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Program Notes © 2017 by Miriam Villchur Berg*

The Miró Quartet

Daniel Ching, violin
William Fedkenheuer,
violin
John Largess,
viola
Joshua Gindele,
cello



Sunday, June 25, 2017, 4 pm

All-Dvořák Program
The First of Seven Programs this Season Honoring Aaron Jay Kernis, Johannes Brahms, and Antonín Dvořák



PROGRAM

Selections from Cypresses (1884)    Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904)

8. In the Deepest Forest Glade (Lento)
2. Death Reigns in Many a Human Breast (Allegro ma non tropo)
3. When Thy Sweet Glances Fall on Me (Andante con moto)
9. Thou Only, Dear One (Moderato)
11. Nature Lies Peaceful in Slumber and Dreaming (Allegro scherzando)

String Quartet No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 34 (1879)    Dvořák

Allegro
Alla Polka, Allegretto scherzando
Adagio
Poco Allegro

INTERMISSION

String Quartet No. 14 in A Flat, Op. 105 (1895)   Dvořák

Adagio ma non troppo — Allegro appassionato
Molto vivace
Lento e molto cantabile
Allegro non tanto




NEXT WEEK

Saturday, July 1, 11 am   |   Young People’s Concert   |   Arturo O’Farrill Quintet
Admission is free for all young people under 16. Adults pay $5 each.
These wonderful concerts, long a Maverick tradition, are designed for enjoyment by school-age children.

Saturday, July 1, 8 pm    |    Arturo O’Farrill Quintet

Sunday, July 2, 4 pm    |    Escher String Quartet    |    Music of Schubert, Bartók, and Sibelius


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

 



 

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

Formed in 1995, the Miró Quartet is consistently praised for their deeply musical interpretations, exciting performances, and thoughtful programming. Each season, they perform throughout the world on the most important chamber music series and the most prestigious concert stages, garnering accolades from critics and audiences alike.

The Miró Quartet took its name from the Spanish artist Joan Miró, whose surrealist works—with subject matter drawn from the realm of memory and imaginative fantasy—are some of the most original of the twentieth century.

Miró Quartet took first prizes at several national and international competitions including the Banff International String Quartet Competition and the Naumburg Chamber Music Competition. The Miró was the first ensemble ever to be awarded the coveted Avery Fisher Career Grant, in 2005.

The Miró Quartet is based in Austin, Texas, and regularly tours throughout North America, Asia, and Europe. They are frequent performers in major American festivals such as the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Chamber Music Northwest, La Jolla Summerfest, and Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival. The Mirós have collaborated with noted musicians including Pinchas Zukerman, Joshua Bell, Midori, Leif Ove Andsnes, Jon Kimura Parker, and Eliot Fisk, among many others.

Concert highlights of recent seasons include a highly anticipated and sold-out return to Carnegie Hall to perform Beethoven’s complete Opus 59 Quartets, and collaborations with award-winning actor Stephen Dillane as part of Lincoln Center’s White Lights Festival.

The Miró Quartet regularly collaborates with pianist Jon Kimura Parker, percussionist Colin Currie, and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke (whom they recently performed with on the quartet’s Schubert Interrupted recording).

The Miró Quartet has served as the quartet-in-residence at the University of Texas at Austin Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music since 2003. Deeply committed to music education, members of the Miró Quartet have given master classes at universities and conservatories throughout the world.

The Quartet’s discography includes a recording of George Crumb’s Black Angels, which was awarded a Diapason d’Or award. The Quartet has recorded music of Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Schubert with cellist Matt Haimovitz (an undertaking that received a mention in The New York Times), and all six of Beethoven’s Opus 18 string quartets.

Of a recent performance, the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote: “Throughout the concert, the Miró gave lessons in the art of the string quartet, shaping each of the night’s scores with a blend of refinement and vibrancy that drew the listener deeply inside the sonic arguments.”


ABOUT THE MUSIC

Music Director Alexander Platt’s plan for the Maverick season includes a series of seven concerts, spaced throughout the summer, honoring the music of three composers: Johannes Brahms, Antonin Dvořák, and Aaron Jay Kernis. For the opening concert of the season, and the first of that series, longtime Maverick favorites the Miró Quartet presents an all-Dvořák program.

Antonín Dvořák was the son of a butcher and innkeeper. His father played the zither to entertain his guests, and recognized his eldest son’s musical ability. The boy received lessons in violin, piano, organ, and—what was essential to any Czech who wanted to get ahead—the German language. He went to Prague as a teenager to receive formal education in music. He worked as principal violist in a major theater orchestra, and when Bedřich Smetana became the conductor, the young Dvořák was able to hear and play music by composers of his own country.

