“In Schubert, Mr. Wosner is not afraid to employ an enormous dynamic range. His pianissimos are uncommonly delicate and beautiful. But when the music moves him, his fortissimos can be steely and terrifying.”—The New York Times

The Parker Quartet’s performance “set the group apart as something extraordinary.”—The New York Times

For 200 years Schubert has captivated audiences, inspired composers and enthralled performers. Now Shai Wosner and the Parker Quartet—five extraordinarily gifted artists—show us how.

Schubert’s effect reaches across 200 years to touch the great composers of our times. Fragments of the Sonata in A resonate within Missy Mazzoli’s Isabelle Eberhardt, and Kurtág’s Aus der Ferne V echoes the second movement of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden.”


Shai Wosner, piano
Parker Quartet
      Daniel Chong, violin
      Ying Xue, violin
      Jessica Bodner, viola
      Kee-Hyun Kim, cello

MISSY MAZZOLI: Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos for Piano and Electronics
SCHUBERT: Sonata in A major for Piano, D. 959
KURTÁG: Aus der Ferne V for String Quartet
SCHUBERT: String Quartet in D minor, D. 810, “Death and the Maiden”

 

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Masters of the Keyboard: Shai Wosner - Schumann: "Carnaval"

Schubert - The Death and the Maiden - Quartetto Italiano

Explore the Music

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Statement from the artist: Shai Wosner, piano & series curator

THE SCHUBERT EFFECT

By Shai Wosner

What do we mean when we say “Schubertian?” Is it the lyricism of Schubert's songs? The philosophy of the piano sonatas? The Viennese lilt of an irresistible tune? Or perhaps the dark undertows amidst the sunniest of passages (which, by the way, is just as Viennese)?

Of course, all of the above are inseparable elements of what makes Schubert's music so profoundly expressive. But even beyond all that, Schubert is utterly unique in the way he redefines the most basic element of music—time.

Schubert's sense of time has a certain duality to it— almost a kind of a Schubert Effect—that makes it seem as if time is somehow magically both moving and suspended. His music has a clear feeling of narrative, but it is essentially driven more by contemplation rather than by the clash of contrasting elements, as was in the music of his predecessors. In other words, while we still clearly sense the structures Schubert inherited from Mozart and Beethoven, he loosens their taut dramatic argument so that even the busiest of movements is imbued with an unmistakably Schubertian spaciousness. His music lacks no drama, to be sure; yet alongside even the most violent outbursts of anguish, an inner, inexorable flow prevails and lends the music an air of introspection.

What’s more, this duality of Schubert's musical time isn't about tempo or speed. Rather, it has more to do with the way we perceive the entirety of a movement or even of a whole work. Thus, a frenetic tarantella, like the one that closes the D-minor String Quartet, D. 810 (“Death and the Maiden”), can both feel claustrophobically anxious on one level and yet also assume an expansive scope overall. Or consider the bleak Andantino of his A-major Sonata, D. 959 and its looping rhythmic patterns; they seem to be at once both moving and frozen in place—like a lonely wanderer who is a mere dot on an endless, snowy plain.

This expansiveness is in the very nature of Schubert's music, regardless of duration. It can be felt from bar to bar and in the moment, as the music unfolds with a spontaneity that doesn’t tell us if a piece will last five minutes or fifty.

In his longest, grandest works, Schubert can nevertheless be at his most intimate and personal, while in his shorter pieces—like the meditative Moments Musicaux—there is a sense of some broader dimension beyond the “confines” of the piece itself, as if we are looking at the horizon through the window of a small room. It is music that often seems to hint at something much bigger than its relative brevity might otherwise suggest, as do György Kurtag's own 21st-century Moments Musicaux and his Aus der Ferne (From Afar), which condenses the melancholy of unbridgeable distances into three minutes.

Paradoxically, Schubert achieves the feeling of timelessness through the combined use of motion (rhythmic patterns) and repetition in a way that not only foreshadows Bruckner and Mahler but almost makes him a distant, improbable precursor of Minimalism. In the dreamy timelessness of Missy Mazzoli's Minimalist-influenced Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos, faint echoes of Schubert are heard in a mix of live and prerecorded pianos—sound and its memory combined into a kind of a musical time warp.


