Pacifica Quartet

Simin Ganatra, violin
Sibbi Bernhardsson, violin
Masumi Per Rostad, viola
Brandon Vamos, cello

American Landscapes X: Celebrating Carter

Sunday, August 31, 2014, 4 pm

program

Two Fragments for String Quartet (1994 and 1999)
Elliott Carter (1908-2012)

Fragment I
Fragment II

String Quartet No. 6 in F Minor, Op. 80 (1847)
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Allegro vivace assai
Allegro assai
Adagio
Finale: Allegro molto

intermission

String Quartet No. 5 (1995)
Carter
1. Introduction
2. Giocoso
3. Interlude I
4. Lento espressivo
5. Interlude II
6. Presto scorrevole
7. Interlude III
8. Allegro energico
9. Interlude IV
10. Adagio sereno
11. Interlude V
12. Capriccioso

String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135 (1826)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Allegretto
Vivace
Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo
Grave, ma non troppo tratto — Allegro

 

next week

Saturday, September 6, 8 pm

Happy Traum: Solo with Friends, featuring cellist Abby Newton and multi-instrumentalist David Amram

Sunday, September 7, 4 pm

A Concert for the Friends of Maverick

American String Quartet

Music of Haydn, Mendelssohn, and Brahms

Regular Maverick tickets not valid for this event.
A donation of $50 receives an invitation to
the concert and reception; a donation of $100 or more receives two invitations.

 


LOGO
Program Notes © 2014 by Miriam Villchur Berg*


ABOUT THE ARTISTS

Recognized for its virtuosity, exuberant performance style, and often daring repertoire choices, over the past two decades the Pacifica Quartet has gained international stature as one of the finest chamber ensembles performing today. The Pacifica tours extensively throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia, performing regularly in the world’s major concert halls. Named quartet-in-residence at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music in March 2012, the Pacifica was also quartet-in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009 to 2012) – a position that has otherwise been held only by the Guarneri String Quartet – and received the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance.

Formed in 1994, the Pacifica Quartet quickly won chamber music’s top competitions, including the 1998 Naumburg Chamber Music Award. In 2002 the ensemble was honored with Chamber Music America’s Cleveland Quartet Award and an appointment to Lincoln Center’s CMS Two, and in 2006 was awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant, becoming only the second chamber ensemble so honored in the grant’s long history. Also in 2006 the quartet was featured on the cover of Gramophone and heralded as one of “five new quartets you should know about,” the only American quartet to make the list. And in 2009, the Quartet was named “Ensemble of the Year” by Musical America.

The members of the Pacifica Quartet live in Bloomington, Indiana, where in addition to their post as quartet-in-residence they are full-time faculty members at the Jacobs School. Prior to their appointment, the quartet was on the faculty of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana from 2003 to 2012. The Pacifica Quartet also serves as resident performing artists at the University of Chicago.

The Pacifica Quartet is endorsed by D’Addario and proudly uses their strings.

ABOUT THE MUSIC

American composer Elliott Carter studied in Paris under Nadia Boulanger, who taught her students musical architecture, adventurousness, and an appreciation of music of all eras, along with a rigorous education in musical technique (Carter had to write strict counterpoint in twelve parts). He has written that he considers music a link between math, science, ancient and modern languages, and literature. He said his goal was to simplify the style of the music in order to make it more accessible.

In his later works, he sought to create the impression that the players are simultaneously improvising independently. He invented “metric modulation,” a way of precisely notating continually changing tempi.

His many awards included a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pulitzer, a Naumburg, and membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Carter completed a Symphonia when he was eighty-eight, and wrote his first opera at the age of ninety.

Two Fragments for String Quartet create an eerie but strangely calm mood through the use of special string techniques such as harmonics, tremolo, and pizzicato. Of the first fragment, the composer wrote: “Fragment for String Quartet was composed on August 30, 1994, in Southbury, Connecticut, in memory of my good friend and colleague David Huntley. This short work uses harmonics for the strings throughout, which, I hope, give a poignant character to my musical message. It had its premiere by the Kronos Quartet in New York at a concert dedicated to the memory of David on October 13, 1994.”

Felix Mendelssohn was a precocious musical talent, composing and performing his own works at the age of nine. At the age of twenty-six, he became the conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, and a few years later helped found the Leipzig Conservatory. He was devoted to his sister Fanny, who was a fine composer and musician as well. While Mendelssohn was on tour in England, he received word that Fanny had died suddenly of a stroke. Mendelssohn fell unconscious, having burst a blood vessel in his own head. He never recovered from the loss of his sister, and died six months later, also of a stroke, at the age of thirty-eight. His String Quartet No. 6 in F Minor, Op. 80, was written after Fanny’s death, and is an unmistakable expression of his grief

Mendelssohn is known for light, airy, fast-bowed musical treatments. In the opening Allegro assai, he demonstrates how that style can be transformed from fairy music into an expression of anguish. A single voice—now the high violin, now the cello—wails as the other instruments continue with their relentless agitation. The second theme is legato and wistful, appearing only briefly before the darker theme returns.

