“Passion, precision, warmth, a gold blend: these are the trademarks of this excellent Israeli string quartet.” —Times London

Violinist Hsin-Yun Huang gave “an electrifying performance.” —The Strad

Inon Barnatan is “a true poet of the keyboard” —The Evening Standard (London)

“Kyril Zlotnikov‘s cello sang out like a cherrywood Archangel.” —redefinemagazine.com

After hearing their new recording of Brahms’ lyrical and introspective String Quartet in A minor, Gramophone magazine proclaimed “Few command Brahms’s string quartet the way the Jerusalem do.” The Jerusalem’s Kyril Zlotnikov is the soloist in the Cello Sonata in E minor, Brahms’ first published sonata for a string instrument, which pays nostalgic tribute to Bach and Baroque music. After intermission, violist Hsin-Yun Huang joins the group for one of Brahms’ most joyful and ebullient works, Quintet for Strings in G major, written during a summer holiday in the Austrian Alps.

Jerusalem Quartet
      Alexander Pavlovsky, violin
      Sergei Bresler, violin
      Ori Kam, viola
      Kyril Zlotnikov, cello
Hsin-Yun Huang, viola
Inon Barnatan, piano

BRAHMS: String Quartet in A minor, Op. 51, No. 2
BRAHMS: Sonata for Cello and Piano in E minor, Op. 38
BRAHMS: Quintet for Strings in G major, Op. 111

This concert is approximately 1hour, 45 minutes long, with one intermission.


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Johannes Brahms - String Quartet No 2 in A minor, Op.51 No 2

Explore the Music

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Q&A with Jerusalem violist Ori Kam

What does the music of Brahms mean to you?

Growing up in Israel, Brahms was such a pillar of the repertoire I was exposed to. In Israel his compositions are perceived as the height of Romantic music, played with great pleasure at every turn often bordering on sentimentality. When I moved to the US, I remember being surprised that Brahms was treated as a very intellectual composer. Audiences seemed to hear more of the intricacy and intellect in his use of structure and development of material. Later on, when I lived in Germany I was again surprised to find that Germans treat Brahms as a classical composer - an extension of Beethoven. They tend to play his music more lightly and less sentimentally.

To me, these different hearings of Brahms’ music are the sign of a truly great composer. His music encapsulates all of these traits. It is at once intellectual and emotional, earnest and sentimental, complex and heartbreakingly simple. I believe that this immense breadth is what makes him irresistible to us and, in our experience, to our audiences as well.

How did you create this series, Intimate Brahms?

In constructing the programs for our Brahms project, to begin we wanted to shine a new light on the three quartets. The audience will be able to hear the four instruments melt into a single 16-string instrument. We will follow each quartet with a sonata, allowing the audience to get to know one of the instruments (and players) of the quartet separately (violin, viola and cello). On display will be Brahms’ unique approach and writing for each instrument.

After the break, the Quartet will be joined by a fifth instrument, and the audience will be able to examine the quartet in different combinations. The clarinet transitions between soloist and ensemble, the viola adds a fifth string instrument seamlessly, and finally the piano is a counter-weight to the quartet.

This Brahms series is one of several focuses The Jerusalem Quartet has done on a single composer, such as Mozart and Shostakovich. What do you like about these programmatic concentrations?

Playing a project such as this allows us to get a deeper understanding of a composer’s musical language. As younger musicians we tend to focus on constructing beautiful phrases. Later on we focus on executing the arch of a section, then a movement, finally a piece. As we mature, we look towards placing each of a composer’s notes in the context of his life and other works. For example, I don’t believe Mozart’s music can be understood without knowing his operas.

Brahms is interesting because it’s hard to place any piece on his biographical timeline. He took a painstakingly long time to complete pieces and often revised them decades later. I think that his writing style and approach did not evolve as noticeably as Beethoven’s or Haydn’s did. Perhaps his evolution is more on the emotional content of the music? I think it’s dangerous to treat his later music as more nostalgic or philosophical because it often expresses such naive happiness or youthful exuberance.

Much of Brahms’ chamber music was written for particular people. Has the Jerusalem Quartet done much commissioning?