Photo: Marco Borggreve

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MISSY MAZZOLI: Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos for Piano and Electronics

MISSY MAZZOLI

Born in Abington, Pennsylvania, October 27, 1980
Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos for Piano and Electronics
Composed in 2007; 9 minutes

Brooklyn-based Missy Mazzoli is a rising star of what has been called the "indie classical" world, a realm that embraces everything from music in the European classical tradition to indie rock and all manner of musical crossbreeds and fusions. Conservatory-trained at the Yale School of Music and the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, Mazzoli is equally at home in concert halls and rock clubs, where she often performs with her all-female electro-acoustic band Victoire. Last year the group premiered Mazzoli’s Vespers for a New Dark Age, based on poems by Matthew Zapruder. Among her other works are River Rouge Transfiguration, commissioned by the Detroit Symphony; Harp and Altar, for string quartet and electronics, written for the Kronos Quartet; and the piano solo Bolts of Loving Thunder, dedicated to Emmanuel Ax.

Mazzoli’s music represents an amalgam of traditional and contemporary elements that are less disparate than they might appear; she once described her style as a “blend of dreamy post-rock, quirky minimalism and rich romanticism.” Although much of her work is built on the minimalist principle of repetition, subtly shifting textures, meters, harmonies and contours convey a sense of continual unfolding and narrative-style development. This dramatic dimension is much in evidence in Mazzoli’s chamber opera Song from the Uproar, which was premiered to wide acclaim at The Kitchen in 2012. Its protagonist is Isabelle Eberhardt, a Swiss traveler and writer who, in the composer’s words, “abandoned a comfortable aristocratic life for a nomadic existence in North Africa” at the turn of the 20th century.

Mazzoli’s fascination with this remarkable, free-spirited woman—who converted to Islam and died in a flash flood in the Algerian desert in 1904—first manifested itself in a short piece for solo piano and prerecorded electronics written in 2007. Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos is perhaps best described as a slightly surrealistic tone poem: Mazzoli envisions the intrepid adventurer “riding on horseback through the desert, lost in thought, remembering sounds and sensations of her old life. Fragments of Schubert's A-major Sonata pierce her consciousness and are quickly suppressed. In her fatigue she dreams of a piano half-buried in sand, a flash flood of sheet music swirling around her." Blending acoustic and electronic ingredients in a rich sonic stew, Mazzoli’s music immerses the listener in billowing waves of sound, now delicately shimmering, now massive and thunderous.

© 2014 Harry Haskell

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FRANZ SCHUBERT: Sonata in A major for Piano, D. 959

FRANZ SCHUBERT

Born in Vienna, January 31, 1797; died there, November 19, 1828
Sonata in A major for Piano, D. 959
Composed in 1828; 38 minutes

Unlike such nineteenth-century composer-virtuosi as Beethoven, Chopin, and Schumann, Schubert was a less-than-brilliant pianist. There seems no reason to question the judgment of his contemporary Ferdinand Hiller that he “had but little technique.” On the other hand, his brother Ferdinand recalled that “although Schubert never represented himself as a virtuoso, any connoisseur who had the chance of hearing him in private circles will nevertheless attest that he knew how to treat the instrument with mastery and in a quite peculiar manner, so that a great specialist in music, to whom he once played his last sonatas, exclaimed: ‘Schubert, I almost admire your playing even more than your compositions!’”

The Sonata in A major, the next-to-last of Schubert’s 21 piano sonatas, belongs to a set of three sonatas dedicated to the Czech virtuoso Johann Nepomuk Hummel and completed in September 1828, some two months before the composer’s untimely death. A few weeks earlier, belatedly heeding his doctor’s advice, he had abandoned his apartment in Vienna and taken up residence with his brother in the supposedly more salubrious suburbs. There, despite his rapidly deteriorating health, Schubert produced his last three piano sonatas, as well as his valedictory chamber masterpiece, the great C-major String Quintet. All are notable for the grandeur of their conception, the richness and complexity of their tonal relationships, and the intricate interweaving of lyricism and drama.

The beginning of the A-major Sonata is as arresting as any of Schubert’s works: a sequence of stentorian chords, anchored by an unchanging A in the top voice, that dissolve into bright peals of cascading triplets. Note the taut, pouncing rhythmic figure in the left hand, marked by a wide leap; it will come back in altered form more than once later in the sonata. After introducing a lyrical second theme in E major, Schubert proceeds to mix and match these contrasting ideas, investing them with adventurous harmonies, explosive accents, and dramatic contrasts. The Allegro’s development section unfolds against a backdrop of steadily pulsing eighth-note chords, setting the stage for an unusually elaborate recapitulation that culminates in a ghostly echo of the movement’s opening bars.

