Sunday March 22, 2015 4:00pm

Calidore String Quartet

2014–2015 Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence


The Calidore String Quartet continues its year-long residency at Caramoor with a program that recalls a period in time that transformed the world. The quartet writes:

One hundred years ago the “Great War” consumed Europe. World War I had a profound impact on all forms of art, especially music, and this program explores how composers expressed themselves amidst mass devastation. Darius Milhaud’s Fourth String Quartet brings the audience to a simpler time, incorporating popular tunes in a simple and clear texture. In contrast, Bela Bartok’s Second Quartet contains beginnings of Bartok’s revolutionary tonal language, as he explores rustic Eastern European folk idioms while reacting to the desolation of the war. This program also includes Ravel’s masterwork, his Quartet in F major, though it predates the war era. Ravel contributed to the war effort as a truck driver on the Verdun Front. The elegance of this quartet captures and exalts a national style, yet it was this same nationalistic fervor that sparked the “Great War.”

One extremely promising string quartet is chosen each year to complete a year-long residency at Caramoor. The quartet-in-residence lends their time and talents to Caramoor’s Student Strings program in the secondary schools with a classroom-based program of concerts, conversations, and performance clinics. The Ernst Stiefel Quartet-in-Residence performs at Caramoor throughout their residency, enabling the public to experience these exciting, young players in an intimate setting.  The Calidore Quartet is the 15th Ernst Stiefel Quartet-in-Residence at Caramoor.  They will be visiting schools in the fall and spring and performing concerts at Caramoor in the fall, spring, and summer.


Milhaud  Quartet No. 4, Op. 46
Bartók  Quartet No. 2, Op. 17
– Intermission –
Ravel Quartet in F major  


Listen to the Calidore String Quartet perform works from programs earlier in their year as the Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence:


Calidore String Quartet, Hindemith Quartet No. 4


Calidore String Quartet, Beethoven Quartet in e (Allegro)


Calidore String Quartet, Schubert on a Helipad

Calidore String Quartet

Described as “a miracle of unified thought…” (La Presse, Montreal) and “nothing short of a revelation” (Calgary Herald), the Calidore String Quartet has established an international reputation for its informed, polished and captivating performances. The Calidore has debuted in such prestigious festivals as Verbier, Ravinia and the Schneider Concert Series (NYC) and is a featured “Young Artist-in-Residence” on American Public Media’s national radio program “Performance Today”.

Formed at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles in 2010, the Calidore String Quartet is now based in Manhattan. In 2014, the Calidore were selected by the Emerson Quartet to become artists-in-residence and visiting faculty at Stony Brook University (SUNY). September 2014 marks the release of Calidore’s debut album, featuring works by Mendelssohn and Haydn and a second release, on the Editions Hortus Label, of works to commemorate the centennial of World War I.

Highlights of the 2014-15 season include debuts at Wigmore Hall, Lincoln Center and a year-long residency as the Stiefel Quartet in Residence at the Caramoor Center (NY). Other engagements include debuts at Shriver Hall (Baltimore), Phillips Collection (Washington D.C), the National Arts Center (Ottawa), as well as tours and reengagements across Europe, Korea, California and the Midwestern US. Summer 2014 marked the Calidore String Quartet’s inaugural season as the quartet-in-residence at the Bellingham Festival of Music and the Innsbrook Institute Summer Music Academy and Festival.

Within two years of their inception, the Calidore String Quartet quickly won the grand prize in virtually all major American chamber music competitions, including the Fischoff, Coleman, Chesapeake, and Yellow Springs competitions. Internationally,  they captured top prizes at the 2012 ARD Munich International String Quartet Competition and the 2012 Hamburg International Chamber Music Competition.  Calidore performances have been broadcast on NPR, CBC (Canada), KBS (South Korea), Bayerischer Rundfunk (Munich), Norddeutscher Rundfunk (Hamburg) and were featured on German national television as part of a documentary produced by ARD public broadcasting.

The Calidore has collaborated with many esteemed artists and ensembles, including Menahem Pressler, Joshua Bell, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Quatuor Ebene among others. In 2014, the Calidore String Quartet joins the class of Gunter Pichler (Alban Berg Quartet) at the Reina Sofia School in Madrid. Formerly, they were the Graduate String Quartet in Residence at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. The Calidore has studied closely with such luminaries as Andre Roy, Arnold Steinhardt, Guillaume Sutre, Gunter Pichler, Gerhard Schulz, Martin Beaver, Gabor Takacs Nagy, Paul Coletti, Ronald Leonard, and the Quatuor Ebène.

