ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET TUESdAy, FEB. 15 â€“ 7:30 p.m. This event is sponsored, in part, by the Lied Performance Fund. This performance was made possible through the generous support of the J. Anthony Burzle Chamber Music Fund. Audio description services and recorded program notes are provided through a partnership between the Lied Center and Audio-Reader Network. Please turn off or silence cellular phones and other electronic devices during performances. Food and drink are not allowed inside the hall. Performing Arts Cameras and recordinglied.ku.edu devices are strictly prohibited in the auditorium.
Alexander String Quartet Zakarias Grafilo, violin Frederick Lifsitz, violin Paul Yarbrough, viola Sandy Wilson, cello
String Quartet in G major, Op. 18, No. 2 (1798-1800)..............................Ludwig van BEETHOVEN I. Allegro (1770-1827) II. Adagio cantabile III. Scherzo: Allegro IV. Allegro molto quasi Presto String Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135 (1826)....................................Ludwig van BEETHOVEN I. Allegretto II. Vivace III. Lento assai, cantabile e tranquillo IV. Grave ma non troppo tratto â€” Allegro INTERMISSION String Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2 (1806)..............................Ludwig van BEETHOVEN I. Allegro II. Molto adagio III. Allegretto IV. Finale: Presto program is subject to change The Alexander String Quartet is represented by
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PROGRAM NOTES String Quartet in G major, Op. 18, No. 2 Ludwig Van Beethoven Born Dec. 16, 1770 in Bonn, Germany Died March 26, 1827 in Vienna, Austria It has been easy for some to overlook the six quartets of Beethoven’s Op. 18, composed between the years of 1798 and 1800, especially in light of his astonishing expansion of string quartet form during the course of his career. Some critics have been quick to point out the influence of Haydn and Mozart (influences the young Beethoven would readily have acknowledged), while others have found these works wanting because they do not approach—or even point the way toward— Beethoven’s later quartets. For many listeners, these early quartets remain, in Joseph Kerman’s elegant phrase, “a merely mortal, not a celestial, nourishment.” Nevertheless, this first set of quartets offers many pleasures, including the stormy fourth, the experimental sixth, and the motivic concentration of the first. Among the Op. 18 quartets, the second, in G major, is easily the most good-natured: if Beethoven does not set out to be comic in this music, there are moments when he comes very close to it. The courtly and graceful themes of the opening Allegro have drawn particular attention. Their regular phrase-lengths and the question-and-answer quality of some of the writing have suggested an extramusical discourse, and some observers have gone so far as to hear in this movement an urbane and civilized conversation; every commentator feels obligated to mention that this quality has earned the music the nickname Komplimentierungsquartett (Compliments-Quartet) in Germany. Listeners should be warned not to search for a literal depiction of a conversation—that nickname refers more to the music’s gracious atmosphere. Given all this geniality, the recapitulation brings a nice bump when Beethoven combines his two themes and has the first try to sing over the suddenly-fierce rhythms of the second. The Adagio cantabile, in C major, seems similarly urbane: its themes are smooth and well-proportioned and the movement might promise blandness were it not for an unusual episode at the center that changes everything. The opening music slows and seems to conclude with a quiet cadence, but Beethoven
then transforms that cadence-rhythm into a blistering (and completely unexpected) Allegro. This section dashes about breathlessly and then vanishes, all within the space of 40 seconds, but now the opening material is greatly embellished when it returns. Evidence from Beethoven’s manuscripts suggests that this fast center section was a late addition to the movement. The sparkling Scherzo is genuinely pleasing music: it gracefully tosses rhythmic bits between the four instruments, and its trio section demands virtuoso playing from the first violin. Beethoven himself referred to the Allegro molto quasi Presto as “ausgeknopft”: “unbuttoned.” The main theme of this rondofinale is in fact derived from a transition passage in the opening movement, and this movement is full of bright energy, relaxed spirits and a sense of fun. Beethoven brings back some of the rhythms of the Scherzo, and once again there are concertante passages for the first violin as this music hurtles to its close on an energetic