Callisto Quartet

Callisto Quartet

2020–21 Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence

Sun, November 1, 2020, 3:00pm


Praised for their “intensity and bravado” and the “cohesion and intonation one might expect from an ensemble twice their age” (Third Coast Review), the Callisto Quartet brings together four dedicated and passionate musicians who share a love for chamber music and a true desire for excellence. Since their formation in 2016 at the Cleveland Institute of Music, the quartet has quickly garnered top prizes in nearly every major international chamber music competition and has been hailed by audiences across North America and Europe. For their first performance as our 2020–21 Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence, the quartet begins its season-long survey of Bartók’s complete string quartets with the composer’s First, Fourth and Sixth quartets.

Join us in an exclusive Caramoor introduction to the inner workings of these extraordinary quartets just a few days before on October 30. Watch this free livestreamed talk by Ara Guzelimian (Artistic Director of Ojai Music Festival and former Dean and Provost of The Juilliard School). Together with the Callisto Quartet, they will explore the trajectory of the whole cycle of six quartets as well as taking a closer look at the three quartets to be played on Sunday, November 1st in their first installment of the complete cycle.

“Callisto Quartet found warmth and severity … both searching and genial, with a tremendous variety of color” — The Strad

Callisto Quartet
Paul Aguilar, violin
Rachel Stenzel, violin
Eva Kennedy, viola
Hannah Moses, cello


Bartók String Quartet No. 1, BB 52
Bartók String Quartet No. 4, BB 95
Bartók String Quartet No. 6, BB 119


Livestream Access

The livestream will be available to view for 24 hours, from 3:00pm Sunday to 5:00pm Monday. There will be a 30-minute period following the close of the livestream when the performance may be briefly unavailable.

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All artists and dates are subject to change and cancellation without notice as we work closely with local health experts and officials. Please note that all performances and livestreams at Caramoor are in compliance with current New York State Regulations.

Callisto Quartet

Callisto Quartet

Paul Aguilar, violin
Rachel Stenzel, violin
Eva Kennedy, viola
Hannah Moses, cello

Artist Website  Watch

Praised for their “intensity and bravado” and the “cohesion and intonation one might expect from an ensemble twice their age” (Third Coast Review), the Callisto Quartet brings together four dedicated and passionate musicians who share a love for chamber music and a true desire for excellence. Since their formation in 2016 at the Cleveland Institute of Music, the quartet has quickly garnered top prizes in nearly every major international chamber music competition and has been hailed by audiences across North America and Europe. Grand prize winners of the 2018 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition and Second Prize Winners of the 2019 Banff International String Quartet Competition, the Callisto Quartet has also taken home prizes from the Bordeaux (2019), Melbourne (2018), and Wigmore Hall (2018) competitions. Currently serving as the Graduate String Quartet in Residence at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, they also study with Günter Pichler of the Alban Berg Quartet at the prestigious Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofía in Madrid, Spain. 

The quartet has participated and performed in many renowned chamber music festivals such as the La Jolla Music Society Summerfest, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, the Emilia Romagna Festival, the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, the McGill International String Quartet Academy, the Juilliard String Quartet Seminar, and the Robert Mann String Quartet Seminar. In 2018, at the invitation of Gerhard Schulz, they attended the Prussia Cove International Musicians Seminar where they also worked with Gidon Kremer and Thomas Adès. As part of their prize from the Wigmore Hall Competition, the quartet received an invitation to the Jeunesses Musicales International Chamber Music Campus in Weikersheim, Germany where they worked with Heime Müller, Donald Weilerstein, and the Cuarteto Casals.  

Highlights of their recent performances include debuts in New York City and Chicago on the Schneider Concert Series and at Ravinia Festival, respectively, as well as at the Heidelberg String Quartet Festival. They were also featured in Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall in July 2019 as Grand Prize winners of the 4th Manhattan International Music Competition Chamber Music Division. Notable collaborations include appearances with cellist David Geringas at the Cleveland Cello Society’s 20th anniversary concert as well as a collaboration with clarinetist Frank Cohen on the ChamberFest Cleveland Series. Over the past two seasons at the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival they have collaborated with Paul Watkins, Lawrence Power, Gilles Vonsattel, and John Novacek. 

The Callisto Quartet is committed to continually broadening their musical horizons by drawing inspiration from a plethora of mentors and musical approaches. They also believe strongly in passing along their musical insights to younger students and sharing their music in their communities. To this end they have served as faculty and given masterclasses at numerous schools and festivals including the Bravo International Chamber Music Workshop, University of Central Florida, Midwest Young Artists Conservatory, the Greenville Fine Arts Center, and the CIM Preparatory Division. They frequently perform in schools, retirement homes, and other community centers, and are featured as ensemble in residence at the Carolina Music Museum in Greenville, SC.

