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Former Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence (2001-02) the Pacifica Quartet makes an exuberant return to Caramoor with a program of works by some of the most prolific quartet composers of all time, including one of three late quartets by Beethoven being performed this summer (see also the Danish String Quartet and current Quartet-in-Residence the Aizuri). Bookended by Beethoven is Shulamit Ran’s String Quartet No. 3 titled Glitter, Shards, Doom, Memory. Written for the Pacifica Quartet, this moving piece takes inspiration from the life and work of German-Jewish painter, Felix Nussbaum eliciting “admiration more than emotion” throughout its four movements (New York Times).
Beethoven Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4 Shulamit Ran String Quartet No. 3: Glitter, Shards, Doom, Memory– Intermission –Beethoven Quartet in F major, Op. 59, No. 1
“…remarkable expressive range and tonal beauty” – New York Times
Garden Listening: Introduce your family to Caramoor and enjoy the sounds of the concert from the Picnic Lawns. Tickets $10
Recognized for its virtuosity, exuberant performance style, and often-daring repertory choices, over the past two decades the Pacifica Quartet has gained international stature as one of the finest chamber ensembles performing today. The Pacifica tours extensively throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia, performing regularly in the world’s major concert halls. Named the quartet-in-residence at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music in March 2012, the Pacifica was also the quartet-in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009 – 2012) – a position that has otherwise been held only by the Guarneri String Quartet – and received the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance.
Formed in 1994, the Pacifica Quartet quickly won chamber music’s top competitions, including the 1998 Naumburg Chamber Music Award. In 2002 the ensemble was honored with Chamber Music America’s Cleveland Quartet Award and the appointment to Lincoln Center’s CMS Two, and in 2006 was awarded a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, becoming only the second chamber ensemble so honored in the Grant’s long history. Also in 2006 the Quartet was featured on the cover of Gramophone and heralded as one of “five new quartets you should know about,” the only American quartet to make the list. And in 2009, the Quartet was named “Ensemble of the Year” by Musical America.
Highlights of the 2015-16 season have included a performance at New York’s famed 92nd Street Y, the beginning of a two-season residency at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, a ten-day residency for the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music in Tucson, and return visits to the major series in New Orleans, San Francisco, and Portland. In addition, the Quartet will toured Europe and Japan.
The Pacifica Quartet has carved a niche for itself as the preeminent interpreter of string quartet cycles, harnessing the group’s singular focus and incredible stamina to portray each composer’s evolution, often over the course of just a few days. Having given highly acclaimed performances of the complete Carter cycle in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Houston; the Mendelssohn cycle in Napa, Australia, New York, and Pittsburgh; and the Beethoven cycle in New York, Denver, St. Paul, Chicago, Napa, and Tokyo (in an unprecedented presentation of five concerts in three days at Suntory Hall), the Quartet presented the monumental Shostakovich cycle in Chicago and New York during the 2010-2011 season and in Montreal and at London’s Wigmore Hall in the 2011-2012 season. The Quartet has been widely praised for these cycles, with critics calling the concerts “brilliant,” “astonishing,” “gripping,” and “breathtaking.”
An ardent advocate of contemporary music, the Pacifica Quartet commissions and performs many new works, including those by Keeril Makan, in partnership with the Celebrity Series of Boston and the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, during the 2012-13 season, and Shulamit Ran, in partnership with the Music Accord consortium, London’s Wigmore Hall, and Tokyo’s Suntory Hall, during the 2014-15 season. The work – entitled Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory – had its New York debut as part of the Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center series.
In 2008 the Quartet released its Grammy Award-winning recording of Carter’s quartets Nos. 1 and 5 on the Naxos label; the 2009 release of quartets Nos. 2, 3, and 4 completed the two-CD set. Cedille Records recently released the third of four volumes comprising the entire Shostakovich cycle, along with other contemporary Soviet works, to rave reviews: “The playing is nothing short of phenomenal.” (Daily Telegraph, London) Recent projects include recording Leo Ornstein’s rarely-heard piano quintet with Marc-André Hamelin with an accompanying tour, the Brahms piano quintet with the legendary pianist Menahem Pressler, and the Brahms and Mozart clarinet quintets with the Metropolitan Opera’s principal clarinetist Anthony McGill.
The members of the Pacifica Quartet live in Bloomington, Indiana, where they serve as quartet-in-residence and full-time faculty members at the Jacobs School of Music. Prior to their appointment, the Quartet was on the faculty of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana from 2003 to 2012. The Pacifica Quartet also serves as resident performing artist at the University of Chicago.
The Pacifica Quartet is endorsed by D’Addario and proudly uses their strings.