coda. String Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135 Ludwig Van Beethoven This Quartet, Beethoven’s last complete composition, comes from the fall of 1826, one of the blackest moments in his life. During the previous two years, Beethoven wrote three string quartets on commission from Prince Nikolas Galitzin, and another, the Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, composed between January and June 1826. Even then, Beethoven was not done with the possibilities of the string quartet: he pressed on with yet another, making sketches for the Quartet in F major during the summer of 1826. At that point his world collapsed. His 20-year-old nephew Karl, who had become Beethoven’s ward after a bitter court fight with the boy’s mother, attempted suicide. The composer was shattered: friends reported that he suddenly looked 70 years old. When the young man had recovered enough to travel, Beethoven took him, and the sketches for the new quartet, to the country home of Beethoven’s brother Johann in Gneixendorf, a village about 30 miles west of Vienna. Here, as he nursed Karl back to health, Beethoven’s own health began to fail. He would get up and
compose at dawn, spend his days walking through the fields, and then resume composing in the evening. In Gneixendorf he completed the Quartet in F major in October and wrote a new finale to his earlier Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 130. These were his final works. When Beethoven returned to Vienna in December, he took almost immediately to bed and died the following March. One would expect music composed under such turbulent circumstances to be anguished, but the Quartet in F major is radiant music, full of sunlight—it is as if Beethoven achieved in this quartet the peace unavailable to him in life. This is the shortest of the late quartets, and many critics have noted that while this music remains very much in Beethoven’s late style, it returns to the classical proportions (and mood) of the Haydn quartets. The opening movement, significantly marked Allegretto rather than the expected Allegro, is the one most often cited as Haydnesque. It is in sonata form, though a sonata form without overt conflict, and Beethoven builds it on brief thematic fragments rather than long melodies. This is poised, relaxed music, and the finale cadence—on the falling figure that has run throughout the movement—is remarkable for its understatement. By contrast, the Vivace bristles with energy. Its outer sections rocket along on a sharply-syncopated main idea, while the vigorous trio sends the first violin sailing high above the other voices. The very ending is impressive: the music grows quiet, comes to a moment of stasis, and then Beethoven wrenches it to a stop with a sudden, stinging surprise. The slow movement—Beethoven carefully marks it Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo—is built on the first violin’s heartfelt opening melody; the even slower middle section, full of halting rhythms, spans only 10 measures before the return of the opening material, now elaborately decorated. The final movement has occasioned the most comment. In the manuscript, Beethoven noted two three-note mottoes at its beginning under the heading Der schwer gefasste Entschluss (The Difficult Resolution). The first, solemnly intoned by viola and cello, asks the question: “Muss es sein?” (“Must it be?”). The violins’ inverted answer, which comes at the Allegro, is set to the words “Es muss sein!” (“It must be!”). Coupled with the fact that this quartet is virtually Beethoven’s
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last composition, these mottoes have given rise to a great deal of pretentious nonsense from certain commentators, mainly to the effect that they must represent Beethoven’s last thoughts, a stirring philosophical affirmation of life’s possibilities. The actual origins of this motto are a great deal less imposing, for they arose from a dispute over an unpaid bill, and as a private joke for friends Beethoven wrote a humorous canon on the dispute, the theme of which he then later adapted for this quartet movement. In any case, the mottoes furnish material for what turns out to be a powerful but essentially cheerful movement. The coda, which begins pizzicato, gradually gives way to bowed notes and a cadence on the “Es muss sein!” motto. String Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2 Ludwig Van Beethoven When Count Andreas Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador to Vienna and chamber music enthusiast, commissioned a set of three string quartets from Beethoven in 1805, he could not possibly have known what he would receive in return. Beethoven had at that time written one set of six quartets (published in 1801), cast very much in