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“The urgency [of the performance by Fred Sherry’s quartet] is raw and immediate … The result is undeniably exciting.”—Gramophone

There is a world of difference between Schoenberg’s String Quartet No.1 and the “scary” Schoenberg of atonal music. His first quartet is in the Late Romantic style of Brahms, Mahler and Strauss, whose musical world was later turned upside down by the “Schoenberg Revolution” of twelve-tone techniques. The First Quartet is one monumental, yet elegant movement, filled with sweeping gestures and nothing to interrupt his grand journey of music.

Taking us on this journey is a virtuoso quartet specifically formed by the great cellist Fred Sherry, whose recordings of Schoenberg’s music have earned two Grammy nominations. Just as it took a genius to write this music, it takes a “genius” to lead it—violinist and 2008 MacArthur Fellow Leila Josefowicz.

Schoenberg Before Schoenberg

Leila Josefowicz, violin
Jesse Mills, violin
Hsin-Yun Huang, viola
Fred Sherry, cello

SCHOENBERG: String Quartet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 7

This concert is approximately 50 minutes long, with no intermission.


  92Y Concerts at SubCulture is a co-presentation of 92Y and SubCulture.

This concert takes place in SubCulture, 45 Bleecker St.

Arnold Schönberg - String Quartet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 7

Explore the Music

(Click the names below to expand info.)

Artist’s Note, by Fred Sherry

A program with only one piece on it! Yes, but it is the monumental first quartet by Arnold Schoenberg which is almost an hour long. This is a work that bursts forth from the page with authentic power and freshness. It is rooted in the 19th century, but, like Verklärte Nacht, it constantly breaks new ground in its harmonic language and daring instrumental writing. As Schoenberg wrote, “the supreme commander had ordered me on a harder road in the pursuit of compositional excellence.”

The First Quartet is the work of an idealistic and optimistic young man (as described by his brother-in-law, the composer Alexander Zemlinsky) at work and play in a field which included the music of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms as well as Reger, Wagner, Liszt, Schubert and others. In his fertile ear he absorbed as much from these masters as he added ideas of his own invention. Schoenberg mentions Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony as the formal model for the development of this large-scale work. Astonishingly, he also wrote “Usually taking morning walks, I composed in my mind forty to eighty measures complete in every detail. I needed only two or three hours to copy down these large sections from memory.”

Schoenberg invented families of themes which derive from each other and have great modulatory possibilities. His contrapuntal innovations expanded upon Wagner’s practice of combining leitmotivs; the younger composer fashioned new themes out of subsidiary material and allowed them to coexist by the use of variation and transformation. It is the malleability of these themes that enables the harmonic changes which propel the First Quartet through its exploration of so many expressive subtleties.

In 1937 the composer wrote: “The First Quartet played an important role in the history of my life. On the one hand, the scandals provoked by it were so widely reported the world over that I was known at once to a considerable part of the public. Of course, I was primarily regarded as the Satan of modernistic music; but, on the other hand, many of the progressive musicians became interested in my music…Mahler remarked after seeing the score to the First Quartet, ‘I have conducted the most difficult scores of Wagner; I have written complicated music myself in scores of up to thirty staves and more; yet here is a score of not more than four staves, and I am unable to read them.’”

Audiences and performers today, 101 years after the quartet’s composition, accept this once-new language as the truth told by four string players; our quartet has worked hard to capture the scope of this masterpiece.

Leila, Jesse, Hsin-Yun and I refer to our group as the Quartet Party. We have a great time together and we vote for Schoenberg.

Image: Arnold Schoenberg, a self-portrait (1910)

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Artist Bios

The Fred Sherry String Quartet

The Fred Sherry String Quartet was founded in 2002 to perform and record the Arnold Schoenberg String Quartet Concerto with conductor Robert Craft and the Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble; their recording was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2005. The Quartet went on to record Schoenberg’s four string quartets, Ode to Napoleon and Verklärte Nacht as part of The Robert Craft Collection on Naxos Records. The CD of String Quartets Nos. 3 and 4 received a Grammy nomination in 2010. The current Quartet membership includes Leila Josefowicz, first violin; Jesse Mills, second violin; Hsin-Yun Huang, viola; and Fred Sherry; cello.

