We welcome the Omer Quartet as our 2018–19 Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence for their first concert in the Music Room. Top prize-winners of the 2017 Young Concert Artists International Auditions and the 2017 Premio Paolo Borciani Competition in Italy, the Quartet has a commitment to community education and are strong advocates of civic engagement.
“The Omer Quartet played as if the ink were still wet on the page. The Quartet made it seem as if Haydn was not some bust on the piano, but a living, breathing composer. [It was an] invigorating interpretation, [played] with a sense of discovery and adventure, but also with considerable finesse.” — San Diego Union Tribune
Mason Yu and Erica Tursi, violins
Jinsun Hong, viola
Alex Cox, cello
Haydn String Quartet in C Major, Op 20, No. 2, H.III:32 Debussy String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10 — Intermission— Chris Rogerson String Quartet No. 1 Beethoven Große Fuge in B-flat Major, Op. 133
Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence
One extremely promising string quartet is chosen each year to complete a year-long residency at Caramoor. This group lends their time and talents to Caramoor’s Student Strings program in secondary schools with a classroom-based program of concerts, conversations, and performance clinics. The Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence performs at Caramoor throughout their residency, enabling the public to experience these exciting young players in an intimate setting. The Omer Quartet is the 19th Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence at Caramoor. They will be visiting schools as music mentors in the fall and spring, and performing concerts at Caramoor in the fall, spring, and summer.
Distinctive among today’s young string quartets, the Omer Quartet won First Prize in the 2017 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, and holds the Helen F. Whitaker Chamber Music Chair of YCA. It makes debuts next season in the Peter Jay Sharp Concert of YCA in New York at Merkin Concert Hall as well as in Washington, D.C. at the Kennedy Center.
At the Young Concert Artists Auditions, the Omer Quartet received four special Performance Prizes: the Tri-I Noon Recitals Prize in New York at Rockefeller University, the Tryon (NC) Concert Association Prize, the Buffalo Chamber Music Society Prize, and the Hayden’s Ferry Chamber Music Series Prize in Tempe, AZ. It has also received Top Prize at the 2017 Premio Paolo Borciani Competition in Italy, the Grand Prize and Gold Medal at the 2013 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition and Second Prize at the 2017 Trondheim International Competition in Norway.
The Quartet has performed with internationally renowned artists such as Clive Greensmith, Eugene Drucker, Cho-Liang Lin, the Assad Brothers and YCA alumnus the Borromeo String Quartet, and collaborated with composers including Sean Shepherd and Perry Goldstein. It participated in the Great Lakes Chamber and Yellow Barn Music Festivals, the McGill International String Quartet Academy, the Ravinia Steans Institute, and the Perlman Music Program.
The Omer Quartet won First Prize in the 2017 Young Concert Artists International Auditions and are committed to community engagement, the Omer Quartet devotes time to creating original and interactive programs.
Committed to community engagement, the Quartet devotes time to creating original and interactive programs. With a grant by The Boston Foundation it performed in homeless shelters and drug rehabilitation centers in the area. It also completed a fellowship with Music for Food to aid local hunger relief, through a musician-led initiative directed by Kim Kashkashian. Hoping to spread the organization’s mission, the Quartet is initiating a Music for Food concert series in the Washington, D.C. area as recipient of a Tarisio Trust Young Artists Grant.
Following study at the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Omer Quartet completed a graduate residency at the New England Conservatory, where its members gave coachings and masterclasses and worked closely with Paul Katz, Donald Weilerstein, Kim Kashkashian, and Soovin Kim. The Quartet is now the Doctoral Fellowship String Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Maryland, where it works with Katherine Murdock and David Salness.
About the Music.
Program at a Glance
Since the middle of the 18th century, the string quartet has generally been regarded as the most demanding chamber music form to create because the composer has to maintain a strict texture of the four instrumental parts, each of which is an independent line supporting all the others, while also maintaining its own independence. Though there were some earlier examples of works crafted for four players on two violins, viola, and cello, the composer who, by unanimous consent, was the “Father of the String Quartet” was Joseph Haydn, on the strength of dozens of works over more than three decades, each of which offered novelty and imaginative technique as well as expressive qualities hitherto unknown.
The Opus 20 quartets, one of which opens the program, can be said, from a certain point of view, to begin the great tradition of string quartet composition, which has continued from its beginning in 1772 to the present day. The sense of conversation among the participants, the technical requirements from the individual players, and the unexpected appearance of a fugue as a climactic element all lift Haydn’s Opus 20, No. 2, to an early peak in the repertory of this medium.
With the mention of “fugue” as an element in the string quartet world, the existence of Beethoven’s “Great Fugue” and the enormous demands it makes on both players and listeners is another high point of the tradition. Beethoven evidently aimed to compose a monster fugue that would involve every possible contrapuntal approach to the genre and in doing so he developed a work so monumental that many repeated hearings are required to really make sense of it. String quartet players can devote an important part of their careers to successfully bringing it to audiences.
