Friday July 11, 2014 8:00pm

Dover Quartet

Overview

Haydn / String Quartet in G, Op. 76, No. 1
D. Ludwig / World Premiere of Volume XV of Caramoor’s commissioning project: String Quartet No. 1: Pale Blue Dot
V. Ullmann / String Quartet No. 3, Op. 46
Beethoven / String Quartet No. 3 in D, Op. 18, No. 3

Winner of the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition, the Dover Quartet draws from the musical lineage of both the Vermeer and Guarneri Quartets, bringing youthful enthusiasm and musical conviction to the repertoire that is truly its own. The Dovers bring their Stiefel residency to a close with their world premiere of David Ludwig’s string quartet.

 

Photo by Gabe Palacio

Let us pack your picnic for you! For delicious dining and the ease of ordering a picnic in advance, consider the special picnic menu offered by our caterer, Great Performances. Picnic tables are available, and you may bring your own blankets and lawn chairs if you like.  This service is only available Thursday through Sunday on performance days during the summer. Picnic reservations for this event are now closed.

 

Considered one of the most remarkably talented string quartets ever to emerge at such a young age, the Dover Quartet swept the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition, winning the Grand Prize as well as all three Special Prizes: the R.S. Williams & Sons Haydn Prize for the best performance of Haydn, the Székely Prize for the best performance of Schubert, and the Canadian Commission Prize for the best performance of a newly commissioned work. In addition, the Quartet has been named the first Quartet-in-Residence at the venerated Curtis Institute of Music and the Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-In-Residence at the Caramoor Festival for the 2013-14 season. The Grand Prize-winner of the 2010 Fischoff Competition, the Dover formed at Curtis in 2008, when its members were just 19 years old. The Quartet draws from the musical lineage of both the Vermeer and Guarneri Quartets, but brings a youthful enthusiasm and musical conviction to the repertoire that is truly its own. The Strad recently raved that the Quartet is “already pulling away from their peers with their exceptional interpretative maturity, tonal refinement and taut ensemble.”

The Dover Quartet won prizes at the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition, and has taken part in festivals such as Chamber Music Northwest, Artosphere, La Jolla SummerFest, and the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival. Recent performances include those for such influential series as the Washington Performing Arts Society, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Peoples’ Symphony, Schneider Concerts, Kneisel Hall, and the Houston Friends of Chamber Music. The Quartet continued their close collaboration with violist Roberto Díaz on an extensive European tour in spring 2013, which included performances throughout Germany, Austria, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The summer of 2013 featured performances at the Bard Festival, Chamber Music Northwest, and Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival. Highlights of the 2013-14 season include a number of performances at the Curtis Institute of Music and Caramoor Festival, as well as a debut at the Heidelberg Festival in Germany.

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 group’s recording of the Mendelssohn and Debussy quartets received high praise: “…the maturity in these interpretations is phenomenal and disproportionate to the age [of the group].”

The ensemble has studied with such renowned chamber musicians as Shmuel Ashkenasi, Arnold Steinhardt, Joseph Silverstein, and Peter Wiley, and was the Quartet-in-Residence at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music until May 2013. In addition, the Quartet is an active member of Music for Food, an initiative by musicians to help fight hunger in their home communities.

Franz Joseph Haydn /1732-1809/ Quartet in G Major, Op. 76, No. 1

By the time Haydn returned to Vienna in 1795, after his second immensely successful visit to London, several new elements had become integrated into his writing. His new style reflected his experience of composing for public performances by highly accomplished musicians in large halls. Also the realization that he was widely regarded as the greatest living composer (Mozart had already died, and Beethoven had not yet made his mark) had imbued him with great boldness and self-assurance.

