Verona Quartet
Sunday April 29 3:00pm

Verona Quartet

2017–18 Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence

Overview

Continuing their residency at Caramoor, the Verona Quartet returns to perform works of great emotional depth by Haydn, Shostakovich, and Brahms. The New York Times praises the quartet as “cohesive yet full of temperament … vibrant, intelligent …” Equipped with robust experience mentoring young musicians, the Verona Quartet will provide music education in local schools through Caramoor’s Student Strings program this spring.

Artists

Jonathan Ong, violin
Dorothy Ro, violin
Abigail Rojansky, viola
Jonathan Dormand, cello

Program

Haydn String Quartet, Op. 50, No. 1
Shostakovich String Quartet No. 3
Brahms String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2


Verona Quartet

Jonathan Ong, violin
Dorothy Ro, violin
Abigail Rojansky, viola
Jonathan Dormand, cello

Artist Website  Watch

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

Throughout history, composers have awarded dedications of their works for a variety of reasons, both personal and professional. Some dedications are acts of homage to fellow artists. Some are expressions of gratitude for financial or other kinds of support. And some are simple acts of friendship. Each of these motives comes into play with the three works on this program.

When Haydn dedicated the Quartet in B-flat Major, along with his five other Op. 50 Quartets, to the music-loving Prussian king Frederick William II, he was both acknowledging the monarch’s public recognition and highlighting the growing international market for his music. Brahms dedicated his two Op. 51 Quartets to his surgeon friend Theodor Billroth, an accomplished amateur violist. The mercilessly self-critical composer described his A-Minor Quartet as “mean and paltry,” but Billroth knew better.

“These dedications will keep our names known longer than our best work,” he remarked to a fellow dedicatee. Shostakovich commemorated his decades-long association with the Beethoven Quartet — which premiered all but two of his fifteen quartets — by dedicating his Third and Fifth Quartets to the entire ensemble and four other quartets to individual members.

 


JOSEPH HAYDN
1732-1809
String Quartet in B-flat Major, H.III:44, Op. 50, No. 1 (1787)

About the Composer

Haydn earned his reputation as the “father” of the string quartet the hard way: over the course of his long life, he wrote no fewer than sixty-eight quartets, as well as a number of quartet arrangements. Just as his career neatly encapsulated the Classical era, so his music reflects the “classical” virtues of equilibrium, clarity, and seriousness of purpose, tempered with a playfulness and often earthy humor that have delighted audiences ever since. Blessed with a sanguine disposition, and largely unburdened by financial worries, Haydn composed with equal aplomb for amateurs and professional-caliber musicians alike.

His earliest quartets, dating from the 1750s, are closely related to the string sonatas, sinfonias, and light-weight divertimenti adored by fashionable European audiences of the day. In these works the cello was still largely confined to continuo-style harmonic accompaniment, but in Haydn’s hands both the bass line and the two inner voices became increasingly independent. In the democratizing spirit of the Enlightenment, he gradually worked out a style in which the four instruments were more or less equal partners, thus laying the foundation for the quartets of Mozart and Beethoven.

About the Work

From the time he joined Prince Nicolaus Esterházy’s musical establishment in Hungary in the early 1760s, Haydn devoted the bulk of his time to composing symphonies, operas, and large-scale vocal works for performance at the court. Not until the late 1780s did he take up quartet writing again, motivated in part by a growing desire for international recognition and financial independence. The six “Prussian” Quartets of 1787 — so called because Haydn dedicated them to King Frederick William II of Prussia, an accomplished amateur cellist — followed close on the heels of six hugely popular symphonies commissioned by a French nobleman. In fact, it was the king’s enthusiastic response to the “Paris” Symphonies, betokened by the gift of a ring, that prompted Haydn’s reciprocal gesture. In defending his right to publish the quartets more or less simultaneously in Vienna and London, the composer commented, “No one can blame me for endeavoring to obtain some profit after the pieces have been engraved because I am not paid sufficiently for my works.”

A Deeper Listen

Like audiences today, Haydn’s contemporaries warmed to the mixture of wit and sophistication that characterizes the Quartet in B-flat Major. The cello’s soft, pulsing B-flats immediately fix the home key in the listener’s ear. The opening Allegro takes off at a leisurely pace, the upper voices repeating a little turning thematic figure, then breaks into a short, athletic sprint. Teasingly, Haydn proceeds to start over from the beginning. This time, however, he lingers over the opening theme before unexpectedly cranking the tonality up a notch to C major. By the time we reach the development section, the cello’s low-D pedal notes, harmonized with grating half-step dissonances, sound surprisingly normal. Haydn enhances the quartet’s sense of organic unity by reusing the Allegro’s telltale melodic curlicue in each of the three succeeding movements: it recurs as an energizing upbeat figure in the themeand- variations Adagio; as a thematic embellishment, flipped upside-down, in the scherzo-like Poco allegretto; and again as a subsidiary motif in the vivacious Finale.