Ludwig van Beethoven / 1770-1827 / Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4
Curiously, no notebook sketches have ever been uncovered for Beethoven’s fourth quartet, probably the last one composed in Op. 18. This has led to speculation that the composer did not go through his usual throes in working out the problems, or that he based it on a previous composition in which he had already resolved any problems. The only minor-key quartet in Op. 18, the C minor is probably the most popular work in the group, and like all of Beethoven’s works in this key, it is a musical statement with an especially heightened dramatic tension throughout.
The first theme, dark-hued and throbbing with an inner passion, traces an irregular path up from the violin’s lowest note to the top of its range. Beethoven caps off the climb with a series of powerful chords and a final outcry, before a sudden hush falls and the bridge passage leads to the second subject. This melody, first stated by the second violin, is very obviously derived from the second part of the first theme, but in a different key. After some concluding episodes in the exposition, Beethoven works through the material in the development section. During the transition to the recapitulation, the rapidly repeated notes in the second violin and viola give the effect of a tremolo, creating an almost orchestral sound. The first subject, even more agitated than before due to the syncopated figure in the two middle voices; the second subject, now stated by the first violin; the little changed concluding themes; and a climatic coda fill out the remainder of the movement.
Instead of following the powerful first movement with a conventionally slow and emotional second movement, Beethoven treats us to a moderately paced, witty Scherzo. Although there are three distinct themes—the first heard at the opening, the second a turning-on-itself line shared by the two violins, and the third a descending and ascending scale introduced by the second violin—they all include a figure of three repeated notes either in the theme or the accompaniment. The texture is mostly polyphonic, with the tunes being blithely tossed from instrument to instrument in a profusion of canons and fugati.
The somber and serious Menuetto recaptures to some extent the mood of the first movement. Beethoven’s recurrent use of third-beat accents distances it from typically dance-like minuets. The middle section, or trio, is essentially a dialogue between second violin and viola, to which the cello supplies a bass line and the first violin contributes a running triplet commentary. The Minuetto is repeated after the trio, but Beethoven directs that this time it be played at a faster tempo.
Ferdinand Ries, a pupil of Beethoven, recounted an anecdote connected with the last movement of the C minor quartet that gives an insight into his teacher’s independent and unorthodox spirit of composition. In response to Ries’s discovery of an instance of parallel perfect fifths in the last movement, a practice forbidden by all teachers of composition, Beethoven replied, “Ah! Well, who is it who says perfect fifths are wrong?” After Ries named several leading music theorists of the day who forbade them, Beethoven said simply, “Very well, I allow the use of them!”
There are few other surprises in the final movement, a clearly defined rondo, very much in the style of Haydn. The sparkling main theme melody, played by the first violin, has elements of the Turkish style so favored by 18th-century composers, including Haydn and Mozart. The second violin has almost exclusive rights to the richly lyrical episode that follows. A varied return of the main theme leads another constraint in which the instruments enter one after the other a gruff, pyramid like sequence. After the third reprise of the opening melody, there is a lengthy coda, ending with a rapid-fire finish.
Shulamit Ran / b. 1949 / String Quartet No. 3: Glitter, Shards, Doom, Memory / 2012-13
My third string quartet was composed at the invitation of the Pacifica Quartet, whose music-making I have come to know closely and admire hugely as resident artists at the University of Chicago. Already in our early conversations Pacifica proposed that this quartet might, in some manner, refer to the visual arts as a point of germination. Probing further, I found out that the quartet members had special interest in art created during the earlier part of the 20th century, perhaps between the two world wars.
It was my good fortune to have met, a short while later, while in residence at the American Academy in Rome in the fall of 2011, art conservationist Albert Albano who steered me to the work of Felix Nussbaum (1904-1944), a German-Jewish painter who, like so many others, perished in the Holocaust at a young age, and who left some powerful, deeply moving art that spoke to the life that was unraveling around him.
The title of my string quartet takes its inspiration from a major exhibit devoted to art by German artists of the period of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) titled “Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s,” first shown at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2006-07. Nussbaum would have been a bit too young to be included in this exhibit. His most noteworthy art was created in the last very few years of his short life. The exhibit’s evocative title, however, suggested to me the idea of “Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory” as a way of framing a possible musical composition that would be an homage to his life and art, and to that of so many others like him during that era. Knowing that their days were numbered, yet intent on leaving a mark, a legacy, a memory, their art is triumph of the human spirit over annihilation.
Parallel to my wish to compose a string quartet that, typically for this genre, would exist as “pure music” independent of a narrative, was my desire to effect an awareness in my listener of matters which are, to me, of great human concern. To my mind there is no contradiction between the two goals. As in several other works composed since 1969, this is my way of saying ‘do not forget’—something that, I believe, can be done through music with special power and poignancy.
The individual titles of the quartet’s four movements give an indication of some of the emotional strands this work explores.