When Count Joseph Erdödy asked Haydn for a set of quartets, probably early in 1796, the sixty-four-year-old composer brought to the task his newly developed musical outlook, along with forty years of continuous growth and maturation in writing for the medium. Among the new features he incorporated into these quartets are more profound and emotional slow movements that move at an extremely deliberate pace and, as Haydn biographer H.C. Robbins Landon finds, “are also bathed in a curiously impersonal and remote melancholy.” The minuets, on the other hand, are now more like scherzos, faster in tempo and lighter in mood in comparison with the older, dignified minuet-style movements. Haydn also experimented with new formal schemes in the first movements of Quartets 5 and 6, instead of holding to the traditional sonata form. And the finales, which had tended to be light and humorous in character, became more serious and intellectually challenging.

Composed in 1796 and 1797, the six quartets of Op. 76 were dedicated to Count Erdödy and published in 1799.

*****

The quartet opens with three powerful chords, a symbolic summons perhaps for the public concert audiences.  The statement of the first theme, a single line of melody, is made by the cello alone, answered by the solo viola.  After two further statements by isolated pairs of instruments, there follows a tutti continuation of the theme.  Haydn then expands and extends this subject until a rapid, violent unison passage acts as the transition to the delightfully ingratiating second subject.  The development begins with a viola statement of the first theme along with a countermelody in the second violin.  The countermelody comes to play a major part in the development and then again in the recapitulation, where the first violin plays it as the cello repeats the principal theme.

In the Adagio sostenuto, the focal point of the entire quartet, Haydn molds and fashions three distinct musical gestures into a solemn movement of deep significance.  The first, which proves also to be most important, is a sustained theme played in chorale style by all four instruments.  The second idea is a dialogue between the cello and first violin conducted against repeated notes in the second violin and viola.  And finally, the three lower instruments play short repeated notes, above which the first violin adds a long, unbroken stream of afterbeats—a passage that requires a keen rhythmic sense and intense concentration from all the players.  Through the statement and varied repetition of this simply described material, Haydn creates a most moving and effective movement.

Although Haydn called the next movement Menuetto, the faster tempo, the single strong beat in each bar instead of three, and the much lighter character identify this movement as a scherzo, probably the first echt scherzo in the Haydn quartets.  In another departure from tradition, the following trio, with its roots in the old Austrian Ländler dance, is obviously intended to be played very much slower than the opening and concluding Menuetto parts.

Not light and fluffy like earlier Haydn finales, this last movement has the necessary weight and importance to balance what came before.  Although the quartet is in G major, Haydn starts the last movement in a unison G minor.  After a long trilled note ends the unison, the viola alone plays the tune, while the violins add a countermelody.  Haydn develops this material and then makes the outlook grow even darker as he slows down the propulsive forward motion for the second theme, an ominous sounding transformation of the violin’s countermelody from near the beginning of the movement.  The development section tries to generate a more joyful spirit but never quite succeeds. Then, after coming to a complete stop, the recapitulation starts with the principal theme in the cheerful key of G Major; the second theme, though, keeps its same dour expression.  In the coda Haydn suddenly introduces a flip, happy tune.  Some hear this as a successful attempt to achieve a sunny, cheerful ending.  Others regret what they consider the trivialization of the work’s final measures.

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

 

David Ludwig 1974- / Pale Blue Dot (2014) for String Quartet

I am inspired by astronomy and always have been: I remember the first time I looked through a telescope at summer camp–at Saturn, a perfect marriage of icy rings with tiny diamond moons. Around then I first heard about the Voyager probes, launched thirty-six years ago and now traveling in interstellar space–the space between the stars. It takes Voyager I 17 hours for its messages to reach us, sent by radio signal over the 9.5 billion miles it has traveled to this point. Awesome.

Voyager comes from a time when, perhaps…we dreamt a little more about the future and worried about material gain in the present a little less. The mission was to study the planets of the solar system, but there was another objective in the subtext: to leave our solar system as a message in a bottle, possibly received by some other intelligent species on some other side of the vast ocean of stars. On board is the “Golden Record,” a 12-inch gold-plated record that contains pictures and music electronically imbedded on it to describe our lives and history as a species. On the audio playlist is some of the most glorious music by Bach, Berry (Chuck), Mozart, Stravinsky, and last on the album: Beethoven’s shattering Cavatina from his Op. 130 quartet, as recorded by the Budapest String Quartet.