the high classical mold as set out by Haydn and Mozart. Doubtless Razumovsky expected something on this order, and he provided Beethoven with some Russian themes and asked that he include one in each of the three quartets. The three quartets Beethoven wrote in 1806, however, were so completely original that in one stroke they redefined the whole conception of the string quartet. These are massive quartets, both in duration and dramatic scope, and it is no surprise that they alienated virtually everyone who heard them; only with time did Beethoven’s astonishing achievement in this music become clear. Trying to take the measure of this new music, some early critics referred to the Razumovsky quartets as “symphony quartets,” but this is misleading, for the quartets are true chamber music. But it is true that what the Eroica did for the symphony, these quartets did for the string quartet: they opened new vistas, entirely new conceptions of what the string quartet might be and of the power it might unleash. The first Razumovsky quartet is broad and heroic and the third extroverted and virtuosic, but the second has defied easy characteriza-
tion. Part of the problem is that in this quartet Beethoven seems to be experimenting with new ideas about themes and harmony. The thematic material of the first movement in particular has baffled many, for it seems almost consciously nonthematic, and harmonically, this quartet can seem elusive as well: all four movements are in some form of E, but Beethoven refuses to settle into any key for very long, and one key will melt into another key, often unexpectedly, in just a matter of measures. Such a description would seem to make the Quartet in E minor a nervous work, unsettled in its procedures and unsettling to audiences. But the wonder is that—despite these many original strokes—this music is so unified, so convincing, and at times so achingly beautiful. Simple verbal description cannot begin to provide a measure of this music, but a general description can at least aid a listener along his way to discovering this music for himself. The two chords that open the Allegro will recur throughout, at quite different dynamic levels and used in quite different ways. The “theme” that follows seems almost a fragment, and Beethoven develops small parts even of this theme, using them as rhythmic figures or developing intervals from this opening statement. This is a big movement, and Beethoven asks for repeats of both the exposition and development (not always observed in performance) before the movement closes on a massive restatement of the opening theme which suddenly fades into silence.
Beethoven’s friend Carl Czerny said that the composer had been inspired to write the Molto Adagio “when contemplating the starry sky and thinking of the music of the spheres.” Beethoven specifies in the score that, “This piece must be played with great feeling,” and after the somewhat nervous first movement the Adagio brings a world of expressive intensity. This massive movement, in sonata form, opens with a prayer-like main theme, but all is not peace: along the way Beethoven punctuates the generally hushed mood with powerful massed chords. The Allegretto, with its skittering main theme (the pulses are off the beat), feels somewhat playful. In its trio section, Beethoven introduces Razumovsky’s “Russian” theme and then proceeds to subject it to such strait-jacketed contrapuntal treatment that some critics have felt that Beethoven is trying annihilate the theme; Joseph Kerman speaks of the trio as Beethoven’s “revenge” on Razumovsky. The finale begins in the wrong key (C major) and then wobbles uncertainly between C major and E minor throughout. Despite the air of high-spirited dancing in the main theme, this movement too brings stuttering phrases and the treatment of bits of theme, which are sometimes tossed rapidly between the four voices. A Piu Presto coda brings this most original quartet to a sudden close. Program notes by Eric Bromberger
ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET The Alexander String Quartet has performed in the major music capitals of five continents, securing its standing among the world’s premier ensembles in nearly three decades. Widely admired for its interpretations of Beethoven, Mozart and Shostakovich, the Quartet has also established itself as an important advocate of new music through more than 25 commissions and numerous premiere performances. The Alexander String Quartet is a major artistic presence in its home base of San Francisco, serving there as directors of the Morrison Chamber Music Center at the School of Music and Dance in the College of Creative Arts at San Francisco State University and Ensemble in Residence of San Francisco Performances.