As passionate supporters of music education, the Calidore String Quartet is deeply committed to mentoring and educating young musicians, students and audiences. In January 2104, the Calidore joined the faculty of the Ed and Mari Edelman Chamber Music Institute at the Colburn School. Most recently, the Calidore was selected by the Saint Lawrence String Quartet to conduct a two-week outreach residency of over twenty performances in the San Francisco Area.

Using an amalgamation of “California” and “doré”, (French for “golden”), the ensemble’s name represents a reverence for the diversity of culture and the strong support it  received from its home of origin, Los Angeles, California, the “golden state.” The Calidore String Quartet aims to present performances that share the passion and joy of the string quartet chamber music repertoire.

For more information about the Calidore String Quartet, please visit



Darius Milhaud/1892-1974/Quartet No. 4, Op. 46

Among the most prolific of twentieth-century composers, with a catalogue running well past 400 works, many of them quite large, Darius Milhaud absorbed music wherever he went, transmuting the received impressions into his own work. Having done so, he would move on to new territory. The mere fact that a work in one style might prove to be very popular was not enough to induce him to continue writing in that style; he also needed to find musical problems worth solving. Among his most successful works were those inspired by his encounters with various popular musical traditions during and immediately after the First World War.

Two years in South America left an indelible impression on him, followed closely by the influence of American jazz, which began making its way to Europe via recordings long before musicians traveled there in person. The flip, cheeky, jazzy ballet Le Boeuf sur le toit (1919) was a musical depiction of an American speak-easy, though at that time he had never seen one. He could take advertising copy for farm machinery and create a set of songs for voice and instruments describing the uses and advantages of a mowing machine or a mechanism to bind sheaves. Or he could produce an operatic trilogy encompassing the Oresteia of Aeschylus, in an adaptation by this friend Paul Claudel, to say nothing of eighteen string quartets and twelve symphonies.

Musical training began in the family at the age of three. His instrument was the violin, though he later taught himself to become a competent pianist. In 1909 he studied at the Paris Conservatoire, where the teacher who made the greatest impression on him was Gédalge in counterpoint, composition, and orchestration. Between his early years in Provence, where he absorbed a great deal of folk and popular music, and his introduction to more modern music in Paris (he hated Wagner from his first encounter, but loved Debussy), he began a wide-ranging encounter with music from many parts of the world that colored his own work.

His always weak health prevented his taking an active part in World War I. When the poet Paul Claudel, who had become a close friend, was appointed minister to Brazil, he invited Milhaud to come along as attaché in charge of propaganda. The nearly two years they spent in Brazil brought him into close contact with the colorful popular music there, which played a major role in the compositions he brought back to Paris at the end of 1918.

One such work was the String Quartet No. 4, Op. 46, composed in Rio de Janeiro. Its three movements are arranged in a traditional fast-slow-fast tempo series. The first (“Lively”) races without let-up, suggesting elements of popular song and dance without obvious quotations. The slow movement (“Funeral”) is the longest in the work and surely must be a response to the tragedy that war brought to the fields of France. Somber dotted marching rhythms move long, sotto voce, under the sustained themes in a lamenting mood that becomes darker and darker, gradually subsiding into silence. In spite of its tempo marking, “Very animated,” the closing movement does not completely forget the pensive moods of the slow movement, revisiting them in alternation with a livelier dotted-rhythm material, suggesting a renewed hope for the future.

Milhaud took the quartet back to Paris when he and Claudel returned at the end of the war and offered it to Félix Delgrange (the eventual dedicatee), who placed it on his concert series on April 5, 1919, performed by the Quatuor Capelle.