 


 


 


The Scherzo (Allegro assai) is a furious syncopated dance, again in F minor. The German saying concerning this key is “Mehr moll gibt’s nicht”—there is nothing more minor than F minor. Mendelssohn uses the key, even in the central Trio section, to portray the relentlessness of his despair.

In the Adagio, a glimmer of respite is heard in the change to the relative major (A flat), but the melody starts with a minor run in the cello and maintains the aura of sorrow throughout. Nostalgic memories of his beloved sister are portrayed by dialogues between the violin and others, punctuated by fierce moments of anguished, dotted-rhythm confusion.

The dotted rhythms and strong accents continue in the Finale (Allegro molto), again in F minor. A pensive secondary theme makes a momentary appearance. As the movement ends, the first violin soars to its high range to express the solitude of grief.

For the premiere of his String Quartet No. 5 in 1995, Elliott Carter wrote these program notes (along with permission to reproduce them free of charge): “One of the fascinations of attending rehearsals of chamber music, when excellent players try out fragments of what they later will play in the ensemble, then play it, and then stop abruptly to discuss how to improve, is that this pattern is so similar to our inner experience of forming, ordering, focusing, and bringing to fruition—and then dismissing—our feelings and ideas. These patterns of human behavior form the basis of the Fifth String Quartet. Its introduction presents the players, one by one, trying out fragments of later passages from one of the six short, contrasting ensemble movements, at the same time maintaining a dialogue with each other. Between each of the movements the players discuss in different ways what has been played and what will be played. In this score the matter of human cooperation with its many aspects of feeling and thought was a very important consideration.”

String Quartet No.5 was composed during the winter and spring of 1995 in New York and Southbury, Connecticut, and was commissioned for the Arditti Quartet by Antwerp, City of Culture 1993; Wittener Tage für Neue Kammermusik; Festival d’Automne à Paris; and Lincoln Center, New York.

String quartets were the only compositions Beethoven worked on for the last few years of his life, so this genre was obviously very important to him. The String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135, is his last string quartet. In this work, after the innovation and experimentation of many of his late quartets, Beethoven turns back to the norms of Classical style.

The first movement (Allegretto) starts with a cheery theme decorated with trills. This theme is tossed back and forth among the instruments, played in unison, put into imitative counterpoint, and punctuated with rests. Joseph Haydn, the father of the string quartet and briefly Beethoven’s tutor, had developed and used these techniques to give his music a light, airy feeling. The second theme is in even notes, and fits nicely with the main subject.

The second movement (Vivace) is the scherzo with the usual repeats—repeats that Beethoven had begun to leave out of his late quartets, preferring instead to compose every single note to his specific expressive needs. Staccatos and cross accents make this a lively dance. And just in case we were missing the humor (scherzo, after all, means “joke”), Beethoven gives the lower three voices an ostinato figure (a repeated pattern of, in this case, five notes) that goes on for forty-seven measures, while the first violin plays in the stratosphere.

In the third movement (Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo—fairly slow, singing and calm), a gentle song is played through four times, in a sort of theme and variations. First the violin takes the solo; then all four play together, even more slowly, with lush harmonies; then the violin and cello sing in dialogue; and finally, the violin plays a decorated version of the song, the other instruments accompanying with arpeggios and subdued syncopation.

Before the start of the finale (Grave ma non troppo tratto—slow, but not too drawn out), Beethoven appended the words Der schwer gefasste Entschluss—“The difficult decision,” along with the notes of the movement’s theme and the lyrics “Muss es sein? Es muss sein! Es muss sein!” (“Must it be? It must! It must!“). If this were a different quartet, it would be reasonable to see this as one of Beethoven’s confrontations with destiny. But in this unusually cheerful quartet, we have to wonder. We know that Beethoven wrote a comic canon using these words, so this might reflect breezy nonchalance rather than a deep spiritual quest for answers. Despite his troubles, despite his expressions of angst, Beethoven was also able to see the lighter side of his situation, and even to make fun of his own seriousness. Beethoven told his publisher that this would be his last quartet, so this—whether fatalistic or humorous—was apparently his final word on the subject of life.


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 © 2014 by Miriam Villchur Berg