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Augusta Read Thomas: Chi, for string quartet (2017) (New York premiere)
Gerard McBurney: String Quartet No.1, “Hildegard Quartet” (1996)(World premiere)
Philip Glass: String Quartet No. 2, “Company”
Ravel: String Quartet in F Major

A Maverick Debut
The New Foundations project is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.


Spektral Quartet

Clara Lyon, violin Maeve Feinberg, violin Doyle Armbrust, viola Russell Rolen, cello

SATURDAY, JULY 8, 2017, 8 pm

Maverick Debut New Foundations IV New Foundations: Toward a Modern Chamber Music Repertoire is a mini-festival of chamber music composed  in the last thirty years. The series is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.


Chi, for String Quartet (2017)   |  Augusta Read Thomas (b. 1964) New York Premiere, Commissioned by Spektral Quartet I: CHI – vital life force II: AURA – atmospheres, colors, vibrations III: MERIDIANS – zeniths IV: CHAKRAS – center of spiritual power in the body

String Quartet No. 1, “Hildegard” (1996)   |  Gerard McBurney (b. 1954) World Premiere

String Quartet No. 2, “Company” (1983)  |   Phillip Glass (b. 1937) I. = 96 II. = 160 III. = 96 IV. = 160 Performed in honor of the composers eightieth birthday.


String Quartet in F Major (1903) | Maurice Ravel (1875–1937) Allegro moderato—très doux Assez vif—Très rythmé Très lent Vif et agité

About the Artists

Spektral Quartet actively pursues a vivid conversation between exhilarating works of the traditional canon and those written this decade, this year, or this week. Gramophone described its most recent album as “highly interactive, creative, and collaborative…unlike anything its intended audience—or anyone else—has ever heard.” Spektral is known for creating seamless connections across the centuries, drawing in the listener with charismatic deliveries, interactive concert formats, an up-close atmosphere, and bold, inquisitive programming. The foursome’s most ambitious recording project to date, Serious Business, was released in 2016 and nominated for a 2017 Grammy award. Alex Ross of The New Yorker called it “a delirious new record,” and Serious Business is indeed an intrepid exploration of the many-sided face of humor in classical music, featuring vibrant premieres of music by stunning young composers Sky Macklay, David Reminick, and Chris Fisher-Lochhead, paired with a centuries-old gut-buster, Haydn’s Quartet Op. 33 No. 2, “The Joke.” The quartet’s multi-city tour of Beat Furrer’s String Quartet No. 3 and Bagatellen, a new work by Hans Thomalla, “proved that they have everything: a supreme technical command that seems to come easily, a capacity to make complicated music clear, and, most notably on this occasion, an ability to cast a magic spell” (The New York Times). Spektral Quartet enthusiastically seeks out vehicles to bring classical music into the sphere of everyday life, prioritizing immersion and inclusivity through close-proximity seating and intimate, unconventional venues. Major upcoming projects include Morton Feldman’s notorious six-hour String Quartet No. 2 at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the Toledo Art Museum; the quartet’s Italian debut in Rome; the recording of new works by composer Anthony Cheung; and a major new initiative on Chicago’s South Side in collaboration with multidisciplinary artist Theaster Gates. The season will also see dynamic new programs pairing works of Ravel, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn with the voices of emerging composers, and new works by George Lewis, Augusta Read Thomas, Samuel Adams, and Tomeka Reid. The ensemble is regarded for forward-thinking endeavors such as Mobile Miniatures, which rallied, from across the nation, more than forty composers, including David Lang, Augusta Read Thomas, Nico Muhly, and Shulamit Ran, to write ringtone-length pieces available for download to mobile devices. As ardent advocates for new music in their home city, the group recorded its debut album, Chambers (Parlour Tapes+), in 2013, featuring works by dynamic, Chicago-based composers. Other discography includes a recording with Third Coast Percussion of Selene, an octet by Augusta Read Thomas for the album Of Being Is a Bird; and From This Point Forward, an exploration of nuevo tango and Latin jazz with bandoneon virtuoso Julien Labro. It is central to Spektral Quartet’s mission to cultivate a love of, and curiosity for, unfamiliar sonic territory and exceptional works of the past among the next generation of string players. Currently ensemble-in-residence at the University of Chicago, the quartet has also participated in residencies at the New World Symphony (Miami Beach), Stanford University, Northwestern University, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and the Walden School (New York City), among others.