The Quartet’s annual calendar of concerts includes engagements at major halls throughout North America and Europe. It has appeared at Lincoln Center, the 92nd Street Y and the Metropolitan Museum in New York City; Jordan Hall in Boston; the Library of Congress and Dumbarton Oaks in Washington; and chamber music societies and universities across the North American continent. Recent overseas tours have brought it to the U.K., the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, France, Greece, the Republic of Georgia, Argentina and the Philippines. The many distinguished artists to collaborate with the Alexander String Quartet include pianists Menahem Pressler, Gary Graffman,
Roger Woodward, Jeremy Menuhin and Joyce Yang; clarinetists Eli Eban, Charles Neidich, Joan Enric Lluna and Richard Stoltzman; cellists Lynn Harrell, Sadao Harada and David Requiro; violist Toby Appel; and soprano Elly Ameling. Among the Quartet’s more unusual collaborations have been numerous performances of Eddie Sauter’s seminal Third Stream work, Focus, in collaboration with Branford Marsalis, David Sánchez and Andrew Speight. The Alexander String Quartet’s 25th anniversary as well as the 20th anniversary of its association with New York City’s Baruch College as Ensemble in Residence was celebrated with a performance by the ensemble of the Shostakovich string quartet cycle. Of these performances at the Baruch Performing Art Center Engelman Recital Hall, The New York Times wrote, “The intimacy of the music came through with enhanced power and poignancy in the Alexander Quartet’s vibrant, probing, assured and aptly volatile performances. … Seldom have these anguished, playful, ironic and masterly works seemed so profoundly personal.” The Alexander was also awarded Presidential Medals in honor of their long-standing commitment to the arts and education, and in celebration of its two decades of service to Baruch College. Highlights of its 2010-11 season include a two multiple concert series for San Francisco Performances, one presenting the complete quartets of Bartók and Kodály and the other music of Dvo ák; the conclusion of a Beethoven cycle for Mondavi Center; and a continuing annual series at Baruch College in New York City. The Quartet also performs an all-Beethoven program at the Lied Center of Kansas, two tours of Spain (including the inaugural performances of a new festival in Godella), and a second tour of Argentina. The Quartet also continues its annual residencies at Allegheny College, Lewis & Clark College and St. Lawrence University. In the past decade the Alexander String Quartet has added considerably to its distinguished and wide-ranging discography. Currently recording exclusively for the FoghornClassics label, the Alexander’s most recent release (June 2009) is a complete Beethoven cycle. Music Web International has described the performances on this new Beethoven set as “uncompromising in their power, intensity and spiritual depth,” while Strings Magazine
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described the set as “a landmark journey through the greatest of all quartet cycles.” The FoghornClassics label released a three-CD set (Homage) of the Mozart quartets dedicated to Haydn in 2004. Foghorn released a six-CD album (Fragments) of the complete Shostakovich quartets in 2006 and 2007, and a recording of the complete quartets of Pulitzer Prize-winning San Francisco composer Wayne Peterson was released in the spring of 2008. BMG Classics released the Quartet’s first recording of Beethoven cycle on its Arte Nova label to tremendous critical acclaim in 1999. In celebration of the Alexander String Quartet’s forthcoming 30th anniversary, San Francisco Performances has commissioned a new work for string quartet and mezzosoprano from Jake Heggie; the work will be premiered in a performance in collaboration with Joyce DiDonato in February 2012 at the Herbst Theater. Other recent Alexander premieres include Rise Chanting by Augusta Read Thomas, commissioned for the Alexander by the Krannert Center and premiered there and simulcast by WFMT radio in Chicago. The Quartet has also premiered String Quartets Nos. 2 and 3 by Wayne Peterson and works by Ross Bauer (commissioned by Stanford University), Richard Festinger, David Sheinfeld, Hi Kyung Kim and a Koussevitzky commission by Robert Greenberg. The Alexander String Quartet was formed in New York City in 1981 and the following year became the first string quartet to win the Concert Artists Guild Competition. In 1985, the Quartet captured international attention as the first American quartet to win the London International String Quartet Competition, receiving both the jury’s highest award and the Audience Prize. In May of 1995, Allegheny College awarded Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees to the members of the Quartet in recognition of their unique contribution to the arts. Honorary degrees were conferred on the ensemble by St. Lawrence University in May 2000.
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