Aizuri Quartet Summer 2016

Aizuri Quartet

2015-16 Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence

Fri, July 8, 2016, 8:00pm


Due to predicted severe weather, this performance has moved from the Spanish Courtyard to the Venetian Theater.

Introduced to us by way of two of its members – Ayane Kozasa and Karen Ouzounian, alumnae of our Evnin Rising Stars program – the Aizuri Quartet makes its fourth concert appearance as Caramoor’s 2015-16 Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence. Recently in residence at the Curtis Institute of Music and Ravinia Festival’s Steans Music Institute, they’ve also been planting a stake in the Philadelphia music scene through appearances at the Barnes Foundation, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, World Cafe Live, and on WRTI’s musician-hosted radio special “Philadelphia Music Makers.”

As part of their year-long residency at Caramoor, which also includes lending their time to classroom-based instruction, concerts, conversations, and performance clinics, the Aizuri Quartet has chosen emerging composer Paul Wiancko to develop a new work for Caramoor’s ongoing “A String Quartet Library for the 21st Century” commissioning project. Join the Aizuri and Wiancko as they take aim at a deeper echelon of human emotion in LIFT, a multiple-movement piece exploring the intricate rhythms of joy and sorrow, paired with Beethoven’s controversial String Quartet Op. 130 & Grosse Fuge.

Wiancko  LIFT for String Quartet (world premiere)
Beethoven  String Quartet Op. 130 & Grosse Fuge

We’ll give you a lift! Free Metro-North Katonah Shuttle beginning at 6:00pm supported by  First Niagara Foundation



Aizuri Quartet
2015-16 Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence

Miho Saegusa, violin
Zoë Martin-Doike, violin
Ayane Kozasa, viola
Karen Ouzounian, cello

The Aizuri Quartet was the String Quartet-in-Residence at the venerated Curtis Institute of Music in 2015. During the course of its residency, the Quartet appeared in various venues throughout Philadelphia, including Field Concert Hall, the Barnes Foundation, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, World Café Live, and on WRTI’s musician-hosted radio special “Philadelphia Music Makers.” In addition to working closely with the Curtis Institute of Music’s renowned faculty, the Aizuri Quartet was featured throughout an online course on the history and repertoire of the string quartet titled “The World of the String Quartet,” hosted by Arnold Steinhardt and presented by Coursera.

Highlights of the 2014-2015 season included performances in Paris, Dresden, Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City. Collaborators throughout the season included cellist Peter Wiley, pianist Jonathan Biss, the Aeolus String Quartet, poet Denice Frohman, and composers Lembit Beecher and Andrew Lipke. The Aizuri Quartet was the resident ensemble of the 2014 Ravinia Festival’s Steans Music Institute.

Formed in 2012 and comprising of graduates of the Juilliard School and Curtis Institute of Music, the Aizuri Quartet is the culmination of years of music-making between its members. The Quartet gave its debut performance on the Tertulia Chamber Music series in New York City, and participated in the 2013 Juilliard String Quartet Seminar. Projects during the 2013-2014 season included a residency at the Scrag Mountain Music Festival in Vermont, as well as performances and educational programs in New York City, Philadelphia, Memphis, and at the ArtsNaples World Festival in Naples, Florida.

Individual members of the quartet have won top prizes in the Primrose International Viola Competition and Astral Artists National Auditions, and have collaborated with artists Pamela Frank, Miriam Fried, Richard Goode, Kim Kashkashian, and Mitsuko Uchida among others. They have appeared throughout North America and Europe with a diverse range of ensembles including Musicians from Marlboro, Musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, Curtis on Tour, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, A Far Cry, The Knights, IRIS Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Opera Philadelphia, and counter)induction.

Violist Ayane Kozasa and cellist Karen Ouzounian participated in Caramoor’s Evnin Rising Stars mentoring program in 2012 and 2013.

About the Music

Paul Wiancko / b. 1983 / LIFT for String Quartet / World premiere of Volume XVII of Caramoor’s Commissioning project: A String Quartet Library for the 21st Century

Paul Wiancko received his early training In the Los Angeles area, with degrees in cello performance from the University of Southern California and the Colburn School, where he studied with Ronald Leonard. He has won awards at international cello competitions, which led to concerto performances in Poland and Brazil.

While in Los Angeles, he made arrangements and recorded strings for bands including Yellowcard and Veruca Salt and got involved in the production of recordings by various artists including Pennywise, U2, and Pearl Jam. He toured with Chick Corea and took part in his Grammy-winning album Hot House (2013). He has worked with other jazz and popular performers, including appearance at the Montreal Jazz Festival.

He spent many summers performing chamber music with leading string quartets and soloists at the Aspen and Marlboro Music Festivals, among others. He moved to New York in 2009 and joined the Harlem String Quartet for three years. He is now a member of the electric acoustic chamber ensemble Bright Wave, and other groups, and he frequently tours with the East Coast Chamber Orchestra.