About the Music.

At a Glance

Like Beethoven and Shostakovich, Béla Bartók turned to the string quartet throughout his life as a vehicle for conveying his deepest and most personal musical thoughts. The six quartets that the Hungarian composer produced at intervals between 1908 and 1939 are a microcosm of his richly imaginative and highly distinctive sound world. Bartók’s unrequited love for the violinist Stefi Geyer partly inspired his first essay in the genre, one of several works that feature her four-note musical “signature.” The Quartet No. 1 was first performed in 1910 by the renowned Waldbauer-Kerpely Quartet, which would later introduce Bartók’s Second and Fourth Quartets.

Notable for their expressive intensity, the quartets also illustrate Bartók’s interest in a wide range of compositional procedures and formal structures. For example, the five interrelated movements of the Quartet No. 4 are arranged symmetrically around a central slow movement, which Bartók likened to the kernel of a nut. The Sixth Quartet’s ritornello form, based on a recurring melody first played by the solo viola, marked a departure from the symmetrical “arch” construction of the Fourth and Fifth Quartets. Written in Switzerland and Hungary just before and after the outbreak of World War II, Bartók’s last quartet is very much a work of its time. The prevailing mood is conveyed by the Italian adjective that he attached to each of the four movements: mesto, or “sad.”


The Program

About the Composer

In both his music and his life, Béla Bartók spanned two starkly different worlds: the sprawling Austro-Hungarian Empire of his youth, with its cornucopia of ethnicities and Old World traditions, and the dynamic, relentlessly innovative culture of the United States during World War II. To put it another way, Bartók was born in rural Transylvania (modern-day Romania) in 1881, the same year Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto was premiered in Vienna, and died in New York City in 1945, the year Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel opened on Broadway. Throughout those six and a half decades, the Hungarian composer charted a purposeful and highly idiosyncratic course through the tangled thickets of musical modernism.

Like Stravinsky, Bartók was a trail-blazing modernist whose music was deeply rooted in the soil of tradition. His early works were steeped in the lush late-Romantic idiom of Liszt and Strauss. Starting in the first decade of the 20th century, however, his exposure to the harmonic innovations of Strauss and Debussy, coupled with his pioneering research into the folk music of his native Hungary and other Slavic lands, resulted in a bold new synthesis. Liberated from what he called “the tyrannical rule of the major and minor keys,” Bartók forged a leaner, more muscular musical language. Spiced with modality and bitonal clashes that verged on atonality, and characterized by shifting, irregular rhythmic patterns, this new style would define his music for the rest of his life.

The six quartets that Bartók composed between 1908 and 1939 cover the gamut from the heart-on-sleeve Romanticism of the First Quartet — inspired by the composer’s unrequited love for the violinist Stefi Geyer — to the bleak existentialism of the Sixth. The expressive content of Bartók’s music was inseparable from the troubled times in which he lived. “The despair in his quartets is no personal maladjustment,” observed the American composer-critic Virgil Thomson shortly after the composer’s death. “It is a realistic facing of the human condition, the state of man as a moral animal, as this was perceptible to a musician of high moral sensibilities just come out of Hungary. No other musician of our century has faced its horrors quite so frankly. The quartets of Bartók have a sincerity, indeed, and a natural elevation that are well-nigh unique in the history of music.”


String Quartet No. 1, BB 52 (1908–1909)

About the Work

Few of Bartók’s works are as transparently autobiographical as the String Quartet No. 1, written in Budapest in 1908–1909. Indeed, this poignant and luminous masterpiece might almost be described as confessional, suffused as it is with the twenty-seven-year-old composer’s unrequited passion for the violinist Stefi Geyer. A former child prodigy who would shortly leave Hungary to seek fame in Vienna, Geyer eventually settled in Zurich, where she became a highly regarded performer and teacher. In the course of her lengthy career, she served as muse to a number of composers, but none was more hopelessly infatuated with her than Bartók. He inscribed his First Violin Concerto of 1907–1908 with a musical motif based on Geyer’s name and was cruelly disappointed by her refusal to play the work in public. By the time he began sketching his First Quartet in 1908, the violinist had broken off their relationship, prompting Bartók to retaliate in a short, sardonic piano piece titled Elle est morte (She is dead).