1) “That which happened” (das was geschah) – is how the poet Paul Celan referred to the Shoah – the Holocaust. These simple words served for me, in the first movement, as a metaphor for the way in which an “ordinary” life, with its daily flow and its sense of sweet normalcy, was shockingly, inhumanely, inexplicably shattered.
2) “Menace” is a shorter movement, mimicking a Scherzo. It is also machinelike, incessant, with an occasional, recurring, waltz-like little tune – perhaps the chilling grimace we recognize from the executioner’s guillotine mask. Like the death machine it alludes to, it gathers momentum as it goes, and is unstoppable.
3) “If I must perish – do not let my paintings die” – these words are by Felix Nussbaum who, knowing what was ahead, nonetheless continued painting till his death in Auschwitz in 1944. If the heart of the first movement is the shuddering interruption of life as we know it, the third movement tries to capture something of what I can only imagine to be the conflicting states of mind that would have made it possible, and essential, to continue to live and practice one’s art – bearing witness to the events. Creating must have been, for Nussbaum and for so many others, a way of maintaining sanity, both a struggle and a catharsis – an act of defiance and salvation all at the same time.
4) “Shards, Memory” – is a direct reference to my quartet’s title. Only shards are left. And memory. The memory is of things large and small, of unspeakable tragedy, but also of the song and the dance, the smile, the hopes. All things human. As we remember, in the face of death’s silence, we restore dignity to those who are gone.
— Shulamit Ran
Ludwig van Beethoven / 1770-1827 / Quartet in F major, Op. 59, No. 1
Count Andrey Razumovsky, Russian ambassador to the Imperial Court at Vienna in 1800, was a flamboyant and widely admired figure who entertained the cream of Viennese society in a magnificent Neoclassical mansion filled with art, music, and antiquities. He is now remembered only for the three string quartets he commissioned from Beethoven that bear his name.
Composed in 1806, the three Opus 59 “Razumovsky” quartets join the other ambitious masterpieces Beethoven completed between 1804 and 1806, most notably the Eroica Symphony, Violin Concerto, and “Waldstein” and “Appassionata” Piano Sonatas. These large, path-breaking works revolutionized their genres and gave rise to the notion of Beethoven’s “heroic” style at this time in his creative life. The Opus 59 quartets are composed on an orchestral scale, and contemporary performers, critics, and audiences were baffled by their many convention-defying features and technical difficulties. Members of the string quartet engaged to premiere the Op. 59 quartets are reported to have laughed when they began to play Op. 59, No. 1, believing it was Beethoven’s joke on them and not one of the commissioned quartets. The Op. 59, No. 1 quartet also gave rise to a famous Beethoven anecdote. After perusing the score, Italian violinist Felix Radicati remarked sarcastically, “Surely you do not consider this music.” Beethoven replied, “Not for you, but for a later age.”
Longest and most massive of the three “Razumovsky” quartets, Op. 59, No. 1 opens with a lyrical, broadly conceived melody in the cello. As in the Eroica’s first movement, this main theme and subsidiary themes arising out of it provide the movement’s musical material. Rather than a traditional repeat of the opening exposition, a dramatic harmonic shift pulls the listener straight into the intense development section. Here the opening theme passes through many far-reaching transformations, including a brilliant double fugue. After the opening theme returns in its original form, it is reinterpreted yet again in the concluding coda.
In startling contrast, the second movement opens with soft rhythmic tapping on a single note by the cello. This movement, marked “always joking,” was especially baffling to contemporary listeners and performers; its opening notes reportedly angered the premiering cellist, Bernhard Romberg, who considered them an insult. However, the movement’s opening is not simply an expression of Beethoven’s mischievous sense of humor, but as University of Illinois professor William Kinderman has observed, it is “an astonishingly original conception: [music] searching for its own thematic material.” Melodic fragments follow the opening rhythmic taps, interspersed with more tapping. Only in the sixty-eighth bar is there any sense of a resolute thematic statement, and the tapping motif, far from being peripheral, carries on as an integral part of the protean “discovered” theme. Beethoven ends the movement playfully with a final joke—a dissonant G-flat in the first violin immediately before the closing cadence.
The Adagio third movement, marked “mesto,” or “sad,” is a lament described by Joseph Kerman as one of Beethoven’s most mournful, “profoundly tragic in intensity, an essay in misery scarcely relieved by any response…or solace.” A virtuosic violin cadenza forms a bridge to the fourth movement, which follows without pause. Beethoven based the concluding Allegro on a Russian folk melody, presumably honoring a request that accompanied Count Razumovsky’s Op. 59 commission. Although the original folk melody is melancholy and slow, Beethoven transformed it into a brisk major key dance tune well suited to a continuation of the wide emotional range and dramatic contrasts that characterize the quartet as a whole.