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Leila Josefowicz, violin

Leila Josefowicz is a passionate advocate of contemporary music for the violin. Named a 2008 MacArthur Fellow, Ms. Josefowicz has had violin concertos written for her by Esa-Pekka Salonen, Steven Mackey, Colin Matthews and Luca Francesconi; she premiered Mr. Francesconi’s concerto, Duende—The Dark Notes, this past February with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Next March she will premiere John Adams’s new work, Scheherazade.2 (Dramatic Symphony for Violin and Orchestra, with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic; it was co-commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Sydney Symphony. Other engagements for Ms. Josefowicz’s 2014/15 season include concerts with the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, and a recital at London’s Wigmore Hall.

Ms. Josefowicz has released several recordings, notably for Deutsche Grammophon, Philips/Universal and Warner Classics, and she was featured on Touch Press’ acclaimed iPad app. Her latest recording—Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Violin Concerto with the Finnish Radio Symphony, conducted by the composer—was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2014. This past summer she joined Mr. Pekka-Salonen in a worldwide television commercial for Apple called “Esa-Pekka’s Verse.” Ms. Josefowicz last appeared at 92Y in March 2008 with The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. She currently performs on a Del Gesu made in 1724. Her website is

Photo: J. Henry Fair

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Jesse Mills, violin

Two-time Grammy Award-nominated violinist Jesse Mills performs music of many genres as well as his own works, either composed and improvised. Since his concerto debut at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, Mr. Mills has appeared with the Colorado, New Jersey and Phoenix symphonies; the Denver Philharmonic; Beuos Aires’ Teatro Argentino OrchestraA and Aspen Music Festival's Sinfonia Orchestra. As a chamber musician, he has appeared in such prestigious venues as New York’s Carnegie Hall, Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center, Boston’s Gardener Museum, London’s Barbican Centre, Paris’s La Cité de la Musique in Paris, and Milan’s Teatro Arcimboldi, as well as 92Y.

Mr. Mills is co-founder of the Horszowski Trio and Duo Prism, a violin-piano duo with Rieko Aizawa, which earned 1st Prize at the Zinetti International Competition in Italy in 2006. With Ms. Aizawa, Mills became co-artistic director of the Alpenglow Chamber Music Festival in Colorado in 2010. He earned Grammy nominations for his performances of Schoenberg's music, released by NAXOS. He can also be heard on the Koch, Centaur, Tzadik, Max Jazz and Verve labels for various compositions of Webern, Schoenberg, Zorn, Wuorinen, and others. As a composer and arranger, Mr. Mills has been commissioned by venues including Columbia University’s Miller Theater and the Chamber Music Northwest festival in Portland, Oregon. His website is

Photo: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

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Hsin-Yun Huang, viola

Violist Hsin-Yun Huang is co-curator and performer of tonight’s concert as well as the next two concerts in the 92Y at SubCulture series. Two months ago she participated in the Jerusalem Quartet’s Intimate Brahms focus at 92Y, and last April she was a guest on the 92Y Brentano String Quartet series. Ms. Huang has been 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. She has appeared 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.

Ms. Huang is a founding member of the Variation String Trio, and she was a member of the Borromeo String Quartet from 1994 to 2000. She 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.

Photo: Lin Li

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Fred Sherry, cello

Cellist Fred Sherry has introduced audiences on five continents and all 50 states in the US to the music of our time through his close association with today’s composers. Carter, Davidovsky, Mackey, Rakowski, Satoh, Wuorinen and Zorn have written concertos for Sherry, and he has premiered solo and chamber works dedicated to him by Babbitt, Bermel, Eckardt, Foss, Knussen, Lieberson, Martino and Takemitsu, among others. He was artistic director and performer for Elliott Carter’s 103rd Birthday Concert at 92Y on December 8, 2011; an acclaimed DVD of the concert was released last year.

Mr. Sherry was a founding member of Speculum Musicae and TASHI, and artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center from 1989-1992. He has been a member of the Group for Contemporary Music, Berio's Juilliard Ensemble and the Galimir String Quartet. He has also enjoyed a close collaboration with jazz pianist and composer Chick Corea. Mr. Sherry has been soloist and “sideman” on hundreds of commercial and esoteric recordings. He is a member of the cello faculty of the Juilliard School, the Mannes College of Music and the Manhattan School of Music. In 2011 Boosey & Hawkes released his book 25 Bach Duets from the Cantatas; it will be followed by a treatise on contemporary string techniques. His website is

Photo: Ben Esner

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