Verona Quartet inaugurates their residency at Caramoor with a program of spirited classics of the string quartet repertoire by
Ravel and Beethoven, as well as a new work by American composer Sebastian Currier which they premiered earlier this year. Recognized
by The New York Times as an “outstanding ensemble of young musicians,” and having won numerous competitions worldwide, the
Verona are one of today’s most compelling young string quartets.
Jonathan Ong, violin
Dorothy Ro, violin
Abigail Rojansky, viola
Jonathan Dormand, cello
Ravel String Quartet in F Major (1903) Sebastian Currier Etude 2: Interactions and Lullaby 1: Pulsing Beethoven String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2, “Razumovsky”
Jonathan Ong, violin
Dorothy Ro, violin
Abigail Rojansky, viola
Jonathan Dormand, cello
Hailed by The New York Times as an “outstanding ensemble,” the Verona Quartet – winner of the 2015 Concert Artists Guild Competition – has quickly earned a stellar reputation as one of the most compelling young quartets in chamber music today for their “interpretive strength … robust characterization [and] commanding resonance” (Calgary Herald).
2017-18 season highlights include the Verona Quartet’s Kennedy Center debut presented by Washington Performing Arts, as well as concerts spanning from New York (Museum of Modern Art and Merkin Concert Hall) to Vancouver (Vancouver Recital Society) to San Francisco (Morrison Arts Series, SFSU). In addition, the Verona Quartet has been selected by New York’s Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts as its prestigious Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence, encompassing performances, educational residencies as well as a concert at the 2018 Caramoor Summer Festival.
The Verona Quartet is a winner of the 2015 Concert Artists Guild Competition and has won top prizes at numerous competitions including Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition, Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition, 8th Osaka International Chamber Music Competition, Fischoff, and the M-Prize International Chamber Arts Competition.
Selected by Musical America as “New Artists of the Month” in May 2016, the group has garnered worldwide recognition by winning major prizes at international competitions across four continents: the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition, London; the 8th Osaka International Chamber Music Competition, Japan; the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition, Australia; and in the US at the Coleman, Fischoff, and Chesapeake Chamber Music Competitions, and the M-Prize International Chamber Arts Competition.
The Verona Quartet is currently the quartet-in-residence at the New England Conservatory of Music’s Professional String Quartet Training program, under the mentorship of Paul Katz. This two-year program also features an annual recital in Jordan Hall, as well as numerous performances in and around Boston. This residency follows the quartet’s two seasons as Graduate Resident String Quartet at The Juilliard School, where they worked closely with members of the Juilliard String Quartet.
In addition to their passionate exploration of the rich repertoire already written for string quartet, the Verona Quartet are equally committed to expanding the canon by playing music by living composers. In 2017, they premiered two new works written for them: Michael Gilbertson’s String Quartet at Weill Recital Hall, and Sebastian Currier’s Etude 2: Interactions and Lullaby 1: Pulsing at New York’s Chelsea Music Festival, in collaboration with publishing company Boosey & Hawkes. In June 2018, they will premiere a new work by Julia Adolphe at the Caramoor Festival, commissioned for them through the Stiefel Residency.
The Verona Quartet has performed worldwide in venues such as Wigmore Hall (London, UK), Izumi Hall (Osaka, Japan), the National Theatre (Abu Dhabi, UAE), Melbourne Recital Hall (Melbourne, Australia), and, in New York City, at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. Strongly committed to education, they have been on the faculty of the Indiana University Summer String Academy as Quartet-in-Residence since 2016, and recent international educational residencies include: the Beethoven-Haus (Bonn, Germany); Oberlin Conservatory of Music; New York University-Abu Dhabi, and Lunenberg Academy of Music Performance (Nova Scotia, Canada). They have also appeared on National Public Radio, WQXR, WFMT, The Weekly Special on PBS, and Abu Dhabi Classical FM.
The Verona Quartet’s members hail from the USA, UK, Canada, and Singapore. They were the inaugural Graduate Quartet-in-Residence at Indiana University, where they were mentored chiefly by the Pacifica Quartet, as well as Alexander Kerr, Atar Arad, Ik-Hwan Bae, and Eric Kim. The Quartet has collaborated with artists such as Cho-Liang Lin, David Shifrin, Renee Fleming, and has worked with members of the Alban Berg, American, Brentano, Cavani, Cleveland, Guarneri, Juilliard, Tokyo, and Vermeer Quartets.
About the Music.
Program at a Glance
As the products of widely separated eras and cultures, the three composers represented on tonight’s program naturally inhabit very different sound worlds. The full-throated Romanticism and emotional intensity of Beethoven’s E Minor String Quartet of 1806 are as distant from the refined textures and sensuous sonorities of Ravel’s 1904 Quartet in F Major as the latter are from the edgy language of contemporary American composer Sebastian Currier, with its propulsive canonic rhythms and soothing microtonal harmonies.