Following a century and a half of string quartet composition that emphasizes the important role of counterpoint among four individual players to create the texture of the form, Claude Debussy’s only string quartet marked an epochal turning away from the older tradition. His string quartet is soaked in color, minimizing the conversational air of earlier quartets, which is why early audiences found it so difficult to understand. And yet, it has long since become a classic example of a different approach to the genre, emphasizing chordal textures, rich colors, and new sonorities.
Even composers who are not trying to emulate Debussy’s impressionistic palette have often, since his day, made at least some use of the coloristic approach without in any way copying his sound. Chris Rogerson’s modern quartet seems built on imagery evoked by way of musical gesture, just as much of Debussy’s music was. The titles of the movements of his quartet help bend the listener’s mind in particular directions as the music unfolds.
String Quartet in C Major, Op. 20, No. 2, Hob. III:32 (1772)
About the Composer
An early edition of the six Haydn quartets known as “Opus 20” bears on its title page the image of the sun, which has given the set as a whole the nickname “Sun Quartets.” It is a singularly apt designation, for historians have seen in these works the true dawning of the mature classical string quartet. They have been admired from the beginning, and no less a personage than Johannes Brahms once proudly owned Haydn’s autographed manuscripts to all six quartets.
Composed in 1772, when Haydn was 40 years old, Opus 20 reveals extraordinary progress in the year or so that had passed since he had completed the earlier Opus 17 quartets. Opus 20 contains six remarkable and endlessly fascinating pieces of the greatest contrast and variety. Haydn exploits all the possibilities of texture, and he moves far beyond the tendency of earlier string quartets (his own included) to highlight the first violin at the expense of the other parts.
About the Work
The counterpoint of Opus 20 is so thoroughgoing that three of the quartets end with movements laid out as fugues, but whereas the fugue in the hands of Haydn’s contemporaries was a conservative, backwardlooking gesture, summarizing more than a century of Baroque contrapuntal development, in a Haydn quartet it was agile and dramatic, the very epitome of “modern” instrumental style.
Another element of modernity appears at the very beginning of the C major quartet: the first theme is sung, in the tenor register, by the cello, above the second violin and viola. The cello is thereby relieved of the old Baroque tradition of always and consistently supporting the other players from underneath. The color of the ensemble, with the plangent tones of the cello on top, is new and remarkable.
A Deeper Listen
The first movement is laid out in the sonata form that had become the customary way of opening a large, multimovement piece, but Haydn frequently opens up the formal framework with contrapuntal passages, and the counterpoint itself is often dramatized with explosions of dynamic outbursts quite modern in effect.
The C minor Adagio is particularly daring in its character of an operatic “scena” without words, including an expressive fantasy in the relative major, and the return to the darkness of the minor and an imperfect cadence. Out of this emerges the Minuet, back in the major mode and bound to a drone. The finale explodes with contrapuntal energy, as a fugue “with four subjects,” a spectacular outburst of old-fashioned novelty!
String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10 (1893)
About the Composer
While not yet out of his teens, Debussy became the “house pianist” of Tchaikovsky’s patron, Mme. Nadezhda von Meck, traveling with her and her entourage to Italy, Vienna, and Russia. During his period of employment with her, he composed two still unpublished chamber pieces, a piano trio in 1879, and a nocturne and scherzo for cello and piano in 1882. It was not until 1893, when the the composer was 31 years old, that he produced a mature work of chamber music, the String Quartet in G Minor, which, oddly enough, is his only composition to bear an opus number.
About the Work
The quartet was premiered by the Ysaÿe Quartet in December 1893 and aroused a storm of indignation or puzzlement at once. Paul Dukas, a French composer and close friend of Debussy’s, recognized its significance, but Ernest Chausson, also a friend who had been in a position to study some of its details during the period of composition, was profoundly disappointed and expressed his views to Debussy quite frankly.
Debussy proposed to write a second quartet in 1894 to soothe his friend’s feelings, but before anything could come of it, the two composers broke off their relationship permanently in unpleasant circumstances that arose from Debussy’s short-lived engagement to a singer and the proposed second quartet never materialized.
The shock that greeted the work was spurred by the composer’s radical reinterpretation of all that had been considered characteristic of the medium, namely, a linear, contrapuntal approach in which the forms grow out of a process of thematic development in dialectical argumentation, as epitomized by such earlier masters of the quartet as Haydn, Beethoven, and Brahms.
A Deeper Listen
Debussy’s quartet employs one theme as the basis of three of its four movements (the slow movement has its own material, and even there it is possible to perceive references to the opening of the first movement). Yet rather than manipulating intervals or elaborating the fundamental harmonic plan of the basic theme, he pursues a process of constant free variation of its overall shape and of its rhythm.
The textures reveal a sensitivity to new sonorities throughout. The scherzo is especially striking in its interplay of cross-rhythms, its combination of arco and pizzicato, so that the thematic thread often evaporates into purely textural play, making this one of the first string quartets to give timbre a dominant role in the structure of a piece, thus foreshadowing such masters of 20th-century composition as Webern and Bartók.