We try to commission and perform contemporary music as much as we can. Our hurdle is usually the concert presenters we perform for prefer standard repertoire due to the demands of their audiences. Raising funds for commissions is a big undertaking that requires the collaboration of several players. We hope to be able to put more of these collaborations in the future, since we believe that performers play an important voice in the development of contemporary music.

Inon Barnatan will be featured in all three concerts. How did you meet him?

Israel is a very small place, and Inon is around our age, so we “came up” together. It’s so wonderful to see his success, and we were so delighted when he made time to join us for this project. It’s so great when there is a personal connection on top of the musical chemistry.

Your sister, clarinetist Sharon Kam, is another guest artist. Do you come from a particularly musical family? How did you each choose your particular instruments?

My mother is a violist with the Israel Philharmonic. Perhaps that is the source of our love for the alto register. Our parents stressed music as part of a well-rounded education. For a while I think they were somewhat disappointed that we both became professional musicians. Sharon fell in love with the clarinet after playing piano and recorders. I played violin but fell in love with the viola after playing quartets with friends. Music, and chamber music in particular, was a big part of our household.

Does the Jerusalem Quartet have a particular internal management style or structure? How do you decide on such issues as concert repertoire, musical interpretations, etc.?

A quartet operates on consensus. It is not a democracy. While we each take the lead on some things, decisions are made together. We get along very well and for the most part things operate quite smoothly.

You seem to be on the road constantly, touring around the world. How do you stay fresh and musically focused amidst all the stress of travelling?

Travel is the price we pay for the privilege of performing in all of these great halls and in front of such wonderful audiences. Traveling together makes it easier. I often think of how lonely soloists get on the road. Over the years we have learned to manage our calendar so that we can maintain our sanity, health and have the time to lead healthy family lives.

Photo: Manuel Vaca

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BRAHMS: String Quartet in A minor, Op. 51, No. 2


Born in Hamburg, May 7, 1833; died in Vienna, April 3, 1897
String Quartet in A minor, Op. 51, No. 2
Composed in c. 1865–1873; 32 minutes

In their final form, Brahms’s first two string quartets, Op. 51, Nos. 1 and 2, date from the summer of 1873. It had been two decades since Robert Schumann hailed the 20-year-old composer as a prodigy who had sprung forth “like Minerva fully armed from the head of Jove.” But Brahms refused to let such fulsome accolades turn his head; to the end of his life he remained a diligent student for whom the craft of composition was at least as important as inspiration. Nowhere was a composer’s craft more mercilessly exposed than in the string quartet, a medium that had lain virtually dormant since the deaths of Beethoven and Schubert nearly half a century earlier. Brahms claimed to have written and destroyed no fewer than 20 quartets before he finally took up the challenge in earnest in his mid-thirties.

He developed his ideas by a painstaking process of trial and error, subjecting successive drafts to painstaking revisions and soliciting advice from his friend Josef Joachim, whose quartet played through the works-in-progress. In 1872 Brahms accepted the directorship of Vienna’s prestigious Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, and for much of that and the following year he was preoccupied with planning programs and leading rehearsals. Not until June 1873 was he able to break away for a working vacation in the Bavarian town of Tutzing. There, in addition to completing his enduringly popular Variations on a Theme by Haydn, he finally signed off on the Op. 51 quartets. Even then, he was far from satisfied. “I give myself the greatest trouble and keep on hoping that something really great and difficult will occur to me,” he wrote despondently to his publisher, “and they turn out mean and paltry!”

Brahms’s diffidence notwithstanding, the A-minor Quartet is at once “really great” and in some respects “difficult,” both to categorize and to apprehend. In part this stems from the composer’s lifelong struggle to reconcile the classical and romantic strains in his musical language. The classicist is very much to the fore in the opening Allegro non troppo, with its well-proportioned themes and clearly delineated sonata 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.

