Jasper String Quartet

Jasper String Quartet

Fri, July 6, 2018, 8:00pm

Overview

Hailed by The Strad as “sonically delightful and expressively compelling” and “powerful” by The New York Times, the Jasper String Quartet bring their passion for performing emotionally personal and significant pieces to Caramoor. Presenting two contemporary pieces alongside classic works from Beethoven and Mendelssohn, the Jasper String Quartet — an alumni quartet of our Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence program — are the perfect centrepiece for a Friday evening in the Spanish Courtyard.

“The [Jasper String Quartet] displayed joie de vivre and athleticism — and perhaps most tellingly, grins all around.” — The Strad
Artists

J Freivogel, violin
Karen Kim, violin
Sam Quintal, viola
Rachel Henderson Freivogel, cello

Program

Beethoven String Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2
Ted Hearne Law of Mosaics: 1. Excerpts from the middle of something
Missy Mazzoli Death Valley Junction
— Intermission —
Mendelssohn String Quartet No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 44, No. 2


Jasper String Quartet

Jasper String Quartet

J Freivogel, violin
Karen Kim, violin

Sam Quintal, viola
Rachel Henderson Freivogel, cello

Artist Website Listen Watch

“The Jaspers … match their sounds perfectly, as if each swelling chord were coming out of a single, impossibly well-tuned organ, instead of four distinct instruments” (New Haven Advocate). Winner of the prestigious CMA Cleveland Quartet Award, Philadelphia’s Jasper String Quartet is the Professional Quartet in Residence at Temple University’s Center for Gifted Young Musicians. “The Jaspers” have been hailed as “sonically delightful and expressively compelling” (The Strad) and “powerful” (The New York Times). They have performed throughout the United States and in Canada, England, Italy, Japan, Korea, Norway, and Panama.

Their 2017–18 season includes performances for String Quartet Society of Tuscaloosa, Market Square Concerts, San Jose Chamber Music Society, Boise Chamber Music Series, Brigham Young University, and Arizona Friends of Chamber Music, among many others. They make their Toronto debut with Mooredale Concerts, and their Wigmore Hall debut in Aaron Jay Kernis’ 3rd String Quartet, “River,” commissioned by a consortium of Wigmore Hall, Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, Chamber Music Northwest, Chamber Music Monterey Bay, Classic Chamber Concerts, Chamber Music America, and Carnegie Hall. They have performed in recital twice at Carnegie’s Weill Hall.

Alumni of Caramoor’s Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence, the Jasper String Quartet perform music of emotional significance to its members including championing works of contemporary composers.

The Jasper Quartet’s repertoire is based on material of emotional significance to its members, ranging from Haydn and Beethoven through Berg, Ligeti, and living composers. They have commissioned string quartets from some of today’s foremost composers, including Andrew Norman, Nicholas Omiccioli, Conrad Tao, and Annie Gosfield, in addition to Aaron Jay Kernis.

Residencies have included the Melba and Orville Roleffson Residency at the Banff Centre, where they performed “guerrilla chamber music” concerts in unusual settings around Alberta, Canada. They have been Ensemble-in-Residence at Oberlin Conservatory and, in conjunction with Astral Artists, received a Chamber Music America grant through its Residency Partnership Program for work in Philadelphia schools. They were the Ernst C. Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence at the Caramoor Center for Music and Arts for two consecutive years, an unusual honor.

Their competition successes include the Grand Prize and the Audience Prize in the Plowman Chamber Music Competition, the Grand Prize at the Coleman Competition, First Prize at Chamber Music Yellow Springs, and the Silver Medal at the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition. They were also the first ensemble honored with Yale School of Music’s Horatio Parker Memorial Prize, an award established in 1945 and selected by the faculty for “best fulfilling … lofty musical ideals.” In addition to their concert schedule, they continue their work in the Philadelphia Public Schools through Astral Artists’ Colors of Classical Music, a project funded through a grant from the William Penn Foundation.

The quartet records exclusively for Sono Luminus and have released Beethoven Op. 131; The Kernis Project: Schubert; The Kernis Project: Beethoven; and Unbound, exclusively featuring contemporary composers.

Formed at Oberlin Conservatory, the Jasper String Quartet studied with James Dunham, Norman Fischer, and Kenneth Goldsmith as Rice University’s Graduate Quartet-in-Residence. The quartet continued its training with the Tokyo String Quartet as Yale University’s Graduate Quartet-in-Residence. It takes its name from Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. The quartet receives career development support from Astral Artists and is represented exclusively by Dispeker Artists.

