The Verona Quartet, who have been hailed by The New York Times as “cohesive yet full of temperament…vibrant, [and] intelligent,” returns for their final performance as Caramoor’s Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence for a summer evening in our Venetian Theater. The program includes the World Premiere of a Caramoor commissioned piece by Julia Adolphe, whose work has recently been performed by the New York Philharmonic.
“An outstanding ensemble” — The New York Times
Jonathan Ong, violin
Dorothy Ro, violin
Abigail Rojansky, viola
Jonathan Dormand, cello
Dvořák Selections from Cypresses, B.152 Julia AdolpheStar-Crossed Signals (2018) (World Premiere, commissioned by Caramoor) Janáček String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters”
Friends’ Garden Party for all Membership Levels
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). They also perform for Chamber Music Northwest’s Winter and Summer 2018 Festivals in Portland, OR, as part of CMNW’s innovative Protégé program, where they collaborate with eminent chamber musicians. In addition, the Verona Quartet has been selected by New York’s Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts for its prestigious Ernst Stiefel String Quartet Residency, encompassing performances, educational residencies as well as a concert at the 2018 Caramoor Summer Festival. Other summer 2018 festival appearances include return engagements at Chamber Music Northwest and New York’s Chelsea Music Festival.
Selected by Musical America as “New Artists of the Month” in May 2016, the group has garnered worldwide recognition by winning top prizes at 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.
Along with their passionate exploration of the rich repertoire for string quartet, the Verona Quartet are equally committed to expanding the canon by playing music by living composers. In 2017, they premiered three new works written for them: Michael Gilbertson’s String Quartet at Weill Recital Hall; Sebastian Currier’s Etude 2: Interactions and Lullaby 1: Pulsing at New York’s Chelsea Music Festival, in collaboration with Boosey & Hawkes; and Canadian composer Robert Aitken’s Lunenburg (Shadows VII), commissioned by the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance, Nova Scotia, in honor of Canada’s 150th Birthday. In June 2018, they premiere a new work by Julia Adolphe at the Caramoor Festival, commissioned 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 Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance. 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
The centerpiece of tonight’s program — a newly commissioned piece by the up-and-coming American composer Julia Adolphe — is sandwiched between two romantically inspired works by the Czech masters Antonín Dvořák and Leoš Janáček. Dvořák was just beginning to make a name for himself in 1865 when he fell head over heels in love with a young actress in Prague. He poured out his heart to her in a cycle of eighteen impassioned songs titled Cypresses, from which he later chose a dozen to arrange for string quartet under the title Echo of Songs — by which time he was married not to the actress but to her younger sister.
Janáček, by contrast, was at the tail end of his career when he memorialized his beloved in the second of his two string quartets, subtitled “Intimate Letters.” Young Kamila Stösslová was the spark that ignited the white-hot blaze of compositional activity in the last ten years of the composer’s life. Their passionate but platonic extramarital affair, expressed in hundreds of letters, inspired such masterworks as the operas Kát’a Kabanová and The Makropulos Affair. Above all, Janáček immortalized his muse in his Quartet No. 2, which he described as having been “written in fire.”
Selections from Cypresses, B. 152 (1887)
About the Composer
A comparatively late bloomer, Dvořák was in his early thirties when he first made his mark as a composer in his native Bohemia. Until then, his reputation had barely penetrated beyond the city limits of Prague, where he earned a modest living as a piano teacher and church organist. A few of his songs and chamber works had been performed locally, and his Slavic-flavored comic opera King and Charcoal Burner had been well received at the city’s Czech opera house. But it wasn’t until 1875, when the imperial Austrian government awarded him a stipend, that Dvořák’s career finally took off. The prestigious prize brought him to the attention of Johannes Brahms, who introduced the young Czech composer to his own publisher in Berlin as “a very talented man.” Brahms’s endorsement worked like magic: with his works issued under the respected Simrock imprint, Dvořák became an international celebrity virtually overnight, and by the mid- 1880s major publishers were bidding for the privilege of advertising his newest works in their catalogues.
About the Work
Dvořák’s habitual eagerness to oblige occasionally led him to promise more than he could deliver, yet the constant pressure to produce didn’t discourage him from taking time to write pieces for which there was no immediate prospect of publication. In the spring of 1887, for example, shortly before he began work on his great A Major Piano Quintet, Op. 81, he devoted the better part of a month to a string quartet arrangement based on a song cycle he had written more than two decades earlier. Cypresses, a set of bittersweet lyrical reflections on love, nature, and death, was inspired by the 24-yearold composer’s unrequited passion for his teenage piano pupil Josefina Čermáková (whose younger sister, Anna, would later become his wife). Dvořák recognized the imperfections of these early songs, which he called “my prematurely born offspring,” and never attempted to publish them in their original form. But the fact that he lovingly preserved the manuscript, and repeatedly mined the score as a source of material for other compositions in later years, suggests that Cypresses held a special place in his affections.
A Deeper Listen
The dozen songs that Dvořák arranged for string quartet under the title Echo of Songs (later changed to Evening Songs) run the gamut of moods and emotions, from the quickening ardor of No. 1 (originally set to a text beginning “I know that in sweet hope you I may indeed love”), in warm D-flat major, to the heartbroken D-minor intensity of No. 12 (“You ask why my songs rage with a sound despairing”). In changing the sequence of the pieces and dispensing with their poetic texts, Dvořák preserved and in some cases heightened the vivid dramatic and tonal contrasts that characterized the original song cycle. For example, the restless urgency of No. 2 (“So many a heart is as though dead”), in F minor, gives way to the radiant G major of No. 3 (“In that sweet power of your eyes”). In the last two selections on today’s program, the muted intensity and rich chordal textures of No. 9 (“Thou only dear one”), with its prominent viola part, both contrast with and complement the buoyant rhythms and lighthearted tone painting of No. 11 (“Nature lies peaceful”).