About the Music

Augusta Read Thomas has been honored with numerous awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship, a Grammy, and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She has been Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony, and established the MusicNOW series (programming the work of many living composers), as well as of the Ear Taxi Festival (celebrating the new music scene in Chicago). She is the sixteenth ever University Professor (one of five current University Professors) at The University of Chicago. Her discography includes seventy-five commercially recorded CDs. The composer writes: “The Chinese refer to the vital life force energy of the universe, present within every living thing, as ‘Chi.’ Chi is the energy of life itself, recognized as the balance of Yin and Yang (male and female, positive and negative), which flows through everything in creation. The power of Chi emits soulful colors (the Aura), giving expressive vibrational frequency, and sound. Chi flows through the body pathways—known as Meridians (highpoints) and Chakras (deep, subtle spiritual nodes of the essential center)—of all living forms. The music is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Elizabeth Davenport and the Spektral Quartet.” Gerard McBurney studied at Cambridge and at the Moscow Conservatory. As a musicologist, he has written many books on Russian and Soviet music, and has reconstructed lost and forgotten works of Dmitri Shostakovich. From 2006 to 2016, he was the Creative Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s informational program Beyond the Score. He has produced more than two dozen documentaries for the BBC. His compositions include orchestral works, a ballet, a chamber opera, songs, and chamber music, as well as many theater scores. Of his String Quartet No. 1, “Hildegard,” the composer writes: “In the early 1990s I was commissioned to research and script a documentary film about the life and music of the twelfth-century German mystic Hildegard of Bingen, sometimes called Europe’s first composer. She wrote the words and the music, which came to her in a single vision. The Sequences are a single line of plainsong (there was no known harmony or counterpoint in her world). “The Kronos Quartet asked me to make a version of them for string quartet. The first movement of the quartet half-evokes the very first known harmony in Western music, the beautiful organum of the Paris school one hundred years after Hildegard lived. It is an Easter hymn of gratitude to the Virgin Mary, comparing her to a flower. “The second one is a dramatic lament for the disaster of the Fall. Hildegard says that Adam and Eve ‘erubuerint’ [‘they blushed or reddened’]. I imagined the hot shame on their cheeks as a kind of fire or lava, as they contemplate the damage they have done to human destiny. “And the third one is a vision of the whole cosmos with all the stars—an invention on the old idea of the Music of the Spheres, and the endless turning of the spheres. So the drama is: a flower; a flame; a starlit night. “When I delivered the score, the Kronos performed the first and last movements once each on separate occasions. Then their projects took them in a different direction. So this piece, which is one of my own pieces which I love the most, has never been performed as I intended, and a performance at the Maverick would be a world première. I have never been to the Maverick but as its famous stage is in the open air, I have a sweet notion that we might hear birdsong and rustling leaves as well as the notes I wrote!” Philip Glass has written that the string quartet is the most intimate and introspective of musical forms. “It’s almost as if we say we’re going to write a string quartet, we take a deep breath, and we wade in to try to write the most serious, significant piece that we can.” Instead of words to describe the tempi of the four movements, Glass provides metronome markings. The composer writes: “Company is the name of a short novel by Samuel Beckett which was adapted for the stage and performed as a monologue. Beckett gave permission for me to compose an original musical score for the piece. The medium of the string quartet allows for both an introspective and passionate quality well suited to the text. Beckett picked four places in the work, and the pieces written for those places have turned out to be a thematically cohesive work which now, as my String Quartet No.2, has taken on a life of its own.” Maurice Ravel completed his only string quartet ten years after Debussy completed his only work in the same genre. Ravel dedicated it, the Quartet in F Major, to Gabriel Fauré, his teacher at the Paris Conservatoire. The Allegro moderato starts with a warm melody in the violin, while the other three instruments play a repeated pattern that rises slowly in pitch over several measures, then descends. The inner voices are important, even though the violin has the melody. In the development, the theme is fragmented into motivic elements that can serve as melody or accompaniment. In the second movement (Assez vif, Fairly lively), Ravel makes extensive use of pizzicato and syncopation. The short repeated phrases are climaxed by a bowed trill in the first violin that leaps up one octave and then another. After the second, slower, legato theme, the cello announces, with a plucked introduction, that the pizzicato section is returning. The viola has the lead for much of the slow movement (Très lent, Very slow). The many rich melodies are all connected to the short motif that opens the movement. Brief repeated phrases abound, and the hypnotic repetitions are offset by moments of intensity. The movement ends with a lullaby-like final cadence. Loud, repeated notes wake us up for the finale (Vif et agité, Lively and agitated). The viola plays low in its range, followed by the cello playing high in its range. Sweeter melodies return, and there is a struggle between forceful and gentle, soft and loud, consonant and dissonant. Finally, all four instruments play as one, using parallel chords up the notes of the triad, reestablishing the basic elements out of which this music is formed.

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

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