2019–20 Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence
Originally appeared in the Fall 2019–Spring 2020 Season Program Book
The Thalea String Quartet was formed in 2014 and is dedicated to building a new and diverse audience for chamber music through innovative programming and community engagement. They are currently the Young Professional String Quartet at the Butler School of Music, where they are mentored by the Miró Quartet (Caramoor’s ESSQIR 2000–2001!).
Last summer, we asked them about their upcoming Caramoor residency.
How do you feel about being the Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence at Caramoor this year?
The Thalea String Quartet is absolutely thrilled to be the Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence at Caramoor for the 2019–20 season! Caramoor has such a unique diversity of artists, creating powerful connections between so many musical genres. It’s exactly the type of environment we thrive in! Since the quartet formed in 2014, we’ve always tried to stay open and curious about how to connect different musical cultures, art forms, and perspectives, and have done our best to share these connections with our audiences.
We are also proud to join an incredible tradition of resident quartets at Caramoor. The position has not only been held by some of our current mentors, the Miró Quartet, but it has also been held by ensembles we have admired for many years, and quartets who we are privileged to call our colleagues. To join the list of Caramoor’s resident quartets is a true honor.
What kind of education work has the Thalea done in the past?
Educational work has been fundamental to the mission of the Thalea Quartet from the beginning. We’ve been involved in a number of incredibly rewarding educational endeavors but there are two recent projects in particular that really inspired us. In 2017, the quartet was invited to help develop a strings program in San Francisco for children and young adults with autism. It was one of the most enriching experiences we have had as a quartet.
More recently, we collaborated on a composition workshop with Accent Pontiac, an organization that provides music classes to underserved children in the Detroit area. We invited the students to create an original story and graphic scores to depict the plot. We then worked together to interpret the entire piece of music on their instruments and ours, and the project culminated in a performance of the work by our quartet.
We are always looking to explore new ways to bring music into the community and we’re very excited for the work we’ll get to do during our residency at Caramoor.
Is there a piece or pieces you’re particularly looking forward to playing at Caramoor this season?
This season we all celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, so we’re very excited to get to perform Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 59, No. 2 at our November concert. The work is expansive, complex, innovative, and also deeply moving and emotionally rich. It’s a true masterpiece and we are always excited to share this work with our audiences.
Another piece that we’ve become particularly fond of is Aaron Copland’s Movement for String Quartet. It is a rarely heard gem from Copland’s student days — a string quartet in miniature inspired by his studies in Paris. It is deeply influenced by French music of the early 20th century, but you can hear stirrings of Copland’s signature sound even in this youthful work.
Florence Price (1887–1953) was an African-American composer, pianist and organist. She is often cited as the first African-American woman to have a work performed by a major orchestra. Tell us about the Price works you’re performing and why you chose them.
We’re very excited to be performing Florence Price’s Folksongs in Counterpoint alongside a brand new piano quintet arrangement of Price’s Piano Concerto. We’re currently exploring classical music of the Harlem Renaissance, and Price’s work really encapsulates the marriage of Americana with a strong Western classical tradition. Each movement is based on a popular folk tune — “Shortnin’ Bread,” “Clementine,” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” — but these works are by no means simple! The familiar melodies are completely transformed through complex contrapuntal and harmonic techniques, creating incredibly rich, multi-layered works. Each movement is uniquely fascinating and speaks to Price’s compositional brilliance.
We’re thrilled to be joined by the incredible Michelle Cann for the world premiere of the piano quintet version of Price’s Piano Concerto. Michelle has been receiving rapturous reviews for her performances of the original orchestral version, so we can’t wait to work with her on this new arrangement, specially created for us by Boris Vaynor of the St. Petersburg Quartet. Like the Folksongs, the concerto is infused with gospel and popular dance music, alongside the rich romanticism of Price’s classical roots.
The Thalea String Quartet will give three concerts at Caramoor in 2019–2020: Sunday, November 17 at 3:00pm with pianist Michelle Cann, Sunday, May 3 at 3:00pm with Rob Kapilow, and a concert during Caramoor’s 2020 Summer Season.
The Thalea String Quartet is
Christopher Whitley, violin
Kumiko Sakamoto, violin
Luis Bellorín, viola
Titilayo Ayangade, cello