vivace, capriccioso • Adagio, mesto • Presto
Andante tranquillo • Tempo di Valse, moderato, con eleganza, un poco capriccioso
Allegretto, un poco gioviale • Prestissimo

Quartettsatz in C minor, D 703 (No. 12 — 1820) Franz Schubert (1797–1828)
Allegro assai

INTERMISSION

Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op. 57 (1940) Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)
Prelude: Lento • Fugue: Adagio • Scherzo: Allegretto
Intermezzo: Lento • Finale: Allegretto


 

NEXT WEEK

Saturday, July 9, 8 pm    |    Steve Gorn, bansuri flute, with Sanjoy Banerjee, vocals, Samir Chatterjee, tabla
and Namami Karmakar, harmonium and vocals

Indian Ragas

Sunday, July 10, 4 pm     |    Shanghai String Quartet
Music of Mendelssohn, Edvard Grieg, and Frank Bridge



The Yamaha Disklavier C7X grand piano in the Maverick Concert Hall is
a generous loan from Yamaha Artists Services.



 

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

The Jupiter String Quartet, formed in 2001, is a particularly intimate group, consisting of violinists Nelson Lee and Megan Freivogel, violist Liz Freivogel (older sister of Meg), and cellist Daniel McDonough (husband of Meg, brother-in-law of Liz). The Jupiter holds residencies at the University of Illinois, Oberlin, Adelphi, and at Atlanta’s Spivey Hall. From 2007 through 2010, the Quartet was in residence at Lincoln Center’s CMS Two.

The quartet concertizes across the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and the Americas, and has played in Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, London’s Wigmore Hall, Boston’s Jordan Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Library of Congress, and Seoul’s Sejong Chamber Hall. The Jupiter has performed at major music festivals, including Aspen, Caramoor, Menlo, Banff, Rockport, Skaneateles, Yellow Barn, and Seoul Spring.

In 2008 the Jupiter earned an Avery Fisher Career Grant, and Chamber Music America awarded them the 2007 Cleveland Quartet Award. Before that, the quartet won first prize in the Banff International String Quartet Competition and grand prize in the Fischoff Competition.

The quartet owes much of its musical philosophy to the influences of the original Cleveland Quartet and the Takacs Quartet, in which all four members form a dynamic and democratic union. The ensemble places a strong emphasis on outreach work in the schools, believing that chamber music, because of the intensity of its interplay and communication, is one of the most effective ways to spread enthusiasm for classical music to new audiences.

The Jupiter Quartet is named for the planet, which was prominent in the night sky at the time of the ensemble’s formation, and because the astrological symbol for Jupiter () resembles the number four. The Jupiter’s members reside in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

Winner of the 2005 World Piano Competition in Cincinnati, Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev has given solo recitals at the Bechstein Center in Berlin and at Vienna’s Musikverein, and has toured Southeast Asia. In 2007, he performed Prokofiev’s first and fourth piano concertos at Davies Symphony Hall with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas, performances that were included in the top ten classical music events of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle. He has performed in Glinka Philharmonic Hall (St. Petersburg), Victoria Concert Hall (Singapore), Carnegie Hall, and Sejong Performing Arts Center (Seoul). He has played with the Kirov Orchestra, the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Utah Symphony, the Rochester Philharmonic, and others. Mr. Yakushev received his first award at age twelve in his native St. Petersburg. In 1998, he received the Award for Excellence in Performance, presented to him by the Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation in Moscow. Most recently, Mr. Yakushev received the Gawon International Music Society Award in Seoul, South Korea.

Mr. Yakushev attended the Rimsky-Korsakov College of Music in St. Petersburg, and subsequently came to New York to attend Mannes College of Music, where he studied with legendary pianist Vladimir Feltsman. Since 2002, Mr. Yakushev has served as executive director of the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College.


ABOUT THE MUSIC

The six quartets of Beethoven’s Opus 18 represent his first serious attempt at this genre. His sonatas for violin and piano, as well as for his piano trios were already well respected. But those genres did not put him into competition with Vienna’s established masters, Haydn and Mozart. Beethoven now approached the more difficult string quartet, where he knew his work would be compared with that of his more famous colleagues.

In the String Quartet in B Flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6, the Allegro con brio starts with a violin/cello dialogue theme based on a grace note and a turn followed by bouncy staccato notes. The second theme is a march-like dotted figure. The movement follows classical sonata-allegro form fairly consistently, and we can hear how the themes are broken down into pieces and moved into different keys for the development section, then brought back, slightly changed, for the recapitulation.

