Ariel Quartet / Dover Quartet

Sun, July 5, 2015, 4:30pm

Overview

Two award winning alumni quartets of our Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence program, the Ariel (’08-’09) and Dover (’13-’14) will make a unique, collaborative appearance – fireworks for the ears! Performing two octects and two individual quartets, these exquisite powerhouses, both characterized by and celebrated for their soulful interpretations and youthful gumption, have prepared an explosive conclusion to this most festive weekend.

Schubert Quartettsatz (Ariel)
Shostakovich  Two Pieces for String Octet, Op. 11 (Dover & Ariel)
Schumann String Quartet No. 1 in A minor, Op. 41, No. 1 (Dover)
Intermission
Mendelssohn Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20 (Ariel & Dover)

Ariel Quartet performing Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44 with Daniil Trifonov

Dover Quartet performing Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Op. 73 at Artosphere ’13

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 12.16.39 PMThe Ariel Quartet was formed in Israel sixteen years ago when its members were young students, and they have been playing together ever since. Recently awarded the prestigious Cleveland Quartet Award, the Quartet serves as the faculty quartet-in-residence at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, where they direct the chamber music program and perform their own annual series of concerts – a remarkable achievement for an ensemble so young.

Highlights of the 2014-15 season include a groundbreaking Beethoven cycle performed at New York’s SubCulture that features a midnight performance of the Grosse Fuge; a performance featuring music by three generations of Israeli composers at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; performances resulting from the Cleveland Quartet Award in Kansas City, Austin, and Buffalo; and a tour of South America. The Ariel will also collaborate with the pianist Orion Weiss in a program commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War One featuring a major work written in 1914.

The Ariel Quartet performs widely in North America, Europe, and Israel, including two record-setting Beethoven cycles last season, performed before all the members of the quartet turned thirty. The Ariel continues to astonish with its performances of complete works by memory and has remained committed to performing extensively in Israel. In addition, the Ariel has collaborated with the pianist Orion Weiss; violist Roger Tapping; cellist Paul Katz; and the American and Jerusalem String Quartets. The Quartet toured with the cellist Alisa Weilerstein during the 2013-14 season, and performs regularly with the legendary pianist Menahem Pressler. Additionally, the Ariel was quartet-in-residence for the Steans Music Institute at the Ravinia Festival, the Yellow Barn Music Festival, and for the Perlman Music Program.

Formerly the resident ensemble in the New England Conservatory’s Professional String Quartet Training Program, the Ariel has won a number of international prizes including the Grand Prize at the 2006 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition and First Prize at the international competition “Franz Schubert And The Music Of Modernity” in Graz, Austria, in 2003, when the Quartet’s members were remarkably young. After they won the Székely Prize for their performance of Bartók, as well as the overall Third Prize at the Banff International String Quartet Competition in 2007, the American Record Guide described the Ariel Quartet as “a consummate ensemble gifted with utter musicality and remarkable interpretive power” and called their performance of Beethoven’s Op. 132 “the pinnacle of the competition.”

The Ariel Quartet has been mentored extensively by Itzhak Perlman, Paul Katz, Donald Weilerstein, Miriam Fried, Kim Kashkashian, and Martha Strongin Katz, among others. The Quartet has received extensive scholarship support throughout its studies in the United States from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, Dov and Rachel Gottesman, the Legacy Heritage Fund, as well as The A. N. and Pearl G. Barnett Family Foundation.

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 12.17.06 PMThe Dover Quartet catapulted to international stardom following a stunning sweep of the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition, becoming one of the most in-demand ensembles in the world. The New Yorker recently dubbed them “the young American string quartet of the moment,” and The Strad raved that the Quartet is “already pulling away from their peers with their exceptional interpretive maturity, tonal refinement and taut ensemble.” In 2013-14, the Quartet became the first ever Quartet-in-Residence for the venerated Curtis Institute of Music.

During the 2014-15 season, the Dover Quartet will perform more than 100 concerts throughout the United States, Canada, South America, and Europe. Highlights include concerts for the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C, Schneider Concerts in New York City, and Wigmore Hall in London. The Quartet will also perform together with the pianists Andre Watts, Anne-Marie McDermott, and Jon Kimura Parker; the violists Roberto Díaz and Cynthia Phelps; and the Pacifica Quartet.
In addition, the Quartet will participate in week-long residencies for Chamber Music Northwest, the Phoenix Chamber Music Festival, the Chamber Music Society of Logan, and the Festival Internacional de Musica de Cartagena. The Quartet has been reengaged a remarkable number of times for return appearances throughout the United States, Canada, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Great Britain.

Last fall, the Dover Quartet won not only the Grand Prize but all three Special Prizes at the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition. The Quartet also won top prizes at the Fischoff Competition and the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition, and has taken part in festivals such as Chamber Music Northwest, Artosphere, La Jolla SummerFest, Bravo! Vail, and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. During the 2013-14 season, the Quartet acted as the Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence at the Caramoor Festival. Additionally, members of the Quartet have appeared as soloists with some of the world’s finest orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Tokyo Philharmonic.

