Chamber Music

Loading Events

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

Maverick Debut

Concert in Celebration of George Tsontakis

Schumann: Piano Quartet in E-flat, Op.47
George Tsontakis: Piano Quartet No.4
Brahms: Piano Quartet No.1 in G Minor

Borivoj Martinic-Jercic, violin
Samantha Rodriguez, viola
George Work, cello
Mei-Hsuan Huang, piano

In various iterations, the Ames Piano Quartet has been the ensemble-in-residence at Iowa State University since its inception in 1976. One of the few regularly constituted piano quartets in the world, the Ames Quartet briefly became the Amara Quartet in 2012, upon the retirement of two of its long-term members. Wishing to reconnect with more than thirty years of tradition, the Quartet has now returned to its original name of Ames.

The Quartet has an extensive discography, including fourteen CDs under the Ames name and a further two as Amara. Labels for which the group has recorded include Musical Heritage, Dorian, Sono Luminus, Albany, and Fleur de Son Classics. “One finds critics writing of their commitment, passion, power, and sensitivity, not to mention their collective technical skills,” writes Robert Cummings on the web site. Of their most recent release (Faure Piano Quartets) critic Huntley Dent writes in Fanfare magazine, “As to the performances on this release, the second by the Amaras on Fleur de Son, they equal the best in the catalogue…we get the two virtues that make for a superb chamber ensemble: each player has an individual voice, and the group as a whole expresses a unified musical conception.”

A Concert in Celebration of George Tsontakis

Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856): Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 47

Sostenuto assai; Allegro ma non troppo
Scherzo: Molto vivace
Andante cantabile
Finale: Vivace

George Tsontakis (b.1951): Piano Quartet No. 4 (2019)


Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897): Piano Quartet No.1 in G Minor, Op. 25
Intermezzo: Allegro ma non troppo
Andante con moto
Rondo alla Zingarese: Presto

In various iterations, the Ames Piano Quartet has been the ensemble-in-residence at Iowa State University since its inception in 1976. One of the few regularly constituted piano quartets in the world, the Ames Quartet briefly became the Amara Quartet in 2012, upon the retirement of two of its long-term members. Wishing to reconnect with more than thirty years of tradition, the Quartet has now returned to its original name of Ames. The Quartet has an extensive discography, including 14 CDs under the Ames name and a further two as Amara.

The Ames Quartet has appeared in concert throughout the United States and Canada, as well as in France, Austria, Taiwan, South Africa, and Russia. One of its most notable concert tours occurred in 2003 when it traveled to Cuba, the first American chamber ensemble to be invited to perform there since the country’s 1959 revolution. Radio appearances by the Quartet include “St. Paul Sunday,” “Music at First Hearing,” “The Listening Room,” and “Performance Today.” The group has sought to expand the available repertoire for piano quartet, both by reviving unjustly neglected piano quartets of the past and by commissioning new works. Two of the Quartet’s most notable commissions are Lee Hoiby’s Dark Rosaleen, premiered in 2000, and George Tsontakis’ Piano Quartet No. 4, premiered in 2019.

Distinguished Composer-in-Residence at Bard College, George Tsontakis has been the recipient of the two richest prizes awarded in all of classical music: the international Grawemeyer Award, in 2005, for his Second Violin Concerto and the 2007 Ives Living, awarded every three years by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He studied with Roger Sessions at Juilliard and, in Rome, with Franco Donatoni. Born in Astoria, New York, into a strongly Cretan heritage, he has, in recent years, become an important figure in the music of Greece, and his music is increasingly performed abroad with dozens of performances in Europe every season. Most of his music, including eleven major orchestral works and four concertos, have been recorded by Hyperion and Koch, leading to two Grammy Nominations for Best Classical Composition in 2009 and 1999. In addition to serving as Distinguished Composer-in-Residence at Bard, he is an artist-faculty emeritus with the Aspen Music Festival, where he was founding director of the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble from 1991 to 1999. He served three years as composer in residence with the Oxford (England) Philomusica; was the featured composer in residence with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for the 2008-09 season; and is continuing a six-year Music Alive residency with the Albany Symphony. He lives in New York State’s Catskill Mountains in Shokan.

Robert Schumann went through cycles of great creativity, often in specific genres. After a decade in which he produced mostly small works and songs, his wife Clara encouraged him to work in larger forms—that is, pieces with several movements rather than miniatures. He devoted the year 1842 to orchestral works, including two symphonies, a piano concerto, and the Piano Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 47.

The slow introduction (Sostenuto assai) offers simple notes and chords that set a majestic background for the Allegro ma non troppo with its lively interplay between the piano and the strings. Staccato runs and scales form the basis of the theme. The slow passage returns and serves as the transition to the development section, which takes the theme into the minor and adds grandeur and passion. In the Scherzo (Molto vivace), fast runs give a feeling of perpetual motion. This is interrupted first by a lyrical but still moving section, then by a series of syncopated block chords—a sort of off-the-beat skeleton of the lyrical section. The fast eighth notes return to complete the frame. The slow movement (Andante cantabile) gives the melody to the cello, at first solo and then in duet with the violin. The lilting 6/8 meter gives the song a wistful quality, like a lullaby, and the movement ends with isolated single notes fading into silence.

