Concert Season

Pacifica String Quartet

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 the quartet-in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009 – 2012)—a position previously held by the Guarneri String Quartet—and received the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance. Prior to their appointment to the Jacobs School, 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 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”. Learn more at: www.pacificaquartet.com.

Pianist Marc Andre Hamelin is renowned for his fresh readings of the established repertoire and his intrepid exploration of lesser known works of the 19th and 20th centuries. He is admired for his brilliant technique and his questing, deep thinking approach to everything he plays. In recent seasons Hamelin has appeared as recitalist or orchestral guest soloist in such cities as New York, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Portland, and in Quebec, Canada and internationally in Antwerp, Berlin, London, Melbourne, Rotterdam, and Milan, among many other cities. A prolific recording artist, Mr. Hamelin has set to disk some 50 CDs for the Hyperion label; these range from the neglected masterpieces of Alkan, Ives, Medtner and Roslavets to brilliantly received performances of Haydn, Mozart, Schumann, Brahms, and Chopin.

Pacifica Quartet Members:

Simin Ganatra, violin
Sibbi Bernhardsson, violin
Masumi Per Rostad, viola
Brandon Vamos, cello

PROGRAM NOTES

New Orleans Friends of Music
Dixon Hall, Tulane University
November 14, 2013
Pacifica String Quartet with Marc-André Hamelin, piano

Program

String Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp minor, Op. 108
Dmitri Shostakovich 1906-1975
Allegretto
Lento
Allegro

Quintet for Piano and Strings, Op. 92, SO 61
Leo Ornstein 1893-2002
Allegro barbaro
Andante lamentoso
Allegro agitato

Intermission

Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major, Op. 81
Antonín Dvořák 1841-1904
Allegro, ma non tanto
Dumka: Andante con moto
Scherzo (Furiant): Molto vivace
Finale: Allegro

Program Notes

Shostakovich was one of the most prolific composers of string quartets in the 20th century. After having been condemned by Stalin for anti-Communist tendencies in 1936, he needed an outlet for his genius that would escape governmental censure. So from then to the end of his life, he led a dual existence. On the one hand, he continued to write public symphonies that would show his outward obedience to socialist realism (read: to please Stalin, Krushev and the others), but on the other hand he began to write private string quartets in which he could pour out his innermost feelings.

Shostakovich wrote his seventh string quartet in 1960, and it was premiered in May of that year in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) by the Beethoven Quartet. It is a brief, tightly organized, tonal work that also, along with the eighth quartet, remains one of the composer’s most accessible and popular chamber music pieces. The opening movement begins with a chopped descending phrase and three repeated tones which will recur throughout the movement and again in the third movement. This is followed by a rising motive in the violoncello that is the main theme of the movement. The eerie, pessimistic second movement is followed by a dynamic, energetic finale that evolves out of the second and first movements.

Leo Ornstein was born in the Ukraine and attended the St. Petersburg Conservatory before his family emigrated to New York in 1907. He was a piano prodigy and, after a few years studying at the Institute for Musical Arts (Julliard), he made his concert debut in 1911. By 1914 he established himself as a modernist composer in Europe and America, following both Arnold Schoenberg’s atonalism and Henry Cowell’s tone clusters, but although regarded as a futurist, he refused to join any one contemporary movement. He also turned to the sounds of Eastern European folk music, and later in life fused the two styles. In 1922 he essentially left the public concert stage and until 1953 concentrated on teaching in Philadelphia. Although he continued to compose, he was generally forgotten until rediscovered in the 1970’s. He died in Green Bay, Wisconsin, at the remarkable age of 108.

Ornstein wrote his only piano quintet in 1927. It was commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge for a fee of $1000, and was premiered on January 1, 1928 in Philadelphia with Ornstein performing the piano part. Bela Bartók also performed on this concert his new Violin and Piano sonata. The Quintet was performed several more times in 1928 and in the early 1930’s, and then dropped into oblivion until late in the 20th century. The piece requires a virtuoso pianist whose technique matches that of the virtuoso Ornstein, and there is hardly a measure where the pianist is not performing at this level. The piece is not atonal, but keys are often obscured. Barbaric is an apt description for the opening of the first movement, but other sections are more atmospheric. Continual changes of meter and polyrhythm are basic to Ornstein’s style. Throughout there is the aura of Eastern European folk scales, which suggest pentatonic but are not purely so. The second movement is a series of sections labeled by Ornstein as follows: Lamentoso – Doppio Movemente (ends with a glissando) – Tranquillo molto (contrapuntal) – Alla Marcia Funebra – Calmato – Andante lamentoso – Languido – Andante Tranquillo. The third movement combines styles of the first and second movements and, amazingly, at times sounds like Ornstein’s contemporaries Bartók and Rachmaninoff. Commenting on this piece years later, Ornstein stated “The untamed emotion of the piece at first annoyed and shocked my own ears, but any attempt to modify it destroyed whatever was genuine.”

Dvořák wrote his second piano quintet in 1887, and it was premiered early the next year in Prague. Robert Schumann’s famous Piano Quintet served as the model for Dvořák, and overall the harmony and style of the piece is more of the 1830’s, like Schumann’s, with a touch of early Brahms. But the Czech composer inserted his own sense of melody and his feeling for Bohemian folk music. The grand first movement, in sonata form, begins with a sweet melody in the cello, followed by a spirited theme that takes us to the second theme. The viola begins the large development section with a repetition of the opening violoncello passage, and the recapitulation begins with the same theme. The long second movement is a haunting dumka, a Slovanic elegy, which in Dvořák’s works alternates with passages of exuberance. While clearly Dvořák felt his Bohemian roots here, the similarity of this movement to the second movement of the Schumann Quintet is obvious. The spritely third movement, the shortest in the Quintet, is wonderfully tuneful. It is in three parts, of which the first and third are virtually the same, while the slower middle part is a parody of the first part. The Finale, in rondo form, is a pleasant conclusion to this major chamber work by Dvořák.




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