— Harry Haskell
Star-Crossed Signals (2018)
World Premiere, Vol. 19 of Caramoor’s commissioning project: A String Quartet Library for the 21st Century
About the Composer
Julia Adolphe started writing little melodies at age nine, imagining herself as a singer/songwriter, and only began her formal training in classical music as an undergraduate. She has achieved a level of success that is remarkable for any composer, let alone someone still at the early stages of their career.
Adolphe’s works have been performed across the U.S. and abroad by renowned orchestras and ensembles such as the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, North Carolina Symphony, James Conlon and the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus, soprano Hila Plitmann, pianist Gloria Cheng, and at the Bravo! Vail Music Festival, among others. Her 2017 orchestral work, White Stone, premiered by the New York Philharmonic, follows on the heels of the Philharmonic’s 2016 premiere of Unearth, Release, Adolphe’s viola concerto composed for Cynthia Phelps, and Dark Sand, Sifting Light, featured during their biennial celebration.
Adolphe is also an active writer, teacher, and producer. In 2014, NewMusicBox published Adolphe’s articles on teaching music in an all-male maximum security prison. In 2013, Adolphe was co-producer of The Prodigal Son conducted by James Conlon for the LA Opera Britten Centennial. As a USC Teaching Assistant, Adolphe taught courses on the History of the Beatles and Classic Rock. She is currently pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the USC Thornton School of Music. Prior teachers include Stephen Hartke, Steven Stucky, and Donald Crockett. Adolphe holds a Master of Music degree in music composition from the University of Southern California and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music and the College Scholar Program from Cornell University.
A Note from the Composer
Star-Crossed Signals imagines stabs at communication between two bodies, two vessels separated by an expansive landscape. The movement titles are derived from nautical signal flags used by ships at sea. Delta signifies “Keep clear of me. I am moving with difficulty” and Xray translates to “Stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals.” Thwarted attempts to communicate, warn, and assert power sound throughout all four voices in the string quartet’s first movement as the individual instruments strive for dominance. The first violin’s initially stifled voice slowly rises to the surface, freely clashing with the turbulent atmosphere swarming its music. The dissonance reaches a peak and then dissipates, leaving the first violin to linger and return to its opening material.
The second movement uses the maritime signal Kilo, meaning: “I wish to communicate with you.” The repetition of the word Kilo evokes both a longing for connection as well as the echoing nature of the music. In this movement, the strings gently reach for one another, enveloping and folding each line in a kind of dance. The imagery of navy signal flags stems from my childhood; my father used them in his early paintings. I was always struck by the idea of ships at sea attempting to reach one another through brightly colored coded patterns. It is a wonderful metaphor for human interaction.
— Julia Adolphe
String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters” (1928)
About the Composer
Long after the successful premiere of his opera Jenůfa in 1904, Janáček remained little known outside his native Moravia. His modest fame rested largely on his accomplishments as a teacher, organist, and musical folklorist. Not until a revised version of Jenůfa was staged in Prague in 1916 did his fame begin to spread. Janáček was already moving away from the late-Romantic ethos of his early works to the distinctive sound world of his maturity, characterized by epigrammatic terseness, abrupt changes of mood and atmosphere, and irregular, speechlike rhythms. In the last decade of his life, his passionate but platonic affair with the much younger Kamila Stösslová sparked a white-hot blaze of compositional activity. Janáček immortalized his muse in such masterpieces as the operas Kát’a Kabanová, The Cunning Little Vixen, and The Makropulos Affair, as well as the Second String Quartet of 1928, his last major work.
About the Work
According to Janáček, the Second Quartet, initially called “Love Letters,” was almost graphic in its depiction of his relationship with Stösslová (“Here they kissed; here they longed for another,” and so on). Subsequently, he had second thoughts about exposing their affair to public gaze, declaring, “I won’t deliver my feelings to the tender mercies of fools.” Thinly disguised under a new subtitle, “Intimate Letters,” the original impulse remained unchanged. The composer told Stösslová that the quartet was “written in fire,” whereas earlier pieces had been written “only in hot ash.” In another letter, he made his intentions even more explicit: “You stand behind every note, you, living, forceful, loving. The fragrance of your body, the glow of your kisses — no, really of mine. But the softness of your lips. Those notes of mine kiss all of you.”
A Deeper Listen
The fire that blazes and smolders throughout Janáček’s Second Quartet is not the impetuous ardor of youth, but the desperate passion of an old man for whom love is a matter of life and death. By the composer’s own account, the first movement records his initial impressions of Stösslová: the main theme, harmonized in sweet-sounding sixths, recurs throughout the movement — and again in the second and fourth — with almost obsessive intensity. These passionate outpourings are tempered by a persistent undercurrent of foreboding, as expressed by the ghostly countermelody played sul ponticello (on the bridge) by the viola and cello at the very beginning. It’s as if Janáček knows his happiness can’t last. (In fact, he died only a few months after completing the quartet.) The complexity of his emotions is mirrored in the music’s abrupt shifts of mood and meter, and in the multilayered textures recalling those of Dvořák. The last movement, with its fitful dance rhythms, is almost Mahlerian in its blend of sentimentality and angst, culminating in a savage salvo of trills just before the end, a harrowing passage in which Janáček bares his soul.