When Dvořák was twenty-four, he was stricken with love for a sixteen-year-old student, and composed a set of eighteen love songs in a period of seventeen days. The girl was apparently unimpressed, but Dvořák did later marry her younger sister. In 1884, Dvořák inscribed the manuscript: “These little compositions were originally songs…. I wrote them in 1865 and now, after 22 years, I have arranged them [twelve of the original eighteen] for quartet under the title ‘The Echo of Songs.’” They were published posthumously and given the title Cypresses by his pupil and son-in-law, Josef Suk. Dvořák retains the flowing quality of the songs, substituting the violin for the voice and keeping the accompaniment simple and lyrical.

In the 1860s, Dvořák was working as a church organist, and applied for the stipend that the Austrian State gave to up-and-coming creative artists. In 1875, Johannes Brahms joined the jury, and he not only voted to award Dvořák the stipend, he also recommended the young composer to his publisher, Simrock, with a rave review: “For several years I have enjoyed works sent in by Antonín Dvořák (pronounced Dvorschak) of Prague. As a publisher, you will be particularly pleased with their piquancy. He is a very talented man.” After that, Dvořák received many offers to publish and perform. Within two years, his compositions had been heard in Dresden, Hamburg, Berlin, Nice, London, and New York.

Dvořák composed his String Quartet No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 34, after receiving his third stipend from the Austrian government, and dedicated the work to his benefactor, Brahms. In the opening Allegro, the first violin has the songlike theme in a lilting 3/4 meter, with the cello adding a steady bass and the two inner voices ornamenting the tune with graceful eighth note figures. Each voice has its turn at the fast runs, giving those grace notes importance as part of the musical idea. By the time of the first real cadence, the key has changed to F major, a fairly typical modulation. But the chord following that cadence is B major—a highly unusual and surprising modulation, since the leap from F to B is an augmented fourth, a restless interval known in medieval music as diabolus in musica (the devil in music) and completely forbidden. So after this pleasant adventure in song, Dvořák lets us know that he is free to take the music wherever he wishes, and let the rules be damned.

There is no rule that the scherzo of a string quartet has to be in a time signature based on three, but those are by far the most common meters. The scherzo, after all, evolved out of the minuet, which must be in a triple meter to suit the steps of the dance. In this piece, Dvořák replaces the scherzo with a polka (Alla Polka. Allegretto scherzando), in 2/4 time. There’s a winsome bit of irony here. This is the only section of the entire quartet written in a duple meter, and it serves the function of a scherzo, the only type of movement that is almost always written in triple meter. The polka originated as a Czech dance, so Dvořák is both adding a nationalistic flavor and honoring the spirit of the dance. In the central trio, the composer accedes to tradition and uses 3/4 time. The polka returns to finish the usual ABA structure.

The slow movement (Adagio) starts in 3/4 time. Here Dvořák pays homage to Brahms, with a full sound and rich, romantic harmonies. Instruments play in dialogue, in duet, and in many other combinations, with each one given importance. Rather than offering one singable melody, the composer creates a lush ambience with small trill-like motifs that echo from one voice to another, augmenting and encircling the themes.

As so many composers are wont to do, Dvořák adds a bit of fugal treatment to the opening of his Finale (Poco allegro). Once again, he writes in a triple meter, this time 6/8. Sharp accents and heavily rhythmic forward motion give this movement the feeling of a folk dance. After the focus on individual instruments throughout the string quartet, Dvořák ends with all the musicians playing together as one voice.

Dvořák gave the world twenty-four completed chamber works. The String Quartet in A flat, Op. 105 was the last one he completed, and it represents the full flowering of his mature style. After this piece, he concentrated exclusively on operas and symphonic poems.

The slow introduction (Adagio ma non troppo) presents the main motif—a graceful turn, like a slowed-down trill, and a rise of a third. The cello states it first, and each instrument takes it. The main body of the first movement (Allegro appassionato) is rich with varying textures—duets; clear, high homophony (all playing the same rhythm); imitative counterpoint; and solo viola or cello with soft accompaniment.

Dvořák writes a Scherzo (Molto vivace) in the style of the Bohemian dance known as the furiant. The minor melody has an Eastern European flavor, with short motifs repeated and sequenced (moved to a different starting pitch) into a long descending phrase. The same sequencing plays a part in the central Trio, which changes the mode to major and the meter to a graceful waltz.

In the slow movement (Lento e molto cantabile), we can hear the influence of Brahms in the harmonies, but the melody is Dvořák’s straightforward and individual style. Dvořák clearly delineates the various sections introducing new material and taking the song into darker, more dramatic territory for the central segment. The recapitulation of the themes lightens the mood considerably with a staccato countermelody in the second violin and pizzicato (plucked) accompaniment.

The Finale (Allegro non tanto) is the longest movement. The cello starts a dialogue with some apprehensiveness, but the other instruments respond with confidence and reassurance. Dvořák began writing this piece while was in the United States, finishing it after he returned home, and the work may express both his longing for his country and his gratitude to have returned. The feeling of contentment runs throughout the movement, and finally breaks into joyful excitement as the piece accelerates to the 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