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Reserved Hall Seats: $50.00, $29.00, $25.00 (partial obstruction)
General Admission/Outdoors/Uncovered: $20.00, Students: $10

Bartok: String Quartet No.6 (1945)
Beethoven: Quartet No.12 in E-flat, Op.127

Nicholas Kitchen, violin
Kristopher Tong, violin
Melissa Reardon, viola
Yeeson Kim, cello

Each visionary performance of the award-winning Borromeo String Quartet strengthens and deepens its reputation as one of the most important ensembles of our time. Admired and sought after for both its fresh interpretations of the classical music canon and its championing of works by 20th and 21st century composers, the ensemble has been hailed for its “edge-of-the-seat performances,” by the Boston Globe, which called it “simply the best.”

Nicholas Kitchen, violin
Kristopher Tong, violin
Melissa Reardon, viola
Yeeson Kim, cello

Bela Bartok (1881-1945): String Quartet No.6 in D Minor, Sz.114 (1945)
Mesto; Vivace
Mesto; Marcia
Mesto; Burletta
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): String Quartet No.12 in E-flat major, Op.127
Maestoso; Allegro
Adagio, ma non troppo e molto cantabile
Scherzando: vivace

Ensemble-in-Residence at the New England Conservatory of Music, Ensemble-in-Residence at the Taos School of Music summer program, and Ensemble-in-Residence at the Heifetz International Music Institute, the Borromeo String Quartet is one of the most important ensembles of our time. Admired and sought after for both its fresh interpretations of the classical music canon and its championing of works by 20th and 21st century composers, the ensemble has been hailed for its “edge-of-the- seat performances,” by the Boston Globe, which called it “simply the best.” Inspiring audiences for more than 25 years, the Borromeo continues to be a pioneer in its use of technology, and has the trailblazing distinction of being the first string quartet to utilize laptop computers on the concert stage. Reading music this way helps push artistic boundaries, allowing the artists to perform solely from 4-part scores and composers’ manuscripts, a revealing and metamorphic experience which these dedicated musicians now teach to students around the world.

The BSQ has been ensemble-in-residence at the New England Conservatory and Taos School of Music, both for 25 years, and has, for over two decades, enjoyed a long-term relationship with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum where it continues to regularly appear. The Quartet has collaborated with some of this generation’s most important composers, including Gunther Schuller, John Cage, György Ligeti, Steve Reich, Aaron Jay Kernis, Osvaldo Golijov, Jennifer Higdon, Steve Mackey, John Harbison, Sebastian Currier, and Leon Kirchner, among many others; and has performed on major concert stages across the globe, including appearances at Carnegie Hall, the Berlin Philharmonie, Wigmore Hall, Suntory Hall (Tokyo), the Concertgebouw, Seoul Arts Center, Shanghai Oriental Arts Center, the Incontri in Terra di Siena Chamber Music Festival in Tuscany, Kammermusik Basel (Switzerland), the Prague Spring Festival, and the Haydn Festival in Eisenstadt.

“Nothing less than masterful” (, the Borromeo Quartet has received numerous awards throughout its illustrious career, including Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Career Grant and Martin E. Segal Award, and Chamber Music America’s Cleveland Quartet Award. It was also a recipient of the Young Concert Artists International Auditions and a prize-winner at the International String Quartet Competition in Evian, France.

Like so many others deeply troubled by the rise of fascism throughout Europe in the 1930s—including in his native Hungary, where Admiral Miklos Horthy had by then been long established as that nation’s “Regent” and dictator—Bela Bartók had nonetheless continued to compose. Bartók’s String Quartet No.6 in D minor was his last work in the genre, and one of his final compositions before his death in 1945. The quartet was completed in November of 1939, a year marked by personal and global turmoil for the composer. His mother died in December, and while he had returned to Budapest with the outbreak of World War II, in 1940 he managed to emigrate to the United States with his family. By this time he was also suffering from the blood disorder that would eventually prove fatal. The Sixth Quartet is dedicated to the Kolisch Quartet, who gave its premiere in New York City on January 20, 1941. The work consists of four movements, each preceded by a slow introduction marked “Mesto” (sad). This recurring motif creates a sense of unity and melancholy throughout the piece.