The Dover Quartet draws from the musical lineage of the Cleveland, Vermeer, and Guarneri Quartets, having studied at the Curtis Institute and Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, where they were in residence from 2011-2013. The Quartet has been mentored extensively by Shmuel Ashkenasi, James Dunham, Norman Fischer, Kenneth Goldsmith, Joseph Silverstein, Arnold Steinhardt, Michael Tree, and Peter Wiley, and is dedicated to sharing their music with underserved communities and is an active member of Music for Food, an initiative to help musicians fight hunger in their home communities.

The Ernst Stiefel String Quartet Residency at Caramoor

In 1999, with major endowment gifts from The Ernst C. Stiefel Foundation, Caramoor established the Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence program, which annually provides an emerging ensemble with opportunities to perform, collaborate on a new work, and engage with local schoolchildren. In addition, the activities of the endowed fund expanded in 2012 to include an annual performance by an alumni quartet. Currently, the Calidore String Quartet is the fifteenth Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence at Caramoor; previous quartets have included: the Avalon String Quartet, Miró Quartet, Pacifica Quartet, Rossetti String Quartet, Daedalus Quartet, Amernet String Quartet, Jupiter String Quartet, Parker String Quartet, Escher String Quartet, Jasper String Quartet, Linden String Quartet, Amphion Quartet, and tonight’s artists: the Ariel String Quartet (2008-09) and the Dover Quartet (2013-14).
The Calidore String Quartet will perform at Caramoor on July 17.
To support the Ernst Stiefel String Quartet Residency Program or any others at Caramoor,

please contact Jennifer Pace, Director of Individual Gifts, at 914.232.5035, Ext. 261, or development@caramoor.org.

 

Franz Schubert / 1797-1828 / Quartettsatz in C minor, D. 703

 

Late in 1820, Schubert entered a new phase in his quartet writing, leaving the so-called sociable, domestic character of his earlier compositions to compose highly dramatic works that surge with passion and intensity.  One reason for the change may have to do with the fact that Schubert was no longer writing for his more technically limited family quartet, brothers Ferdinand and Ignaz, violins, Franz, viola and their father, cello.  Now he had in mind professional players with a virtuosic command of their instruments.  Also, it may be that Schubert’s turn to a more revolutionary and Romantic style of writing was in reaction to an official reprimand he received that year for consorting with the radical poet Johann Senn.

 

In December 1820, Schubert completed the first movement and forty-one measures of the second movement of what seemed to be the beginning of a full-length quartet in c minor.  And there the manuscript ends!  As with the “Unfinished” Symphony, scholars speculate that Schubert probably planned to write four movements, but somehow circumstances intervened.  It is also possible that he abandoned the task when he found himself unable to sustain the high-pitched intensity of the first movement.  Although we will probably never know for sure why the work was not finished, we can savor the quartet movement (Quartettsatz in German) for what it is—a thoroughly satisfying and compelling chamber music composition, among the most outstanding in the entire repertoire.

 

The music opens mysteriously, with the first violin murmuring a repeated-note figure that is taken up fugally by the others.  After quickly rising to a fervid climax, the same melody, but without the repeated notes, continues quietly.  Another, more lyrical theme appears in the first violin, while the second violin and viola carry on the rocking rhythm that has been established.  An abrupt change of mood intrudes as the lower instruments introduce a highly theatrical, tense section similar to the opening and the first violin sweeps up the scale, again and again, in portentous-sounding runs.  Schubert then brings in still another theme, an air of lyrical innocence, but the initial melody insistently runs through the viola and cello, gaining in importance and finally taking over in a hushed, chilling episode.  The exposition ends as the cello plays the last echo of the opening and the others go through the measured paces of the closing theme.  Two violent outbursts signal the start of the brief development, which uses the contour of the opening theme as the springboard for fanciful flights of melodic creation.  The recapitulation brings back all the themes in the proper order—except for the most important theme, the first; Schubert saves that for the final measures of the piece, the short concluding coda.

 

Notes from Guide to Chamber Music, by Melvin Berger ©1985  (used with permission).

 

 

 

 

Dmitri Shostakovich /1906-1975 / Two Pieces for String Octet, Op. 11

 

Shostakovich became one of the most original composers for string quartet in the 20th century out of a musical culture that had largely ignored the medium. Of the major Russian composers in the generation or two preceding him, only Borodin and Tchaikovsky wrote quartets that are performed at all often, and even those were belittled by their contemporaries. Shostakovich himself, for all his later devotion to the genre, was in no hurry to get started. By the time he came to write his official String Quartet No. 1, in 1938, he was already well past the brilliant youthful First Symphony, and the superb satiric ballet The Age of Gold. But it wasn’t for almost another decade that he wrote his first string quartet—and then made up for his earlier delinquency by writing fourteen more.

 

But quite early in his career he had begun his encounter with an ensemble of strings in the form of an octet. In December 1924, while working on his first symphony, he also composed a prelude and the beginning of a fugue for the same octet combination as Mendelssohn’s famous work. A few months later he dropped the fugue and began writing a scherzo with the intention of completing the work as a Suite for Octet. He planned five movements, but in the end he finished only the prelude and the scherzo. Still, he was pleased with the latter’s greater modernity and told a friend that it was the “very best thing” he had done to this point.