About the Music

Program at a Glance

Each of the four works on today’s program pushes against established boundaries of musical form and expression. Beethoven’s early G Major String Quartet challenged Haydn on his own turf with its incongruous mixture of classical formality and rambunctious high spirits. It may have been this blithe disregard of convention that led a contemporary critic to characterize the six Op. 18 Quartets as “very difficult to perform and not at all popular.” Beethoven’s influence on Mendelssohn is apparent in the boldly iconoclastic language of the younger composer’s Quartet in E Minor, with its varied transformations of moods and tonalities.

The music of Ted Hearne and Missy Mazzoli, both in their late thirties and both products of the Yale School of Music, is similarly unconventional and hard to pigeonhole. The first movement of Hearne’s Law of Mosaics offers a brief sample of his strikingly eclectic musical language and fertile, wildly unpredictable imagination.

Equally edgy is Missy Mazzoli’s Death Valley Junction, a sonic portrait of the desert that bears her stylistic fingerprints in its pulsating rhythms, kaleidoscopic colors, and minimaliststyle repeating patterns.

 


LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
1770–1827

String Quartet in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2 (1798–1800)

About the Composer

Compared to Haydn’s 68 string quartets and Mozart’s 26, Beethoven’s total output of 16 was modest. Moreover, his attention to the genre was sporadic, usually being prompted by commissions from various aristocratic friends. The six Op. 18 quartets and the “Harp” Quartet, Op. 74, are dedicated to Prince Joseph Lobkowitz, Vienna’s foremost patron of the arts in the early 1800s, while the three Op. 59 quartets were commissioned by Count Andrey Razumovsky, Russia’s ambassador to the Viennese court and an enthusiastic amateur violinist. Toward the end of his life, after a hiatus of more than a decade, Beethoven accepted a commission for “one, two, or three new quartets” from Prince Nikolay Galitsin, a cello-playing Russian nobleman, which resulted in the Opp. 127, 130, and 132 Quartets.

About the Work

From the moment he arrived in Vienna in late 1792, shortly before his 22nd birthday, Beethoven set out to prove that he was a force to be reckoned with. Probably hoping to curry favor with his well-heeled patrons, he chose three mild-mannered piano trios as his first published works. Meanwhile, he copied out several of Haydn’s and Mozart’s string quartets, studying their methods of composition and biding his time until he felt prepared to enter the field. He began sketching the Op. 18 set in 1798 and presented the finished manuscript to Prince Lobkowitz two years later in 1800, telling a friend that he had “only just learned to write quartets properly.”

A Deeper Listen

The G Major Quartet’s classical formality is enlivened by rambunctious high spirits. The Allegro’s delicate opening theme, with its melodic curlicues and mincing double-dotted rhythms, comes neatly wrapped in an eight-bar package. But Beethoven soon bursts the bonds of convention, imaginatively varying phrase lengths and rhythmic patterns, juxtaposing passages of sharply contrasting character, and infusing the poise of the classical style with impetuous dynamism. Even the languorous Adagio cantabile has an impish side: the warm, broadly lyrical violin solo is unexpectedly interrupted by a skittish allegro, and the four instruments play a rollicking game of musical tag until decorum is finally restored.

The ensuing Scherzo derives much of its humor from the way Beethoven alternates the whimsically lopsided principal theme with passages of straitlaced metronomic regularity. The Allegro molto begins tentatively with a little teasing tune in the cello, which the other players answer. After a second, more confident statement of the theme, the finale takes off on a helter-skelter course full of stops and starts, rhythmic surprises, and delightful harmonic diversions.

 

TED HEARNE
b. 1982

Excerpts from the middle of something from Law of Mosaics (2013)

About the Composer

Chicago-born Ted Hearne is known for a pair of vocal works on contemporary themes fraught with controversy and emotion. Katrina Ballads, Hearne’s acclaimed 2008 oratorio, registered outrage at the U.S. government’s bumbling response to the hurricane that devastated New Orleans, while The Source, a modern-day ortorio about U.S. Army Private Chelsea Manning, set texts from leaked military documents about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Through his work with groups like the collective of six composers (all alumni of the Yale School of Music) who call themselves Sleeping Giant and the genre-bending sextet eighth blackbird, Hearne has forged an edgy, eclectic musical language that transcends boundaries of genre and style. A finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Prize, he applauded the jury for picking the rapper Kendrick Lamar, whom he considers one of the “incredibly important musical thinkers who have been kept out of classical music spaces for a long time.”

About the Work

Originally scored for chamber orchestra, Law of Mosaics was inspired by David Shields’ controversial “manifesto” Reality Hunger, critiquing traditional literary genres and advocating new forms more in tune Caramoor Summer 2018 XV with the messy “reality” of modern life. Like Shields’s book, which Hearne describes as “a patchwork treatise on art and digital culture,” the half-hour-long Law of Mosaics is constructed like a collage and incorporates a dizzying variety of source material. The second of the four movements, for example, consists entirely of samples of other composers’ music. It is preceded by a short introduction, cryptically titled “Excerpts from the middle of something.”