In 1990, the visionary astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan, (who worked directly on the Voyager missions) asked NASA to turn Voyager around and take a deep space portrait of Earth looking back on us as it was leaving the solar system from six billion miles away. In the bottom right of the photo is a bright little speck, not quite even a full pixel, and that is our home, the Earth. The photo is titled appropriately “Pale Blue Dot” and Dr. Sagan wrote beautifully about it describing all of our history and humanity—all of it–taking place “on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

It will take Voyager eighty-thousand years to get to the next star over from our own. I like to fantasize about what that first new encounter with Voyager will look like in eighty thousand, or eight hundred thousand, or eight million years from now. After so many millennia of sojourn, I imagine intelligent life forms probing the probe, looking for the “on” button, debating in alien tongues what it means and who we were? How would that Cavatina sound like after all those years, warped and modulated, so distant in time and space from its source? Perhaps the aliens would learn what they needed and send Voyager back out into space, keeping its role as the most ancient and modern time capsule our civilization has ever assembled. Voyager could continue in the expanse to meet another civilization, as alien to them as they are to us, with a snapshot of ourselves at our most human, living on this pale blue dot.

Those thoughts and images are the inspiration for my new string quartet.

Pale Blue Dot was commissioned by the Caramoor International Music Festival, on behalf of the Dover Quartet, for A String Quartet Library for the 21st Century. World Premiere:  July 11, 2014 at Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts

@2014 David Ludwig

Viktor Ullmann/1898-1944/String Quartet No. 3

Viktor Ullmann’s String Quartet No. 3 was completed on January 18, 1943, in the final part of a career that began with him acknowledged as one of the great hopes of German musical life, and ended in his murder at the hands of racist fanatics.

In his early career, he studied and apprenticed under Schoenberg and Zemlinsky, and his early works, especially his Schoenberg Variations, Op. 3a (1926), attracted attention throughout Europe. A passionate humanitarian with a deep interest in literature, culture, and philosophy, Ullmann took a partial hiatus from composition to study the anthroposophical philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. In 1932 he and his second wife bought a bookshop in Stuttgart where they traded primarily in books on philosophy and humanism.  Only months after the purchase of the bookstore, Hitler seized power and the Ullmanns fled to Prague.

In 1933 he began work on his most significant piece to date, an opera that would eventually become The Fall of the Antichrist, a work he completed in 1935.  This masterpiece would be the crowning achievement of his pre-war years, and yet it was to be the events of World War II that would spur him on to his very greatest artistic accomplishments.

Ullmann was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto outside Prague in 1942. He was one of a handful of extraordinary creative geniuses in the ghetto, including the composers Gideon Klein, Pavel Haas, and Hans Krasa. Never a particularly prolific composer in his earlier years, Ullmann composed a stunning volume of work during the two years he was in Theresienstadt, including piano sonatas, chamber music, and a second opera, The Emperor of Atlantis.

Just hours before being deported to Auschwitz on October 16, 1944, some friends convinced him to leave his compositions behind.  It is believed Viktor Ullmann was murdered in the gas chamber at Auschwitz on October 18, 1944.

‘For me Theresienstadt has been, and remains, an education in form. Previously, when one did not feel the weight and pressure of material life, because modern conveniences – those wonders of civilization – had dispelled them, it was easy to create beautiful forms. Here where matter has to be overcome through form even in daily life, where everything of an artistic nature is the very antithesis of one’s environment – here, true mastery lies in seeing, with Schiller, that the secret of the art-work lies in the eradication of matter through form: which is presumably, indeed, the mission of man altogether, not only of aesthetic man but also of ethical man.