His first large composition was Tales from Bent City, a concerto for cello, orchestra, and electronics, blending hip-hop and improvisation with the grand 19th-century romantic tradition. Since its successful premiere, he has composed for the Parker Quartet, Bargemusic, and a large number of instrumental and vocal soloists. Recent works include a score for the feature film Heartlock and a solo piano work based on the exploration of Mars, commissioned by NASA project leader Dr. Peter Smith. This summer he is Caramoor’s commissioned composer. In addition to his 2010 Mario Miralles cello, he practices acoustic and electronic instruments from various musical traditions: guitar, bass, violin, harmonia, berimbau, shamisen, and theremin.

The composer has provided the following comments about the new piece:

Writing LIFT was an investigation of elation in its musical form. Inspired by the Aizuri Quartet’s gift for group expressiveness and virtuosity, I explored the capacity of rhythm itself to evoke and inspire. I also drew heavily from my own experience as a cellist and chamber musician to help articulate the work’s many interlocking parts and shifting colors. As a whole, I consider LIFT to be a journey of the soul and a fervent celebration of detail—my ode to joy.

– Paul Wiancko

LIFT was commissioned by the Caramoor Summer Music Season, on behalf of the Aizuri Quartet, for A String Quartet Library for the 21st Century. World Premiere: July 8, 2016 at Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, Katonah, NY.


Ludwig van Beethoven / 1770-1827 / String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat major, Op. 130, with the Grosse Fuge, Op. 133

The Opus 130 string quartet that we know today is not the one Beethoven first composed and premiered. That work challenged the audience with an extraordinarily forbidding finale, which Beethoven later chose to replace with a more traditional kind of movement. He published the original ending separately under the title Grosse Fuge (“Great Fugue”) with the opus number 133. For a long time the Grosse Fuge was regarded as incomprehensible, and few quartets played it. Today one can generate a lively discussion as to the appropriateness of returning to Beethoven’s original conception of the quartet by playing the fugue in lieu of the version that he actually chose to publish. In any case, both versions are heard with some frequency now, and each has its claim for primary consideration.

One of the things that left early audiences nonplussed with the late quartets was the fact that the composer broke away almost completely from the old four-movement pattern by having a larger number of movements or by introducing a bewildering variety of tempo changes. In the B-flat quartet, he does both of these things. The effect is to break down the sense of the individual movement as one of a series of self-contained boxes of music lined up in a neat array to produce a piece, and to create instead a much wider-ranging and more flexible whole. Even the most disparate and varied passages, the least expected harmonic relationships, and the most abstruse contrapuntal working out play their parts in the final result. Though Beethoven seems on the surface to be destroying “classical” balance, these works are in many respects the most classical of all.

The B-flat quartet, especially when played as originally conceived, with the Great Fugue as its finale, is a locus classicus of these tendencies. From the opening of the first movement we are in doubt: Is the Adagio simply a slow introduction (as we naturally assume at first), or is it the principal idea (as we begin to suspect when the Allegro that follows turns out to be so brief and scrappy)? The ever-widening circles of harmonic relationships raise questions, too—as when Beethoven carefully prepares the expected modulation to the dominant, only to toss it away at the last moment and lurch boldly up a chromatic scale to stop (arbitrarily, it seems) in a key one half-step higher than expected. It is still possible to discern the normal outlines of sonata form, but the new breadth and variety of material raise doubts all along the way.

And what is one to make of the ensuing Presto — as straightforward an ABA plan, like the old Scherzo and Trio, as one could hope to find? This bare-bones movement is in turn followed by the Andante con moto ma non troppo, which is filled with lavish decorative ornamentation, whose very richness distracts attention from its sonata-like plan. Next comes a movement “in the style of a German dance,” which belies the apparent rustication of its title with constant refinements of dynamics and articulation, giving an unusually fussy, almost surrealistic sound to what would normally be an earthy dance style. The finale ought to follow, we might assume, but Beethoven felt the need for another slow movement and produced one of his most intensely personal expressions, as a number of anecdotes from his own time reveal. The Cavatina is really a slow aria (the very term “cavatina” has operatic connotations), the dramatic effect of which is heightened by the broken melodic line of the first violin in a passage marked beklemmt (“oppressed”).

Beethoven’s original finale (which will be performed here) was ultimately published separately as Opus 133, the Grosse Fuge, where it has the unhappy effect of rising from nothing. Beethoven may have agreed to replace the fugue with a more “practical” finale, but when the fugue is performed, it really needs to stand in its original position—as the culmination of Opus 130.

Beethoven was increasingly interested in fugal writing in his last years (examples are scattered throughout the late works). In this particular movement he seems determined to answer a challenge implicitly laid down by his old counterpoint teacher Albrechtsberger, who, in a study of fugal writing, listed all the “decorations and artifices” possible with the comment that it would be difficult to fit them all into a single work. Beethoven, however, manages to work them all into his Great Fugue, including one device of Albrechtsberger’s invention, and thus produces, like J.S. Bach, his own monumental “Art of Fugue.”

Yet, Beethoven’s composition is anything but an academic exercise. The daring freedom and flexibility with which he develops his material are unprecedented, and the thorough-going way in which the melodic figures of the fugue subject penetrate the entire musical fabric already distantly foreshadow (to those gifted with 20/20 hindsight) the total chromaticism of Schoenberg and the development of twelve-tone music. The Grosse Fuge is one of those rare works that is fundamentally difficult—for performers and audiences alike—and will remain forever an “avant-garde” composition.

– © Steven Ledbetter