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Oneppo Chamber Music Series ¡ David Shifrin, Artistic Director

st. lawrence string quartet

Morse Recital Hall • Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 8 pm Music of Adams, Korngold, and Mozart

Robert Blocker, Dean


st. lawrence string quartet Geoff Nuttall, violin · Scott St. John, violin Lesley Robertson, viola · Christopher Costanza, cello Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Memorial Hall

april 3, 2012 tuesday · 8:00 pm

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 1756–1791

String Quartet in D minor, K. 421 I. Allegro moderato II. Andante III. Menuetto (Allegretto) IV. Allegretto, ma non troppo (Variations)

Erich Wolfgang Korngold 1897–1957

String Quartet No. 3 in D major, Op. 34 (1944–45) I. Allegro moderato II. Scherzo: Allegro molto III. Sostenuto IV. Finale: Allegro – Allegro con fuoco

intermission

John Adams b. 1947

String Quartet (2008) In two movements String Quartet was composed for the St. Lawrence String Quartet and was commissioned by the Juilliard School with the generous support of the Trust of Francis Goelet, Stanford Lively Arts Stanford University, and the Banff Centre.

As a courtesy to the performers and audience, turn off cell phones and pagers. Please do not leave the hall during selections. Photography or recording of any kind is prohibited.

About the Artists

The St. Lawrence String Quartet (SLSQ) has established itself among the world-class chamber ensembles of its generation. Its mission: bring every piece of music to the audience in vivid color, with pronounced communication and teamwork, and great respect to the composer. Since winning both the Banff International String Quartet Competition and Young Concert Artists International Auditions in 1992, the quartet has delighted audiences with its spontaneous, passionate, and dynamic performances. Alex Ross of The New Yorker writes, “the St. Lawrence are remarkable not simply for the quality of their music making, exalted as it is, but for the joy they take in the act of connection.” Whether playing Haydn or premiering a new work, the SLSQ has a rare ability to bring audiences to rapt attention. They reveal surprising nuances in familiar repertoire and illuminate the works of some of today’s most celebrated composers, often all in the course of one evening. John Adams was inspired to write works expressly for the quartet after hearing them in concert. The first of these was String Quartet, which SLSQ premiered in 2009 to wide critical acclaim. In 2012, the quartet will join forces with the San Francisco Symphony to perform Absolute Jest, another work Adams has composed with the SLSQ in mind. This work premiered in San Francisco in March 2012, with additional performances in Chicago, Ann Arbor, and New York.

In October 2011, SLSQ premiered a new work by Osvaldo Golijov, also composed for them. This forthcoming work (co-commissioned by Stanford Lively Arts and Carnegie Hall) is expected to build on the success of their previous collaboration, which culminated in the twice-Grammy-nominated SLSQ recording of the composer’s Yiddishbbuk (EMI) in 2002. SLSQ maintains a busy touring schedule. Some 2011/12 season highlights include visits to Baltimore, Cincinnati, Ann Arbor, New Orleans, Toronto, Philadelphia, Montreal, and Durham, as well as a return to Australia in spring 2012. During the summer season, SLSQ is proud to continue its long association with the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC and Bay Chamber Concerts in Rockport, Maine. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the quartet’s founding in Canada, SLSQ in 2009 commissioned five Canadian composers and performed their work across the country. They also have active working relationships with numerous other composers, including R. Murray Schafer, Christos Hatzis, Ezequiel Viñao, Jonathan Berger, Ka Nin Chan, Mark Applebaum, and Roberto Sierra. Since 1998 the SLSQ has held the position of Ensemble in Residence at Stanford University. This residency includes working with music students as well as extensive collaborations with other faculty and departments using

The St. Lawrence String Quartet is managed by David Rowe Artists www.davidroweartists.com


Notes on the Program

music to explore myriad topics. Recent collaborations have involved the School of Medicine, School of Education, and the Law School. In addition to their appointment at Stanford, the SLSQ are visiting artists at the University of Toronto. The foursome’s passion for opening up musical arenas to players and listeners alike is evident in their annual summer chamber music seminar at Stanford and their many forays into the depths of musical meaning with preeminent music educator Robert Kapilow.  Violist Lesley Robertson is a founding member of the group, and hails from Edmonton, Alberta. Cellist Christopher Costanza is from Utica, NY and joined the quartet in 2003. Violinists Geoff Nuttall and Scott St. John both grew up in London, Ontario; Geoff is a founding member and Scott joined in 2006. Depending on concert repertoire, the two alternate the role of first violin. All four members of the quartet live and teach at Stanford, in the Bay Area of California.