On a deeper level, the music the Verona Quartet has chosen illustrates radically different approaches to musical form and structure. The second of Beethoven’s three “Razumovsky” Quartets is laid out in the traditional four movements, but the musical argument is so compressed that audiences in the early nineteenth century found it virtually incomprehensible. Ravel experimented with cyclical structure in his youthful masterpiece, using recurring intervals, melodic shapes, textures, and sonorities to give the four movements a sense of organic unity. Currier, by contrast, adopts a flexible, open-ended format in Etudes and Lullabies, from which Interactions and Pulsing are extracted: the work comprises a dozen short movements that can be played either singly or, cafeteria style, in any combination the performers choose.
String Quartet in F Major
About the Composer
From an early age, Ravel was marked to succeed Debussy – thirteen years his senior – as the poet laureate of French music. The composers’ competing claims led to recurring friction, despite Ravel’s genuine and often-expressed admiration for Debussy. The two men had much in common, including a poetic sensibility, an allegiance to French musical traditions, and a fondness for sensuous, impressionistic timbres and textures. But Debussy’s revolutionary approach to harmony and form was alien to Ravel, who remained, at heart, a classicist. Over the decades he refined his art, ruthlessly pruning away superfluous notes and gestures in search of the “definitive clarity” that was his professed ideal. Ravel’s repeated failure to win the Prix de Rome, a rite of passage for French composers seeking establishment approval, only stiffened his determination to forge his own path. Not until 1920 was he awarded the prestigious Légion d’Honneur, an honor that he rebuffed with undisguised satisfaction.
Ravel felt acutely self-conscious about writing his first – and, as it turned out, only – string quartet in 1902-1903. That comparisons would be drawn to Debussy’s celebrated String Quartet of 1893 was as disconcerting as it was inevitable. Perhaps wary of calling attention to Debussy’s influence on his music, and eager to burnish his credentials as a member in good standing of the musical establishment, Ravel dedicated the F Major Quartet to his teacher, Vincent d’Indy, an influential composer of a markedly more conservative and academic disposition. D’Indy, predictably dismayed to see his prize student playing fast and loose with tradition, bluntly pronounced the quartet’s highly compressed finale “stunted, badly balanced, in fact, a failure.” Debussy, on the other hand, instantly recognized the kindred spark of iconoclastic genius. “In the name of the gods of music, and in mine,” he exclaimed, “do not touch a single note of what you have written in your Quartet.” Ravel heeded this excellent advice, and the work’s well-received Paris premiere in March 1904 firmly established him as Debussy’s heir apparent.
A Deeper Listen
According to his pupil Alexis Roland- Manuel, Ravel mistrusted “the secret powers which governed him unawares” and sought to strike a judicious balance in his music between spontaneity and premeditation. Roland-Manuel’s characterization of the String Quartet as “the most spontaneous work Ravel has ever written” is clearly applicable to the improvisatory-sounding slow movement, with its freely declamatory outbursts and dreamlike reminiscences of the opening Allegro moderato. Yet Ravel’s Classical discipline is equally evident in the first movement’s two-theme sonata form and the slightly off-kilter but tightly controlled metrical patterns of the second and fourth movements. As the composer wrote in his autobiography, “My String Quartet represents a conception of musical construction, imperfectly realized no doubt, but set out much more precisely than in my earlier compositions.” Like Debussy (and Bartók after him), Ravel experimented with cyclical structure in his String Quartet, achieving a strong sense of unity among the four movements by means of recurring intervals, melodic shapes, textures, and sonorities.
Etude 2: Interactions
Lullaby 1: Pulsing
About the Composer
Sebastian Currier has said that the composer with whom he identifies most closely is Bartók, whose music he describes as “very thoughtful, honest, amazingly well put together, and very human.” These same qualities characterize Currier’s diverse catalogue of solo, orchestral, chamber, and multimedia works. Born into a musical family in Providence, Rhode Island, his father was a violinist, his mother and brother both composers, Currier studied with the serialist composers Milton Babbitt and George Perle. Although their influence can be felt in his meticulously plotted musical structures and attention to detail, Currier’s own works embrace a wider stylistic and conceptual range. For example, the richly coloristic chamber piece Static, which won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award in 2007, plays on the dual meaning of “static” as unchanging and “white noise.” The violin concerto Time Machines explores the idea that music takes place simultaneously in several temporal dimensions, with past, present, and future coexisting, intersecting, and colliding in front of the listener’s ears.