Schumann was a great admirer of Bach’s contrapuntal works, and he includes a fugal section after the opening chords of the Finale (Vivace). This becomes a recurring theme, giving the movement a free rondo form. The meter alternates between 3/4 and 4/4, with sections of legato melodies providing internal contrast.

– Miriam Villchur Berg, Maverick Concerts

George Tsontakis’ Piano Quartet No. 4 was commissioned by the Ames Piano Quartet with support from Iowa State University and premiered at ISU on November 3, 2019. Writing in Groves Dictionary of Music, composer Eric Moe says of George Tsontakis:

“Tsontakis’ early works are written in a dissonant chromatic idiom not unlike that of [his teacher Roger] Sessions. His musical language soon shifted, however, towards a classically-influenced style characterized by large-scaled harmonic prolongations and what he calls ‘the timeless gesture,’ a reference to the past through evocation rather than quotation. With the String Quartet No.3 “Coraggio” (1986) he arrived at an idiosyncratic tonal language propelled by non-minimalist, Beethovenian use of repetition.”

The Tsontakis Piano Quartet No.4, composed many years after (2019), could be described as the apotheosis of the “timeless gesture.” Limiting himself to a single ostinato in each movement, the composer subjects both to a process of continual variation that gives rise to an “evolutionary” feel. In Tsontakis’ own words:

“Like the first movement, the second begins with a kind of ostinato but unlike the first movement low ‘major 10ths’ beat and offbeat motif, the second movement features a playful scurrying figure that grows and develops while essentially staying the same (one can maintain such a technique in music despite it sounding contradictory). Both movements have longer lines flying over or under the ostinatos. The second movement is more of a compositional self-challenge with the challenge being one of trying to create a continuum of motion and rhythm throughout a fairly long span of time—as things change and evolve as life continuously does. I should also mention that very few, if any known living composers have composed four piano quartets, so in my 4th I tried to make it a departure from the first three, with a different color and personality.”

George Tsontakis’ Piano Quartet #1 (“Bagatelles”) was commissioned by Kim Lim for the Diamarel Piano Quartet, #2 by the Cape & Islands Music Festival for Broyhill Chamber Players and #3 for Opus One by Music From Angelfire.

– from the Composer

The Piano Quartet No.1 in G Minor, Op.25, is one of the many masterpieces of Johannes Brahms, composed relatively early in the composer’s life, between 1856 and 1861. It is scored for piano, violin, viola and cello. It consists of four movements in a folk-inflected iteration of the standard structure, as established by Mozart, Beethoven, and Schumann, his troubled mentor and friend. Along with the quartets of these composers, Brahms’ two piano quartets would serve as the foundation stones of the genre. Dvorak, Fauré, Chausson, Turina, Leon Boellmann, William Walton, and even Aaron Copland created works in what is surely the most overlooked of chamber music forms. Looking back, we can also see that in his two piano quartets, Brahms was slowly and patiently fortifying himself for the composition of his four monumental symphonies, a task for which he would wait until his middle age. Perhaps it is fitting, then, that Arnold Schoenberg, leader of the successor generation of the Second Viennese School—who actually did interact with Brahms, late in that composer’s life—should see the inherent symphonic qualities of this amazing piano quartet. He orchestrated it in 1937, as both an homage to his musical forebear and as a kind of calling-card to American audiences—and doubtless as a kind of apologia for “Holy German Art”—upon his arrival in Los Angeles with his family, fleeing the terrors of the Nazi takeover of Central Europe.

The first movement opens with a quietly dramatic and passionate theme in G minor, played by the strings in unison. The piano then introduces a contrasting lyrical theme in B-flat major, which is later developed and varied throughout the movement. The development section explores various keys and modulations, creating a sense of tension and instability. The recapitulation brings back the main themes in their original keys, followed by a coda that ends with a powerful cadence in G minor. The second movement is a scherzo-like intermezzo, featuring a playful and rhythmic theme in C minor, contrasted with a more lyrical and expressive trio section in E-flat major. The theme and the trio are repeated with some variations, and the movement ends with a brief coda that recalls the main theme.

The third movement is a slow and melancholic movement in E-flat major, based on a simple but expressive melody that is first stated by the cello and then passed on to the other instruments. The melody is accompanied by a rich and varied harmonic texture, creating a sense of warmth and intimacy. The movement also features some chromaticism and modulation, adding some complexity and depth to the music. The fourth and final movement is a rondo in the style of a Hungarian gypsy dance, full of energy and excitement. The main theme is a lively and catchy tune in G minor, played by the piano with virtuosic flourishes. The theme alternates with various episodes that explore different keys and moods, ranging from fiery and passionate to lyrical and tender. The movement ends with a brilliant coda that brings back the main theme with increased intensity and speed.

Following a private run-through in 1861, with Schumann’s wife, the great pianist Clara Wieck at the keyboard, the G-minor Piano Quartet had its official premiere in Vienna in November of 1862, with members of the Hellmesberger Quartet and the young Brahms himself at the piano. In the tumult of approbation that immediately followed the performance, Joseph Hellmesberger himself cried out, “This is Beethoven’s heir!!!” Since that iconic moment, most audiences have heartily agreed.

– Alexander Platt

Go to Top