In the slow second movement (Adagio ma non troppo—Slow, but not overly so), once again the themes are basic, at first simply outlining the chord in notes of equal value, then offering a lyrical stepwise melody. The violin adds ornamental descants, and the serenity continues up to the quiet pizzicato (plucked) final chord.

By this time in music history, the scherzo had largely replaced the minuet as a movement. This one, however, retains the sense of a dance, its tune livened by strong off-the-beat syncopation. The Trio section contains some violin gymnastics, and is followed, as usual, by a repeat of the Scherzo.

The focus of this quartet is the last movement, to which Beethoven gave a title as well as a tempo marking: La Malinconia—Adagio. We hear the rumblings of Beethoven’s later adventurousness in the unusual chordal progressions (including many spooky-sounding diminished chords). The melancholy is interrupted by an abrupt change to Allegretto quasi Allegro, with a cheery tune in 3/4 time. The violin/cello dialogue from the first movement is recalled, and an incomplete cadence makes us expect the resolution, but instead, we get the slow Malinconia theme again. The two themes take turns asserting themselves, until the allegro theme slows down and then speeds up to Prestissimo—as fast as possible—for the ending.

György Ligeti fled Communist Hungary in 1956, and was absorbed into the circle of serialist composers in Cologne that included Webern. He disliked the strictures of the twelve-tone system, however, and went on to invent new forms—including micropolyphony, nonstandard intonations, and unusual instrumentation—reinventing himself over and over.

Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1, “Metamorphoses nocturnes,” was written just before he emigrated to the West. The influence of Bartók can be seen in his complex rhythms and in the folk-inspired flavor of some of his melodies. All the material in the piece grows out of the initial four-note figure (G – A – G# – A#). Ligeti calls this his “basic motivic cell,” and presents it in different rhythms, in various timbres, in echo, upside down, plucked, and in a multitude of string combinations. Fast and slow sections alternate, with rhythms varying from ones that are hard to define to ones that are as regular as dances. Dissonance is juxtaposed with folk tunes, and unusual sounds such as harmonics and slides give early portents of this composer’s later innovations. The piece is played without pauses, but the markings indicate at least eight separate movements.

Franz Schubert was unable to find publishers for any but a small portion of his compositions. As a result of the world’s failure to recognize the composer’s genius at the time, many of his extant works are fragmentary. The Quartettsatz (Quartet Movement) in C Minor, D. 703, is the only surviving movement of a quartet he wrote at the age of seventeen. Young Schubert would have played it on Sunday afternoons with his family string quartet.

The slow introduction (Grave) is intense and mysterious, and that dark fervor continues in the Allegro, with halting phrases, dramatic pauses, and shifts between dark minor passages and brighter major sections.

When it was discovered, the manuscript was missing an ending; this was reconstructed in 1939 by musicologist Alfred Orel.

The Piano Quintet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 57 was Dmitry Shostakovich’s last pre-war composition. He had decided to concentrate on instrumental music, since his operas were often targets of Stalin’s wrath. The piano starts the Prelude with several melodies that weave around each other in counterpoint. This contrapuntal texture continues when the strings enter. Shostakovich was a great admirer of Bach, having learned the entire Well-Tempered Clavier before he was eleven years old. But the Bach we encounter here has a Russian accent and is set in mid-century modern harmonies.

Shostakovich continues the Baroque ambience with the slow Fugue, which follows immediately. The fugue theme has the poignant feeling of a Russian ballad. When the piano enters, it plays several voices of the fugue by itself until the strings join in to create a dense texture. The pace quickens and the intensity rises, then returns to its melancholy mood.

Shostakovich considered any Scherzo—and a sense of humor—to be extremely important. This Scherzo is indeed playful and lively, full of staccato strings, glissandos, and scale runs that remind us of a child’s piano practice, or a nursery rhyme. This is Shostakovich in his jesting mode. He recalls in his memoirs that his teacher, Alexander Glazunov, taught him to make this type of movement special: “Everything must be attractive in the scherzo, and most important, unexpected.”

The term Intermezzo originated in the opera, and referred to music played by the orchestra while the scenery was changed. In this Intermezzo, the composer has the violin play a haunting Russian ballad while the cello plucks single staccato notes, perhaps in imitation of a balalaika. The song-like line and the steady accompaniment are traded back and forth in various instrumental combinations.

There is no pause before the Finale. Here the playful and serious are combined. The main theme is in a major mode, with a march-like accompaniment. For a moment, the rhythm slows down considerably, and the melody takes on a more dramatic character, but then the lightness returns, and the piece ends on a sunny note.




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 © 2016 by Miriam Villchur Berg