A Deeper Listen

Geyer nonetheless continued to haunt Bartók. His four-note musical “signature” is embedded in a series of compositions, including the First Quartet’s plaintive opening theme, which Bartók bitterly described as his “funeral dirge.” The work’s three movements flow into each other without breaks, producing the effect of a continuously unrolling musical scroll. The somberly contrapuntal opening Lento, with its mournful motif of a falling sixth, is steeped in late-Romantic harmonies redolent of Wagner and Strauss. A short bridge passage leads to an energetic Allegretto featuring a typically terse Bartókian theme — two half-steps separated by a leap — and marked by sharp contrasts of register and volume. A second interlude, a cadenza-like cello solo based on a Hungarian folk melody, gives way to the final Allegro vivace, whose rhythmic exuberance expresses what Bartók’s compatriot, the composer Zoltán Kodály, aptly called a “return to life.”


String Quartet No. 4, BB 95 (1928)

About the Work

Bartók’s Fourth Quartet dates from 1928. A few months earlier he had heard a performance of Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite and fallen under the spell of its richly coloristic atmosphere. At the same time, he was searching for new formal structures with which to present his innovative musical ideas. He had long been interested in organic musical processes, whereby the various movements of a work were unified by the recurring use of short rhythmic, melodic, or harmonic motifs. This concept underpins the Quartet No. 4, for which Bartók devised a variant of the “arch” or “bridge” design that he had employed in a number of earlier works. Its five movements are related both structurally and thematically, as the composer pointed out in a preface to the published score: “The slow movement is the nucleus of the piece; the other movements are, as it were, arranged in layers around it. The fourth movement is a free variation of the second one, and the first and fifth movements have the same thematic material. Metaphorically speaking, the third movement is the kernel, movements I and V are the outer shell, and movements II and IV are, as it were, the inner shell.” That Bartók — or possibly his publisher — felt compelled to offer such an outline as a guide to performers says something about how challenging the music was perceived to be at the time.


A Deeper Listen

Although structural analysis provides a convenient framework for playing and listening to the Fourth Quartet, it doesn’t tell us very much about the inner life of Bartók’s powerfully expressive music. For instance, Bartók’s observation that the first movement is in tripartite sonata form, with a more or less traditional exposition, development, and recapitulation, hardly begins to describe the multifarious activity of the emphatic six-note motif, rising and falling (and vice versa), that binds his heterogeneous musical fabric together. Nor does it do justice to the wondrous strangeness of Bartók’s swooping glissandos and shuddering tremolos, the amorphous skittering of the second movement, the impassioned, rhapsodic declamations of the third movement, the slithering, metallic pizzicatos of the fourth movement, or the sheer visceral impact of the finale’s stomping dance rhythms.


String Quartet No. 6, BB 119 (1939)

About the Work

The composition history of Bartók’s Quartet No. 6 mirrors the peripatetic composer’s wanderings in the final years of his life. The first three movements were drafted in August 1939 in Switzerland, where Bartók was fulfilling a commission from the wealthy conductor and philanthropist Paul Sacher to write his Divertimento for String Orchestra. “I feel like a musician of olden times,” the composer crowed to his son, “the invited guest of a patron of the arts.” For his part, Sacher described his guest as having “the outward appearance of a fine-nerved scholar … His being breathed light and brightness; his eyes burned with a noble fire.” The composer returned to Hungary on the eve of the German army’s invasion of Poland and completed the quartet in Budapest that fall. One year later Bartók, an outspoken antifascist, arrived in the United States as a refugee. He was in the audience when the Kolisch Quartet gave the first performance of the Sixth Quartet in New York’s Town Hall on January 20, 1941.


A Deeper Listen

The restless, tormented spirit of W. H. Auden’s Age of Anxiety permeates the Sixth Quartet, from the mournfully meandering melody of the opening viola solo to the violins’ hollow-sounding fifths and the cello’s spectral pizzicato chords at the close. Here bundled together are all the elements of Bartók’s late-period style — the terse, angular gestures, spiky, irregular rhythms, astringent harmonies, fitful lyricism, slithering chromatic lines, and surreal coloristic effects. Structurally, the Sixth Quartet represented a new path for the composer. In place of the symmetrical “arch” form that had characterized its two immediate precursors, Bartók opted for a four-part ritornello structure. The opening viola solo recurs, in richly varied settings, at the beginning of the second and third movements as a kind of unifying head-motif; and it is woven into the very fabric of the slow, searingly intense finale. All four movements are marked mesto, “sad,” but only the last is unremittingly lugubrious, lacking the satirical bite and dancelike, almost manic vitality that tempers the existential angst of the first three movements.

— Harry Haskell