Although the A-minor Quartet is not among Brahms’s most ingratiating works—as indicated by the audience’s less-than-ecstatic response to the Berlin premiere by the Joachim Quartet in October 1873—contemporaries recognized it as a masterpiece. Both Op. 51 quartets are dedicated to Theodor Billroth, Brahms’s surgeon friend in Vienna and an accomplished amateur violist. Billroth knew better than to take the composer’s habitual self-deprecation at face value. “These dedications will keep our names known longer than our best work,” he predicted to a fellow dedicatee. History has proven him right.

© 2014 Harry Haskell

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BRAHMS: Sonata for Cello and Piano in E minor, Op. 38

Sonata for Cello and Piano in E minor, Op. 38
Composed in 1862–1865; 25 minutes

The first of Brahms’s published duo sonatas, the Cello Sonata in E minor, dates from the early 1860s. It was a period of upheaval in the composer’s life—disappointed in his hope of winning a major conducting post in his native Hamburg, he decided to try his luck in Vienna—but also of growing recognition: In the spring of 1862, the critic Adolf Schubring hailed the 29-year-old Brahms as a worthy successor to Bach, Beethoven and Schubert. In Vienna, Brahms told Schubring that he revered “the sacred memory of the great musicians of whose lives and work we are daily reminded. In the case of Schubert especially, one has the impression of his still being alive. Again and again one comes across new works, the existence of which was unknown and which are so untouched that one can scrape the very writing–sand off them.”

In highlighting the cello’s lower register, the E-minor Sonata evokes the burnished, baritonal sound world of Schubert’s great C-major String Quintet (scored for two cellos). Fittingly, the sonata is dedicated to Joseph Gänsbacher, an Austrian voice teacher and cellist who was coeditor of Schubert’s collected works. In the summer of 1862, when he wrote the first two movements of the Cello Sonata, Brahms was working on his own double-cello quintet (destined to be reincarnated as the Piano Quintet in F minor). Both works display the combination of lyricism and drama to which Schubring alluded when he wrote that Brahms “understands how to be Classic and Romantic, ideal and real—and after all, I believe he is appointed to blend both these eternal oppositions in art.”

The E-minor Sonata is cast in three movements, all in quick tempos, rather than the customary four. (Brahms composed a slow movement in 1862 but set it aside on the advice of friends; two decades later he recycled it in his Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major.) The opening Allegro non troppo is built around a warmly urgent eight-bar theme that surges from the depths of the cello’s C string against a simple, off-beat accompaniment. The piano part, spare-textured and unassertive at first, soars to a massive climax as the cello’s music becomes increasingly impassioned. But classical restraint soon reasserts itself and the movement’s feverish energy subsides in a luminous E-major coda.

The Allegretto quasi minuetto is an oasis of calm between the turbulence of the outer movements. The piano and cello dance a delicate triple-time minuet, circling around each other in playful canonic imitation; its classical poise contrasts with the flowing romantic lines of the middle Trio section. Brahms, a diligent student of Baroque counterpoint, appended the driving, fugal-style Allegro to the first two movements in 1865. The subject announces itself with a dramatic downward leap of an octave, then scurries along in a typically Brahmsian blend of duple and triple meters. The balance between the two instruments is notoriously problematic. One cellist complained to Brahms that he couldn’t make himself heard over the piano in the finale. “You’re lucky,” the tart-tongued composer is said to have replied.

Photo: Joseph Gänsbacher

© 2014 Harry Haskell

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BRAHMS: Quintet for Strings in G major, Op. 111

Quintet for Strings in G major, Op. 111
Composed in 1890; 29 minutes

In December 1890, Brahms presented his publisher with the manuscript of his second string quintet, accompanied by a terse message: “With this slip, bid farewell to notes of mine.” In the event, the composer soon got a fresh wind and went on to pen some of his most beguiling works, including the Clarinet Trio and Quintet, the Four Serious Songs and the late Intermezzi for solo piano. Yet it surely says something about Brahms’s psychological state that he should have chosen to designate this lighthearted, energetic work as his swan song. His close friend Elisabet von Herzogenberg put her finger on the Quintet’s special quality when Brahms sent her a manuscript copy of the score:

“I was so inspired by your earlier Quintet in F major,” she wrote to the composer, “that the new one seemed to stand but a poor chance (old friends are best!); but I am now faithless enough to admit that it surpasses the older work in beauty, grace and depth of feeling.... The Quintet held me from the very start and I found myself back in the atmosphere of the G-major Sextet [written in 1864-1865]. It is all wonderfully clear and compact; distinct in its manner of expression.... He who can invent all this must be in a happy frame of mind! It is the work of a man of thirty!”