Béla Bartók/1881-1945/Quartet No. 2, Op. 17

Bartók’s Second Quartet was among the first compositions to arrive in a burst of activity following several years of artistic isolation, begun in 1912, when he devoted himself predominantly to folk song research. His absorption with this music bore rich fruit in the Second String Quartet, composed during the central years of World War I (1915-1917), a horror that must have seemed as if it was never going to end by the time he completed the last movement (can this be one of the reasons for the empty bleakness of the final Lento?) The Waldbauer-Kerpely Quartet, to which it is dedicated, premiered the quartet on March 3, 1918. Here, Bartók seems to have absorbed all of Hungarian folk music within himself and to have created a music that at every point sounds Hungarian in its intervals, rhythms, textures, and sonorities, without the naiveté of simple quotation. As his biographer Halsey Stevens writes, “The whole direction of Bartók’s later writing might be deduced from this one work.”

The quartet is in three movements, with the dynamic second movement surrounded by a lyric opening and a pensive finale. (This is an early example of Bartók’s predilection for shaping his works in large arches, as he will do on an even larger scale, over five movements, in some later quartets.) The material grows out of the first five notes of the first violin (a sequence of fourths—perfect, augmented, diminished). Much of the movement unfolds with a gentle rocking rhythm in free alternations of 6/8 and 9/8 time. The prevailing gentle, even pensive, mood builds to moments of great intensity, unlocked by a passionately lyrical descending phrase.

The second movement is forceful, even brutal, in its assertion of repeated‑note patterns against highly chromatic dancelike melodies. Bartók chooses the adjective “capricious” to describe the feeling of the movement, but it is also not far away from his recent piano work, the Allegro barbaro (“barbarous Allegro”), employing his folk elements in a pounding, exciting, dramatic way. Octave Ds in the second violin, reiterated more than one hundred times following the eight introductory measures, serve as a drone—inspired, surely, by folk instruments—to ground the tonality even when the melodic lines are most intensely chromatic. Decorative ornaments here and there evoke the playing of folk instruments and the sounds that Bartók heard and collected phonographically during his earlier years of folk music research. The basic figure of the movement is a reiterated minor third, strongly asserted, and occasionally slipping up to a major third. This is heard in various guises over the course of the movement’s rondo pattern.

The final Lento feels utterly desolate and resigned, almost devoid of any possibility of energy or activity. Bartók builds it up in chainlike sections linked by some important common intervals, especially fourths and minor seconds. The style, the structure, the expressive means employed reveal the mature master whose fundamental qualities are already fully apparent in this seminal work.


Maurice Ravel/1875-1936/Quartet in F Major

Like Debussy, Ravel composed only one string quartet; and like Debussy’s quartet, Ravel’s holds a unique position in his output (though the two works are quite different from one another, despite the casual ease with which we link the names of their composers). Ravel’s quartet, composed in 1903, was one of those works—along with the orchestral song-cycle Shéhérazade and the brilliant piano showpiece Jeux d’ Eau—that established his independence from the stuffy conservatives of the Conservatoire and, no doubt, had something to do with his being passed over repeatedly for the Prix de Rome. The quartet was performed in 1903, but Ravel withheld it from publication until undertaking some revisions, the exact extent of which we cannot know since the original version is lost. When he finally allowed it to appear in print in 1910, he inscribed the work to his “cher Maître Gabriel Fauré.”

The entire work is conceived in a manner quite different from the normal, contrapuntal character of the string quartet tradition. Melodies or fragments of melodies pass back and forth from one instrument to another while the others provide a rich array of orchestral effects for color and harmony. The work is extraordinarily unified in its thematic material, which shows close links from movement to movement.

The opening idea (presented in the first violin at the outset over a serenely rising line in second violin and cello moving in parallel tenths) provides motivic material that generates offshoots throughout, especially when provided with a little triplet turn figure that arises not too long after. The first movement is in a ternary pattern that hints at sonata form (with two distinct themes, the second presented in first violin and viola playing in parallel two octaves apart) but lacks the kind of harmonic reconsideration in the “recapitulation” necessary for a true sonata form.

The scherzo plays on a rhythmic alternation between 3/4 and 6/8 time, sometimes presented simultaneously in different instruments. There is an imaginative interplay between the pizzicato motive that appears at the beginning and the arco melody (related to ideas from the first movement) that comes in soon after.

The slow movement consists of a surprisingly disjunct conversation among the four instruments, changing character every few measures with different meters, tempos, scoring, and thematic ideas.

The energetic finale, beginning with an assertive ostinato on a 5/8 motive, moves on to reconsider both principal themes of the first movement, adapted now from 4/4 to 3/4 time and interspersed with returns to the forceful 5/8 of the opening.


© Steven Ledbetter