Though at first reluctant, he eventually showed the octet to his teacher Maximilian Steinberg, whose conservative taste the 19-year-old composer was already outrunning. He reported to a friend that Steinberg “made a sour face and expressed the hope that, when I turn thirty, I will no longer write such wild music.” Steinberg’s hope was not to be fulfilled—but that was to our benefit.

 

© Steven Ledbetter
Robert Schumann / 1810-1856 / String Quartet No. 1 in A minor, Op. 41, No. 1

 

While Schumann prepared to write his quartets by studying the quartets of Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn, he also spent time absorbing Bach’s contrapuntal techniques.  And it is the Bach influence that we hear most clearly in the introduction to the strangely impersonal A minor quartet, a highly contrapuntal section that Schumann added after the movement was finished.  A brief transition leads from the polyphonic introduction to the homophonic, pianistic Allegro (curiously in F Major instead of the expected A minor) with its easy, fluid theme. Schumann spins out this theme before giving the subsidiary subject, an obvious derivative of the first theme, to the second violin with saucy comments form the first violin. Very neatly Schumann then works through the two themes in order and brings them back little changed for the recapitulation and the quiet ending.

 

The theme of the Scherzo appears in starkly contrasting guises – Florestan and Eusebius.  At times, it is lighter and delicate, much like a Mendelssohn fairyland scherzo; other times it is forceful and energetic, more in the manner of a charging cavalry brigade. The sweetly sentimental trio, a foil to the two facets of the Scherzo, acts as a brief, lyrical interlude before the return of the first part.  Three recitative like measures lead to the principal theme of the Adagio, a beautiful love ballad that moves from spirituality to ecstasy as it is eloquently sung, initially by the first violin and then by the cello.  After the two statements of the theme, an agitated middle section, based on the viola’s accompaniment figure from the first part, intrudes. The interruption is followed by a final presentation of the main theme, and the movement ends with a recitative similar to the opening.

 

The entire last movement springs from the emboldened theme – rhythmically, short-short-long followed by a rapid run – heard at the very outset.  The second theme merely turns the melodic direction of the first theme upside down and combines it with rising chains of eighth notes heard earlier. The exciting development section features a wide variety of sonorities, including some that are almost orchestral in effect. The recapitulation starts with an even more forceful return of the opening; the second theme, in its turn, now appears right side up. Then, in a brilliant stroke of imagination, Schumann suddenly cuts the tempo and presents the eight-note chains in a slow-motion, bagpipe treatment, followed by a solemn chorale like episode.  The high spirits of the principal theme will not be denied, though, and the lively gaiety quickly reestablishes itself in a brilliant coda.

 

Notes from: Guide to Chamber Music, by Melvin Berger © 1985

 

Felix Mendelssohn /1809-1847 / Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20

 

Mendelssohn wrote the Octet during the summer and fall of 1825 when he was but sixteen years old. It is considered the most outstanding composition by one so young in the entire history of music, far surpassing comparable efforts of such famous child prodigies as Mozart and Schubert. But the Octet is more than an example of precocity; it is a consummate work of art, able to hold its own with the finest pieces of chamber music. While Mendelssohn was growing up, the lavish family home was the setting for weekly Sunday morning musicales, with the most distinguished Berlin musicians as well as touring performers taking part in the informal music-making. It is believed that young Felix wrote the Octet for one of these gatherings. He probably played viola, as he usually did at these events. Mendelssohn later called the Octet his favorite of all his compositions. “I had a most wonderful time in the writing of it.”

 

The first movement opens with a thickly textured carpet of orchestral sound. Above this rich surface the first violin soars aloft with the striving principal theme. Additional motifs and a transitional section lead to the second theme, a smooth melody presented initially by the fourth violin and first viola. The movement ends with a fiery coda.

 

The elegiac, dreamlike Andante derives its shape more from the interplay and patterns of its tone colors than from melodies or formal design. Its complex polyphonic interweavings add a true depth of feeling.

 

The light, gossamer Scherzo is a fantasy that seems to spin forth effortlessly. Mendelssohn’s sister, Fanny, wrote this about the movement: “The whole piece is to be played…with shivering tremolos and lightening flashes of trills. All is new and strange…one feels so close to the world of spirits, lightly carried up into the air.”

 

Mendelssohn follows the elfin good spirits of the Scherzo with the Presto’s more down-to-earth humor. The opening passage in the second cello sounds like it might be a continuation of the Scherzo—except that it is at the lowest, most awkward part of the cello’s range, a passage that Mendelssohn surely meant as a joke, since no cellist, then or now, can possibly play it with grace and clarity. Up through the instruments the melody goes in imitation, climaxing with the second theme, a series of thundering, repeated unison notes. Mendelssohn occasionally applies the brakes with the repeated stamping notes, and even offers us a tantalizing glimpse of the Scherzo’s melody. The work ends with a long, slow buildup of the first theme to a rousing conclusion.

 

Adapted from Guide to Chamber Music, Melvin Berger © 2001

 

 

Program notes (Shubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn) courtesy of artists’ management.