St. Lawrence String Quartet recordings can be heard on EMI Classics and ArtistShare (www.artistshare.com) The St. Lawrence String Quartet is Ensemble-in-Residence at Stanford University » www.slsq.com

wolfgang amadeus mozart Quartet in D minor, K.421 (1783) Mozart used the key of D minor for some of his most intense music. It is the key of the Requiem, of his most romantic piano concerto, and of the more solemn parts of Don Giovanni. And it is the key of this passionate, melancholy string quartet, one of his ten greatest. The quartet is one of a set of six dedicated to Haydn, a composer Mozart respected and held in great esteem. Maybe because he knew that Haydn had already proved a receptive audience, Mozart felt uncharacteristically free to open himself up in this music. He completed the first of his Haydn quartets (K. 387) by April 1783. The other five were finished by January 14, 1785 and published later that year. All six quartets give us a rare glimpse into Mozart’s inner feelings in some of the most private music he was to write. In a long and eloquently written title page, in which he dedicates the set to Haydn, he writes that they are “the fruit of long and arduous work.” The many erasures, corrections, and crossings-out in the score add weight to Mozart’s admission. Haydn deeply admired Mozart’s music and said as much to Leopold Mozart when he first heard K. 421 and two other quartets of the set on February 12, 1785. “Your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name,” Leopold reported. “He has taste and, what is more, the most profound knowledge of composition.” But for many of his contemporaries, Mozart’s hard-won mastery of the four instrumental lines was too original. They felt he too constantly strained after novelty. One contemporary critic felt that the opening first violin melody of K. 421, with its wide leaps, and heartfelt, passionate nature, sounded “too highly spiced.” The slow move-

Notes on the Program

ment, with its deep underlying sadness and sorrow, is the emotional center of the quartet – an innovation that Mozart had made in writing the Haydn quartets. Both the Menuetto, with its angular trio, and the finale, a set of four variations, include extraordinary use of chromatic harmony. It adds to an overriding mood of tragic intensity throughout the quartet. Constanza left an anecdote describing how Mozart was working on this quartet on June 17, 1783 in the same room in Vienna where she was in labor with their first son, Raimond Leopold Mozart. She even claimed to English visitors Vincent and Mary Novello that Mozart’s agitation at the time and her own labor-pain cries were composed into the music, specifically in the Menuetto. Raimond Leopold Mozart, sadly, died two months after his birth. — Keith Horner

erich wolfgang korngold String Quartet No. 3 in D major, Op. 34 “More corn than gold,” was the harsh put-down of New York critic Irving Kolodin after hearing the 1947 première of Korngold’s opulent Violin Concerto, played by Heifetz. Korngold was fifty, and his life had already mirrored some of the major political and social upheavals of the twentieth century. “Fifty is old for a child prodigy,” he said, wryly looking back on the unpredictable and, to him, ultimately unsatisfying course that his life and music had taken. It would take a post-modern sensibility a half-century later, around the time of the composer’s centenary, to begin to re-evaluate and appreciate what had previously been dismissed as passé. Success came early. When Korngold was ten, Mahler declared the child prodigy a genius. It made the middle name of Wolfgang, bestowed by a pushy, over-protective father, forward-looking rather than presumptuous. The Vienna Court Opera presented Korngold’s precocious pantomime The Snowman, written when he was eleven. Operas and symphonic works flowed from his pen before he was twenty. His music was taken up by the likes of Kreisler and Flesch, Schnabel and Cortot, Tauber and Lehmann, Weingartner and Walter. Korngold’s early success was crowned by Die Tote Stadt (1916–20), which became one of the most performed operas of the 1920s, reaching more than 80 stages worldwide. Korngold’s early accomplishment was defined by his operas, and his operatic writing came to define his musical style. He had already made four annual trips to Hollywood when the Anschluss forced his emigration to