 

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH
1906-1975
String Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Op. 73 (1946)

About the Composer

Throughout his career Shostakovich was alternately lionized and demonized by the Soviet Union’s cultural apparatchiks, so it’s small wonder that his music veers wildly between mordent satire (the opera The Nose and the ballet The Golden Age), patriotic bombast (the Second Symphony and the symphonic poem October, both eulogizing the 1917 Russian Revolution), and bleak alienation (almost any of his string quartets). Shostakovich came of age in the 1920s, during the brief halcyon period of the workers’ state. But his incorrigible political cynicism, and his contempt for the proletarian pap produced under the banner of Socialist Realism, repeatedly landed him in hot water with the authorities. The international success of the “Leningrad” Symphony — composed during the Nazi siege of Leningrad in World War II and widely hailed as a symbol of Russian resistance — finally brought him a measure of security. In the last two decades of his life he traveled abroad, established contacts with Benjamin Britten and other Western composers, and achieved performances of works that had long been suppressed.

About the Work

Perhaps more than any composer since Beethoven, Shostakovich employed the string quartet as a vehicle for his deepest and most personal ruminations on the human condition. Composed in 1946, the F-Major Quartet was first performed in Moscow on December 16 of that year by the celebrated Beethoven Quartet, which would premiere no fewer than thirteen of Shostakovich’s fifteen quartets. The composer initially assigned the five movements programmatic titles as follows: (1) “Calm unawareness of the future cataclysm;” (2) “Rumblings of unrest and anticipation;” (3) “The forces of war unleashed;” (4) “Homage to the dead;” and (5) “The eternal question: Why? And for what?” Although the descriptive rubrics were later scrapped, the quartet’s powerful existential message remains compellingly clear.

A Deeper Listen

The F-Major Quartet is characterized by extremes of mood and register, spare, linear textures, and an insistent, often savage rhythmic impulse. The lighthearted tone of the opening Allegretto — a simple, slightly off-kilter dance — quickly turns sour as the music becomes increasingly frenetic and inward-looking. Each of the succeeding quick movements evinces a similarly schizophrenic quality, balanced on a knife edge between mechanical precision and anarchic abandon. Only the short, intense Adagio offers a vision that is at once serenely sustained and unrelievedly bleak. As a student at the Moscow Conservatory, Valentin Borlinsky, the original cellist of the Borodin Quartet, organized a rehearsal of Shostakovich’s Third Quartet in the director’s office. “I purposely left the door of the room wide open,” he recalled, “and the music of this wonderful quartet resounded all over the Conservatory. Students came running out to hear it.”

 

JOHANNES BRAHMS
1833-1897
String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2 (1865-73)

About the Composer

In his famous article “New Paths,” published in 1853, Robert Schumann lauded the 20-year-old Brahms, whom he had just met for the first time, as a genius who had sprung forth “like Minerva fully armed from the head of Jove.” As Brahms auditioned his works for the Schumanns at the piano, the older composer found himself “drawn into ever deeper circles of enchantment … There were sonatas, rather veiled symphonies — songs, whose poetry one could understand without knowing the words … single pianoforte pieces, partly demoniacal, of the most graceful form — then sonatas for violin and piano — quartets for strings — and every one so different from the rest that each seemed to flow from a separate source.” We may never know anything about the string quartets that cast their spell on Schumann, for Brahms destroyed each and every one of them. In fact, by the time he began work on his A-Minor Quartet in the mid- to late 1860s, the famously self-critical composer had by his own count written and discarded no fewer than twenty quartets, none of which measured up to his exacting standards.

About the Work

As in contemplating his first symphony, Brahms was paralyzed by the thought of following in Beethoven’s footsteps as a quartet composer, especially at a time when the genre had fallen out of favor with his fellow “progressive” composers. Friends were continually asking when his first quartet would be ready, and Brahms persistently put them off. “It took Mozart a lot of trouble to compose six early quartets,” he reminded his publisher, Fritz Simrock, in 1869, “so I will try my hardest to turn out a couple fairly well done. They should not fail you, but if I were a publisher I should not be in such a hurry.” Simrock was the soul of patience; four years later he was still waiting for Brahms to deliver when he received a letter containing further discouraging news: “I give myself the greatest trouble and keep on hoping that something really great and difficult will occur to me, and they turn out mean and paltry!” A few weeks after that Brahms finally admitted to himself that he would never be fully satisfied and shipped the two Op. 51 Quartets off to Simrock.

A Deeper Listen

Brahms’s diffidence notwithstanding, the Quartet in A Minor is at once “really great” and in some respects “difficult” to categorize and apprehend. This stems in part from Brahms’s lifelong struggle to reconcile the Classical and Romantic strains in his musical language. The Classicist is very much in evidence in the opening Allegro non troppo, with its well-proportioned themes and clearly delineated form. The shy, halting melody of the Andante moderato carries us into more personal, introspective territory, while in the third movement, marked Quasi minuetto, Brahms adopts an unconventional multipart structure reminiscent of the late Beethoven quartets. The bravura Finale is a highly rhythmicized romp with a distinctly “Hungarian” flavor. At the end, a quiet echo of the first movement’s principal theme sets up a mad dash to the final cadence.

— Harry Haskell