The Op. 111 Quintet opens in a blaze of youthful high spirits, the cello’s strenuous melody struggling to surface from underneath a flood of s16th notes in the four upper voices. (One cellist protested that the passage was unplayable as written, but Brahms stubbornly refused to make any alterations.) A quietly lilting second theme provides a wistful contrast, and the sky darkens momentarily in the magically ethereal development section. But the movement’s exhilarating energy proves irrepressible. A plangent and richly expressive Adagio in D minor (highlighting the husky timbre of the violas) leads to a restless, waltz-like Allegretto that flits between G minor and G major. The final Vivace has a rollicking gypsy flavor. When Brahms’s biographer Max Kalbeck quipped that the quintet should be subtitled “Brahms in the Prater,” alluding to Vienna’s famous urban playground, the composer reportedly shot back, “You’ve got it! Among all the pretty girls, eh?”

The Rosé Quartet, supplemented by a second violist, gave the first performance of the G-major Quintet in Vienna on November 11, 1890. Some critics remained impervious to its charms. As one wrote, “The themes, although treated so effectively and elaborately, seem nonetheless more and more thought rather than felt, more constructed than discovered. One is so seldom in one’s innermost soul touched by Brahms.” Nevertheless, the popular verdict was nothing short of rapturous. When the violinist Joseph Joachim performed the quintet in Berlin on December 10, the audience was so demonstrative that he was forced—“against my principles,” as he pointedly informed the composer—to encore the slow movement.

Photo: Elisabet von Herzogenberg

© 2014 Harry Haskell

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Artist Bios

The Jerusalem Quartet

The Jerusalem Quartet has garnered international acclaim for its combination of passion and precision. The Quartet (Alexander Pavlovsky, first violin; Sergei Bresler, second violin; Ori Kam, viola; Kyril Zlotnikov, cello) is currently on a US tour, performing quartets by Beethoven, Bartók and Ravel in Buffalo, Indianapolis, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Morrow (Georgia) and Cincinnati, as well as this Brahms series at 92Y. In November it travels to Europe, and in January it gives two concerts at the Tel Aviv Museum before beginning a second European tour. In February the Quartet then returns to the US for a 16-day, 12-concert cross-country tour, from Baltimore to Phoenix.

In its last New York appearance, the Jerusalem Quartet gave a sold-out presentation of the complete Shostakovich string quartet cycle for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, which it repeated this past June in Mexico City. The Quartet previously performed this Brahms series last March in Vancouver with Sharon Kam, Hsin-Yun Huang and Inon Barnatan. Among the many distinguished European venues where the Quartet has appeared are the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Herkulessaal in Munich, Wigmore Hall in London and the Cité de la Musique in Paris.

The Jerusalem Quartet is a record three-time recipient of BBC Music magazine’s Chamber Music Award, most recently for its 2012 CD of Mozart quartets, and previously for its 2010 Haydn CD and its 2007 Shostakovich CD. The Quartet’s recording of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden and Quartettsatz in C minor was featured as “Editor’s Choice” in the July 2008 edition of Gramophone and was also given an ECHO Classic chamber music award in 2009. This past January the Quartet released a CD of works by Smetana and Janáček; its previous recording was a critically acclaimed disc of Brahms’ String Quartet in A minor, Op. 51, No. 2, and Clarinet Quintet with Ms. Kam. The Quartet records exclusively for Harmonia Mundi.

The Jerusalem Quartet was formed during the 1993/1994 season while its members were students at the Jerusalem Conservatory of Music and Dance, and it made its debut in 1996. From 1999 to 2001, it was part of the new series BBC New Generation Artists, and in 2003 it received the first Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award. Ori Kam joined the group in 2011, upon the departure of founding violist Amihai Grosz. Its website is jerusalem-quartet.com.