Notes on the Program

Notes on the Program

the United States in 1938. Korngold now found that his command of the late romantic musical vocabulary and his fluency in underscoring dramatic narrative blossomed from the stage into a medium that reached millions. Nostalgia and fantasy were key ingredients of Hollywood in the thirties and forties, and Korngold’s music captured the mood of the times to perfection. His seventeen major film scores for Warner Bros. included two Academy Award winners and came to define the very language of the silver screen itself. Korngold’s Third String Quartet, dated July 31, 1945, was the first work to break his self-imposed wartime exile from concert scores. “I had suspected nothing about the quartet,” his wife said when given sketches of the work as a Christmas present the previous year. “He had avoided the subject and had not struck even a single note on the piano.” While the two earlier quartets were written in Europe, the Third draws on the melodic skills Korngold had fine-tuned in his movie work half a world away. It draws equally on a keen feeling for craft. The first movement follows a traditional structure, contrasting and interweaving two themes, restlessly in search of a tonal centre – which only arrives with the closing D major chord. The interval of a seventh features prominently in the sinuously descending opening theme as it progresses throughout the movement. It also underpins the vividly skeletal scherzo that follows. Here, the two violins chase one another high above the musical staff over a busy but determined accompaniment. The calmer central trio section is based on a luxurious theme from Between Two Worlds, Korngold’s favorite film score.

The main theme of the slow movement, modally treated and marked to be played “like a folk tune,” is drawn from the love theme from the 1941 film The Sea Wolf. The restraint and clarity of Korngold’s writing make this slow movement among his most successful. The high-spirited finale toys with the idea of a fugue, all four instruments either playing the entries in unison or passing the theme from one to another with glee. Its dance-like second theme comes from the recently completed movie Devotion, about the Brontë sisters. The Third Quartet, Korngold’s final chamber work, was given its première in Los Angeles, January 3, 1949. — Keith Horner

john adams String Quartet (2008) The String Quartet of 2008 was composed for the St. Lawrence String Quartet, whose performance of my only other work for quartet, John’s Book of Alleged Dances, stimulated my imagination to write something tailored to their exceptional blend of rhythmic drive and high-drama lyricism. The quartet—violinists Geoff Nuttall and Scott St. John, violist Lesley Robertson, and cellist Chris Costanza—possess a style of playing, perfectly balanced between the instinctual and the intellectual, that greatly appealed to me. Their performances of Haydn and late Beethoven convinced me that they would be ideal performers of my music (and indeed they were, to the point where, several years later, I composed a further piece for them, a concerto for quartet and orchestra, Absolute Jest, based on fragments from Beethoven). Normally impatient with traditional titles, I uncharacteristically defaulted to “String Quartet” for this one. The only other time I’d employed such a generic title was with the 1993 Violin Concerto. It may be that the choice of such an unadorned name for both works reflected a certain awe that I felt in approaching the medium. Historically speaking, both the violin concerto and the string quartet represent for me the epitome of the union of musical form and content. The models from the past, be they from the classical period of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, from the Romantic period of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, or from the twentieth century—from Schoenberg, Berg and Bartòk all the way up to Ligeti and Carter— constitute a compendium of those composers’ most eloquent and Apollonian statements.

My quartet is cast in a uniquely asymmetrical form: a single long first part and a much shorter second. The first part is itself divided into four distinct sections that, taken together, create a fully formed musical structure. Opening with a rippling 16 thnote figuration punctuated by the offbeat plucking of the cello, the music rapidly evolves into a sequence of intensely lyrical episodes that ride the engine of a regular pulsation, an easily identifiable vestige of my minimalist past. A passage of becalmed stasis provides a relief from the restlessness of the opening; and this is followed by the eruption of a jaunty scherzo section, characterized by fractured dance steps and high-wire melodies for the violins. The energy winds down, and Part One concludes with a slower, muted music, similar to the opening in its restless inner movement. Only in its very last minute does the energy, now sounding as if blanketed by a layer of heavy cloth or snow, finally settle down to a short-lived slumber. Part Two begins with bouncing octaves (not unlike the opening of Son of Chamber Symphony), a highstrung, nervous staccato that charges the entire remaining movement with a driven energy that will only occasionally break for pockets of espressivo that recall the earlier movement. The frequent appearance of the opening bars’ Morse Code figuration at critical structural points anchor the music’s growth. Its use might even suggest to some listeners a vestigial version of rondo form. A final coda pushes tempi and activity to the extreme. I make the kind of ensemble and emotional demands on the players that are only possible in that exhilarating and Utopian world of virtuoso chamber music. – John Adams


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Robert Blocker, Dean

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St. Lawrence String Quartet