A Deeper Listen

Hearne’s work does indeed seem to start in medias res, with an explosion of pent-up energy that reverberates all the way to the movement’s screeching climax some four minutes later. The sonic tapestry incorporates multiple strands of sound, each moving at its own pace and punctuated by gaping silences. Hearne makes it clear that his intent is to disorient the listener. He likens the musical material to “a fish out of water, removed from surrounding music that might help it be better contextualized. It could follow a tense build-up, or precede a climax and resolution, but instead we hear it repeated and revised. As the material circles in on itself, it begins to make sense on its own, but never really ‘goes’ anywhere.”

 

MISSY MAZZOLI
b. 1980

Death Valley Junction (2010)

About the Composer

Missy Mazzoli is one of the brightest stars of the “indie classical” world, a realm that embraces everything from classical music to indie rock, and all manner of musical mash-ups and fusions. Conservatory-trained at the Yale School of Music and the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, she is equally at home in concert halls and rock clubs, where she often performs with her all-woman electro-acoustic band, Victoire. The success in 2012 of her first opera — Song from the Uproar, about the 19th-century Swiss adventurer Isabelle Eberhardt — led to further commissions, including Proving Up, premiered in January by Washington National Opera, a bleak tale about hardscrabble homesteaders on the Nebraska frontier. Mazzoli describes her voraciously eclectic style as “blend of dreamy post-rock, quirky minimalism and rich romanticism.”

About the Work

Like Mazzoli’s operas, Death Valley Junction — premiered in 2010 at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe — has a vividly pictorial, dramatic quality. In her own words, the quartet “is a sonic depiction of the town of the same name, a strange and isolated place on the border of California and Nevada. The ‘town’ is home to three people and consists of a caf., a hotel, and a fully functional opera house. Death Valley Junction is dedicated to Marta Becket, the woman who resurrected and repaired the crumbling opera house in the late 1960s and performed one-woman shows there every week until her retirement at age 86. The piece begins with a sparse, edgy texture — the harsh desert landscape — and collapses into a wild and buoyant dance. Marta Becket (who died last year) once compared herself to the single yellow flower that is able to, against all odds, flourish in the desert. This piece attempts to depict some of her exuberant energy and unstoppable optimism.”

A Deeper Listen

Mazzoli’s nine-minute-long tonal sketch opens and closes in sere, throbbingly atmospheric hazes of sound that evoke the wide-open, sun-soaked expanses of the Mojave Desert. (Think Copland’s “prairie”- style music, but with an ominous, grating edge.) Swooping glissandos suggest the shimmering illusions of desert mirages, or perhaps the soaring silhouettes of turkey vultures. Death Valley’s roadrunners soon appear with the eruption of skittery sixteenth-note figures in the inner voices. Tendrils of twining, repetitive melody, like the region’s fiercely resilient plant life, clamber atop adamantine harmonies. Throughout the work Mazzoli juxtaposes these two kinds of music, one pulsing with restless vitality, the other static and timeless.

 

FELIX MENDELSSOHN
1809-1847

String Quartet No. 4 in E Minor,
Op. 44, No. 2 (1837)

About the Composer

By the late 1830s, Mendelssohn was nearing the peak of his fame. In demand throughout Europe as a conductor, composer, pianist, and as music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus since 1835, he had built the resident orchestra into one of Europe’s most highly esteemed ensembles and persuaded the renowned virtuoso Ferdinand David to serve as its concertmaster. In addition to conducting the orchestra’s regular season of 20 subscription programs, Mendelssohn organized a series of popular chamber music concerts at the Gewandhaus, for which he composed a number of pieces, including the E Minor Quartet.

About the Work

In the spring of 1837, buoyed by the recent success of his oratorio St. Paul, Mendelssohn turned his attention back to chamber music. Over the next 13 months he wrote no fewer than three string quartets, which were eventually published together as Op. 44, Nos. 1–3. No. 2, the first in order of composition, shares the key of E minor with his popular Violin Concerto.

A Deeper Listen

The rising arpeggio motif in the quartet’s first movement, marked Allegro assai appassionato, bears a striking resemblance to the concerto’s opening theme. The mood of restless yearning gives way to the luminous lyricism of the second theme, in G major. Throughout the movement, minor and major tonalities, agitation and repose, alternate with protean fluency until the home key definitively reasserts itself at the end. The tripletime Scherzo flies like the wind, its headlong momentum interrupted only briefly by a lilting, dancelike episode. Even the placid surface of the Andante is roiled by a shifting undercurrent of sixteenth notes in the inner voices. The final Presto agitato follows after the merest pause. Despite fleeing allusions to the preceding movements, Mendelssohn makes no attempt to tie the quartet together in a cyclical structure. Its form is more open-ended than classically self-contained.

— Harry Haskell