String Quartet No. 1 (2009)
About the Composer
Chris Rogerson, musically precocious as a child, was playing hymns by ear on the piano when he got home from church. Early piano lessons evolved into composition lessons because he preferred to make up his own tunes rather than play what was on the page.
He studied at the Curtis Institute of Music, Yale School of Music, and Princeton University with Jennifer Higdon, Aaron Jay Kernis, Martin Bresnick, and Steve Mackey.
His work has been performed by orchestras across the U.S., including the San Francisco Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Houston Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, and Orchestra of St. Luke’s, as well as esteemed by artists such as Yo-Yo Ma, Anthony McGill, Ida Kavafian, Anne-Marie McDermott, and David Shifrin. Rogerson has also collaborated with the Attacca, Brentano, Dover, Jasper, and JACK Quartets, as well as with distinguished members of the Guarneri and Orion Quartets.
Rogerson’s music has been heard at Carnegie Hall, the Rudolfinum, Alice Tully Hall, the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center, and Symphony Center in Chicago. Rogerson served as Young Concert Artists Composer-in-Residence from 2010–12.
About the Work
A residency at Music from Angel Fire (Ida Kavafian, director) led to the commission for the String Quartet No. 1, which was premiered in 2009 by the Aries Quartet.
In 2010, the quartet was the winner of the New York Art Ensemble Composition Competition and the prize of the Society for New Music. It has also been performed by the Dover Quartet and the JACK Quartet.
The three movements of the String Quartet No. 1 have titles that, in each case, suggest a mood, a visual image, or a kind of physical activity reflected in the music.
A Deeper Listen
The first movement, Duel, opens with dramatic slashing chords, like a challenge to combat. The participants in the duel keep a chary eye on one another and move in rapid gestures, offensive and defensive. It is not difficult to imagine them in a passionate struggle that ends as suddenly as it started.
The shadows of Hymn are as nearly motionless as the Duel was active. The mood at the start is somber yet essentially lyrical, with a flowing melody that could be interpreted as a prayerful lament. An urgent and driven expression builds to a dramatic climax, occasionally shimmering and expressing itself intensely, after which tranquility returns. The last movement, Dance, is a vigorous workout in a cheerier athletic mood.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Große Fuge in B-flat Major, Op. 133 (1825–1826)
About the Composer
Beethoven originally wrote this truly extraordinary music to serve as the finale of his String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat, published as Opus 130. But the Great Fugue that ended the quartet proved to be so challenging, both to listeners and performers, that Beethoven eventually replaced it with a finale of a more traditional character and published the Große Fuge as a separate piece.
Today, quartets occasionally play the Opus 130 quartet with the original finale as the culmination, following the composer’s original vision. But, since Beethoven published it with a separate opus number, he obviously felt that the final movement could stand on its own, so clearly either version will work (but not both together!).
During his last years, Beethoven was increasingly interested in fugue (examples are scattered throughout the late works, including a spectacular choral double fugue in the finale of the Ninth Symphony). In this movement for string quartet, though, he seems determined to answer a challenge implicitly laid down by his old counterpoint teacher, Albrechtsberger, who in a study of fugal writing, listed all the “decorations and artifices” possible with the comment that it would be difficult to fit them all into a single work.
Beethoven, however, does manage to work them all into his Große Fuge, including one device of Albrechtsberger’s invention, and thus produces, like J.S. Bach, his own monumental “Art of Fugue.”
About the Work
The unusual character of the Große Fuge came about as a result of its original purpose as the finale of Opus 130, a quartet in which Beethoven emphasized extremes of contrast. The Große Fuge itself exhibits an astonishing range of such extremes, growing out of the very opening (labeled “Overtura” by Beethoven), which anticipates several of the fugal themes to come, though not in the order in which they will appear, while recalling passages from the earlier movements of the quartet.
Of course, the link backwards is lost when the Große Fuge is played by itself, but there is nonetheless plenty to concentrate on as it unfolds: the diversity of material, the unparalleled rhythmic complexity (one imagines Elliott Carter in certain passages), the emotional breadth from chaotic violence to mysterious calm to powerful triumph.
A Deeper Listen
Music students today tend to learn fugal writing as a moribund academic exercise. Beethoven’s rethinking of Bach’s art (which he learned as a youngster, studying the “48” with Neefe) is quite the opposite: he combines the contrapuntal formality of the Baroque fugue with elements of variation and sonata form to dramatize it, producing in the end a work that is utterly unique. The daring freedom and flexibility with which he develops his material are unprecedented, and the thoroughgoing way in which the melodic figures of the fugue subject penetrate the entire musical fabric already distantly foreshadow (to those gifted with 20/20 hindsight) the total chromaticism of Schoenberg and the development of twelve-tone music.
The Große Fuge is one of those rare works that is fundamentally challenging — for performers and audiences alike — and will remain forever an “avant-garde” composition, and a talisman of Beethoven’s extraordinary musical vision.