Put that way, Currier’s approach to composition sounds highly intellectual, recalling Babbitt’s view of the academic composer as a skilled specialist in the same category as researchers in other branches of the arts and sciences. Currier did, in fact, serve as artist-in-residence at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, from 2013 to 2016, but he has long since parted ways with many of the dogmas and procedures that captured the allegiance of many avant-garde composers in the late twentieth century. Despite his penchant for high-level organization, he has shown little interest in serialism, postmodernism, or any other overarching compositional philosophy. Many of his works follow a distinctly nonlinear and non-goal-oriented trajectory, unfolding simultaneously on multiple levels. The structures he devises for his music are often equally open-ended, as illustrated by the ongoing string quartet project that he calls Etudes and Lullabies.
– Harry Haskell
In the Composer’s Own Words
Etudes and Lullabies is a collection of 12 independent pieces for string quartet: six etudes and six lullabies. For me, these two forms perfectly complement each other, representing two fundamental and opposing aspects of music: the ability to both energize and soothe. An etude projects struggle, intensity, energy, and triumph over difficulty. A lullaby represents the polar opposite: It projects calm, quiet, intimacy, and letting go. The etude embodies defiance, the lullaby surrender. The piano repertoire has many collections of short pieces: etudes, preludes, nocturnes, preludes, and fugues, and so forth. The string quartet, strangely, does not. I wrote this collection with that in mind. Etudes and Lullabies can be performed separately or together in any combination.
The Verona Quartet will be performing Etude 2: Interactions, and Lullaby 1: Pulsing. In the etude, Interactions, all the quartet members play essentially the same fast-moving line, punctuated by sharp accents. They do not play the line together, however, but in close succession to one another in break-neck canonic imitation. The lullaby, Pulsing, consists of two intertwined series of slow-moving chords – the first a set of distant, mysterious microtonal chords, the second a progression of simple, peaceful harmonies in E-flat major.
– Sebastian Currier
Etude 2: Interactions and Lullaby 1: Pulsing were written for the Verona Quartet, who gave the world premiere of the works at New York’s Chelsea Music Festival in June 2017.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2, “Razumovsky”
About the Composer
Beethoven’s biographer Lewis Lockwood describes the three “Razumovsky” Quartets of 1806 as a “continental divide” in the history of the string quartet. Behind them stood the towering peaks of the Viennese Classical school, epitomized by Haydn and Mozart; ahead lay the as-yet-uncharted territory of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms. The Opus 59 set marked a watershed in Beethoven’s own artistic development as well. Like the “Eroica” Symphony, the “Appassionata” Piano Sonata, and the opera Fidelio, the “Razumovskys” exemplify the “heroic” and boldly unconventional style of the composer’s so-called middle period. The Mozartean Classicism of his six Opus 18 Quartets, composed between 1798 and 1800, already belonged to a different world, while the introspective, convoluted language of his late quartets lay just around the corner.
About the Work
The Opus 59 Quartets were commissioned by Count Andreas Razumovsky, Russia’s ambassador to the court of Vienna. An enthusiastic amateur violinist, the count was an ardent champion of both Beethoven and Haydn. Beethoven set to work on May 26, 1806, and completed the three quartets by the end of the year. Predictably, contemporary reaction to the “Razumovskys” ranged from bemusement to outright hostility. When Ignaz Schuppanzigh’s ensemble read through the first piece in the set, Carl Czerny reported, the four players “laughed and were convinced that Beethoven was playing a joke and that it was not the quartet which had been promised.” The great Russian cellist Bernhard Romberg, upon discovering that he had nothing to play at the beginning of a certain movement but repeated B-flats, flung the music on the floor and trampled on it. Beethoven was not unduly perturbed by such displays of incomprehension. The Opus 59 Quartets, he informed one of his critics, “are not for you, but for another age.”
A Deeper Listen
An intense, brooding mood is evident from the outset of the E Minor Quartet. The Allegro opens with a sinuous two-bar motif that is immediately repeated one step higher, then flowers into a profusion of cascading sixteenth notes. After the elaborate development section, in which material from the exposition recurs in various guises, a searching coda brings the movement to a quiet E-minor cadence. The Molto Adagio, which Beethoven marks to be played “with much feeling,” cloaks us in the warmth of E major, its long-breathed melodic lines juxtaposed with crisply dotted rhythms. The scherzo-like Allegretto starts in the minor mode and switches to major in midcourse, with a perky Russian folk tune darting in and out of the musical fabric. (Mussorgsky would later use this theme in the Coronation Scene of Boris Godunov.) The exuberant Finale explores two main ideas: a swaggering, dance-like melody, set against chugging rhythms in the lower strings, and a smoother, rising motif.