The first movement begins with a mournful melody played by the viola, marked Mesto—extremely slow; again, this theme will serve as the melodic core of the entire work. This introduction is soon followed by a lively, folk-inflected essay in sonata form. The main theme is based on a D minor triad, while the second theme is more lyrical and chromatic. The development explores various contrapuntal and harmonic possibilities, leading to a recapitulation that ends abruptly. The second movement is a march-like scherzo with a sarcastic tone. The main theme is derived from a Hungarian folk song, while the trio section features a distorted waltz rhythm. The movement ends with a return of the Mesto introduction, this time played by the second violin.

The third movement is a burletta, a humorous and grotesque piece that contrasts with the previous movements. The main theme is based on a tritone interval, while the second theme is a parody of a Viennese tune. As to the Quartet’s finale, Melvin Berger aptly notes that

“All four instruments join in the fourth presentation of the Mesto theme; this time, though, it is not just introductory, but continues as the principal theme of the movement. Bartok also recalls the two themes from the first movement, now in somber tomes bereft of their earlier vitality. Lovely in tone and highly emotional, the movement communicates a sense of beatific acceptance, until the viola provides a final glimpse of the Mesto theme … It is not difficult to hear in the Sixth Quartet some of the anguish Bartok must have been suffering, as the civilized world tottered on the brink of destruction, and as it became clear that he would have to flee his beloved Hungary. Perhaps one bit of musical evidence of his despair is the linear progression of the four movements in this work—each one is slower than its predecessor— that finally ends in a mood of bleak resignation.”

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Quartet No. 12, Op. 127, is the first of his celebrated series known as the Late Quartets, widely considered the peak of quartet writing on account of their huge inventiveness and often deeply personal and inward emotional states. Beethoven had not written a quartet for several years when in 1822 he was commissioned by an admirer, Prince Nikolai Galitzyn of St. Petersburg, to compose “one, two, or three new quartets.” Beethoven was willing, but a start on them was delayed by his work on three other huge compositions, the Missa Solemnis, the Ninth Symphony, and the Diabelli Variations for piano. In the end, Op. 127 was not ready until early 1825, and Beethoven had only two more years to live, which he devoted exclusively to writing five in-effable quartets and the Grosse Fuge, the “Great Fugue” that was originally intended as the finale of Op. 130. Ironically, he received only one payment of the promised amount from Galitzyn, who adored the quartets but who then lost all his money and went into the army. The story ended better after all: Galitzyn’s family paid the balance owed into Beethoven’s estate after the composer’s death.

The late quartets show Beethoven moving radically away from his earlier heroic, assertive style toward a reflective stillness, a sense of profound acceptance of the world and its sorrows that has deeply affected generations of music lovers. In fact, these quartets have been written about and scrutinized perhaps more than any other music ever written. It is surely no surprise that at this stage in his life the composer was deeply interested in Hindu and Brahman philosophy, and copied quotations from many sacred texts into his notebooks. The first movement of Op. 127 is a fine example of this new philosophical outlook: after a series of assertive chords that could have come from the opening of the Eroica symphony, the music moves into a tender, reflective theme that, richly developed, dominates the rest of the movement. Twice more the heroic chords are sounded, but the answer is a peaceful resignation. The second movement, by far the longest in the work, begins with a quiet, prayerful song that is the essence of late Beethoven’s innigkeit, or inwardness. This goes through a series of exquisite variations that are by turns playful, elegiac, and joyful. Toward the end the music sinks to a hushed intensity the listener has to strain to hear—but with vast rewards. The Scherzando begins with a four-note pizzicato that sounds throughout the movement, then launches a quick, flighty theme that is swiftly passed among the instruments and developed at length. Several fierce chords bring this to an end, before the music flies off into a dizzying prestissimo coda that recalls wisps of the main theme. The last movement begins with a lusciously flowing theme that seems to have no end, a sort of divine perpetuum mobile. This is finally concluded with a series of trills and arpeggios that introduce quick reminiscences of the main theme before the music broadens into a powerful coda that seems not so much a matter of triumph as of joyful accord with the spirit of the universe. A listener can hardly fail to have his spirit lifted, and the quartet is a fitting beginning to a series that marks one of music’s great adventures.

– John F. Baker, Maverick Concerts 2019

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