Photo by Felix Broede

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Hsin-Yun Huang

This is violist Hsin-Yun Huang’s first of four appearances during 92Y’s 2014/15 concert season. She will return as co-curator and performer for three concerts at 92Y’s downtown venue, SubCulture, starting on December 13. This is also her second 92Y concert appearance in 2014: last April she was guest of the Brentano String Quartet.

Ms. Huang has been firmly established as one of the leading violists of her generation since 1993, when she won the top prize of the ARD International Music Competition in Munich and the prestigious Bunkamura Orchard Hall Award. Her career has been marked by appearances with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, the Zagreb Soloists in Paris, the Tokyo Philharmonic, the Russian State Philharmonic and the National Symphony of Taiwan, among others. She is a founding member of the Variation String Trio, and she was a member of the Borromeo String Quartet from 1994 to 2000.

Ms. Huang is the artistic director of the Sejong International Music Festival for students ages 14 and over, founded in 2013. The festival takes place at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. In 2012 Bridge Records released her debut solo CD, Viola, Viola, which includes commissions from Shi-Hui Chen and Steven Mackay as well as works by Elliott Carter, George Benjamin and Poul Ruders. She serves on the faculties of Curtis and The Juilliard School.

Photo: Lin Li

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Inon Barnatan

Pianist Inon Barnatan is the New York Philharmonic’s inaugural Artist-in-Association, a position created to highlight an emerging artist over the course of several consecutive seasons through concerto and chamber music appearances. In addition to this appearance, Mr. Barnatan will make his Philharmonic subscription debut in March 2015, performing Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major with Music Director Alan Gilbert, and will join Philharmonic musicians for Dvořák’s Piano Quintet, Op. 81, in February 2015.

He will also return to 92Y on December 7 for an afternoon of Czech chamber music with cellist Alisa Weilerstein and musicians from the New York Philharmonic. A native of Tel Aviv, Mr. Barnatan has been a welcome guest at 92Ysince 2009, when he participated with members of the Cleveland Orchestra in a Janáček-Kundera celebration. The following season he joined the Tokyo String Quartet in its three-year cycle of Beethoven’s string quartets with corresponding piano works. In December 2012 he gave a solo recital, performing works drawn from his latest release at the time, Darknesse Visible—Debussy, Adès, Britten and Ravel—followed by Schubert’s Sonata in A major.

Mr. Barnatan opened his 2014/15 season in September with a solo recital in London’s Central Synagogue. Future season highlights include debuts with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Orchestre National de France and Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec, and he returns to the Atlanta, Milwaukee and Ulster symphonies. In recital, Mr. Barnatan debuts at Warsaw’s International Chopin Festival and performs at London’s Wigmore Hall, Chicago’s Harris Theater, and in New York City with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Next spring he joins Ms. Weilerstein, his frequent recital partner, for a US tour, ending with a concert on Boston’s Celebrity Series.

Winner of the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, Mr. Barnatan is a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. He made a critically acclaimed debut at Washington's Kennedy Center in October 2012 and has performed in other such renowned venues as Carnegie Hall, the Louvre, London’s South Bank Centre, Berlin’s Philharmonie and Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw. Mr. Barnatan has appeared with many of the world’s leading orchestras, including the Cleveland and Philadelphia orchestras, Dallas and San Francisco symphonies, Deutsche Symphonie Orchester Berlin, and Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.

Heralded as a Schubertian of the first rank, Mr. Barnatan’s latest CD, released in September 2013 by Avie, features Schubert’s late piano sonatas; he made his recording debut with an all-Schubert disc in 2006 for Bridge Records. Mr. Barnatan’s second release, Darknesse Visible, was named one of the “Best of 2012” by The New York Times. He also teamed up with violinist Liza Ferschtman for a recording of works by Beethoven and Schubert. His website is inonbarnatan.com.

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Details & Ordering

  • Jerusalem Quartet: Intimate Brahms II

    Date: Sat, Oct 25, 2014, 8 pm

    Location: Lexington Avenue at 92nd St

    Venue: Kaufmann Concert Hall

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