“All that I would stress is that Theresienstadt has helped, not hindered, me in my musical work, that we certainly did not sit down by the waters of Babylon and weep, and that our desire for culture was matched by our desire for life; and I am convinced that all those who have striven, in life and in art, to wrest form from resistant matter will bear me out.’

 ~ Viktor Ullmann, 1944

 

The Third Quartet can in many ways be seen as a culmination of Ullmann’s development as a composer. In it one finds an exemplary balance of rigor and passion, a compelling formal logic, and a wealth of beautiful melodic writing. Although the work unfolds in a single musical span, its form can easily be divided into a traditional four-movement structure where each of the four movements is linked by sophisticated motivic inter-relations.

The first movement, Allegro moderato is primarily lyrical in character and full of wonderfully luxurious harmonic writing, lightened at one point by a waltz-like melody. The second, Presto, is ferocious and violent in much the same way as the second movement of Shostakovich’s famous Eighth Quartet. If the first movement has introduced the protagonists of our story, then the second has brought us music fit for the vilest of villains. Before the third movement begins, Ullmann brings back a passionate and despairing reminiscence of the first movement—what was nostalgia in the first movement is now transformed into genuine despair. The third movement, Largo, is truly the work’s heart of darkness, beginning with a fugue of desolate and unrelenting intensity. The waltz theme of the first movement here returns full of sadness.

Like the Presto before it, the character of the Rondo Finale is overwhelmingly antagonistic, violent and often terrifying, and is built from a horrific manipulation of the theme of the first movement. However, just when all is despair, Ullmann brings back the music of the first movement in the shape in which we first encountered it, but nostalgia is now replaced by defiance and regret is replaced by passion. A voice of passionate resistance from within the walls of the concentration camp at midnight of humanity’s darkest hour? If ever any person wrote truly courageous music, it was surely Ullmann, and this is surely that music.

© 2000 Kenneth Woods; used with permission

www.kennethwoods.net

Ludwig van Beethoven/1770-1827/ String Quartet  in D, Op. 18 No. 3

Although a Beethoven notebook dated 1798 is filled with fifty-eight pages of sketches for the D-Major quartet, scholars conjecture that a missing notebook contained even more preliminary studies for this composition, which is believed to be his very first mature string quartet. Overall, it is exceedingly quiet and pensive and is clearly indebted to the classical masters for its concept and formal organization.

Calmly and tenderly, the first violin floats the main subject, with its striking opening interval of a minor seventh, over the soft sustained chords of the other instruments. The broad cantilena line of this subject is different from the melodies constructed of pithy motifs that characterize so many other pieces by Beethoven. The second subject, also stated by the first violin, is slightly more agitated than the first; the staccato bass line adds to the feeling of unease and disquiet. Following the exposition and development, Beethoven brings back most of the material from the exposition and ends with a short coda.

The warm, simple theme of the Andante cantabile is presented, uncharacteristically, by the second violin. Poetically conceived and richly textured, the movement is in neither rondo nor sonata form, but falls somewhere in between. Its serious nature, great length, and especially careful realization seem to suggest that Beethoven attached a central importance to this movement. Although it has been faulted by some for lacking a depth of feeling, no one denies its obvious sincerity.

In keeping with the generally contemplative mood of the quartet, the third movement has neither the rhythmic verve of a minuet nor the sparkling vivacity of a scherzo, the typical quartet third movements.  Instead, Beethoven supplies what might be called a gentle and graceful intermezzo. Especially attractive is the minor-key trio, a marked contrast to the opening in major and distinguished by flowing passages in the violins over descending scale fragments in the other instruments. The major opening section returns after the trio.

The energetic Presto combines in equal measure the unceasing flow of a perpetual motion, the rhythmic drive of a tarantella, and the melodic turns of a Mexican hat dance. The movement’s surging motion is liberally seasoned with sharp and abrupt changes in dynamics until the bombast plays itself out, and the movement ends with a whispered farewell.

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

 

Program notes courtesy of artists’ management.