No less strange and haunting is the Andantino, with its plaintive triple-time melody in F-sharp minor set against a gently rocking accompaniment; the astonishing middle section, turbulent and densely textured, anticipates Liszt’s piano idiom in its intense chromaticism and rhapsodic freedom. The third movement, a capricious Scherzo, is charged with a similar manic energy; fleeting reminiscences of the first two movements reinforce the sonata’s strong sense of thematic unity. The genial, relaxed melody of the final Rondo seems to whisk us back into more conventional territory, but Schubert doesn’t linger long on the beaten path. The last time we hear the recurring melody it’s interrupted by long pauses, as if half-remembered in a dream. Then, without warning, a blistering coda circles back to the mighty chords that started the sonata off.

© 2014 Harry Haskell

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GYÖRGY KURTÁG: Aus der Ferne V for String Quartet

GYÖRGY KURTÁG

Born in Lugoj, Romania, February 19, 1926
Aus der Ferne V for String Quartet
Composed in 1999; 3 minutes

The Hungarian composer György Kurtág, who will celebrate his 89th birthday next month, once described composition as a process of “continual research” aimed at achieving “a sort of unity with as little material as possible.” Like Anton Webern, whose music he came to love long before it was widely known behind the Iron Curtain, Kurtág is essentially a miniaturist. Both his aphoristic musical language and the forces he uses to express it are radically compressed. Yet despite the abundance of “white space” in a typical Kurtág score, it would be misleading to characterize such densely packed and richly allusive music as “minimalist “ Economical though he may be with notes, Kurtág has little in common with such composers as Philip Glass, John Adams and Arvo Pärt.

Two threads that run throughout Kurtág’s work are a sense of playfulness and a dialogue with friends and fellow composers. The playfulness is reflected in Kurtág’s answer to Béla Bartók’s Mikrokosmos: an open-ended series of short pedagogical piano pieces titled Játékok, or “Games.” The dialogue takes the form of numerous musical memorials and homages to composers as diverse as Schubert, Bach and Stockhausen. The three-minute string quartet Aus der Ferne V (From Afar) is dedicated to the memory of the German music publisher Alfred Schlee, who died in 1999. In an association with Universal Edition in Vienna that dated back to the 1920s, Schlee championed the work of Kurtág and many other leading 20th-century composers, including some whose work was banned by the Nazis after the Anschluss.

Aus der Ferne V opens with sustained chords punctuated by the cello’s dry pizzicato E-flats; the music is marked “barren and sad.” A short, searing outburst, like a cry of anguish, gives way to a mood of tender resignation, as this miniature lament climbs to a soft, stratospheric F-major close reminiscent of the slow movement of Schubert’s D-minor Quartet, described below.

© 2014 Harry Haskell

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FRANZ SCHUBERT: String Quartet in D minor, D. 810, “Death and the Maiden”

FRANZ SCHUBERT

String Quartet in D minor, D. 810, “Death and the Maiden”
Composed in 1824; 40 minutes

“Give me your hand,” Death says to the frightened girl. “I am not rough. You shall sleep gently in my arms.” Whether intimations of his own mortality inspired Schubert to base the slow movement of his next-to-last string quartet on his song Der Tod und das Mädchen (Death and the Maiden), written seven years earlier, is a matter for conjecture. Yet there is no mistaking the morbid sense of doom and impending loss that suffuses the score. And it is surely no accident that all four movements, unusually for Schubert and his contemporaries, are in the minor mode.

The opening Allegro, with its explosive outbursts and typically Schubertian major-minor instability, sets the tone for the entire quartet. Driving, insistent rhythms give the movement an air of grim inexorability. (For all Schubert’s lyrical genius, it is the rhythmic character of his themes, rather than their melodic contours or harmonic settings, that stamps itself most clearly on the listener’s memory.) The movement culminates in one of Schubert’s most vividly dramatic codas, which builds to a frenzied climax before fading into silence.

The veiled, chorale-like opening of the Andante con moto—borrowed from the piano accompaniment of Schubert’s song—picks up where the Allegro left off. Formally, the slow movement is a set of variations, as richly imaginative as any Schubert ever wrote. But even without the programmatic connection, it would be tempting to hear a dance of death in the first violin’s increasingly angular gestures and acrobatic leaps. By the same token, the tug-of-war between first violin and cello in the third variation suggests the Maiden’s frantic struggle with the Grim Reaper. And what does the movement’s epic journey from G minor to G major signify if not a passage from fear to acceptance?

The savage intensity of the Scherzo, with its lacerating cross-accents, is tempered by the D-major radiance of the middle-section Trio. Listen for the dotted-rhythm motif that runs through the entire movement; in slightly elongated form, it reappears in the main theme of the Presto—one of many subliminal threads that bind this mighty musical canvas together. After its initial headlong gallop, the finale proceeds by fits and starts. Often the music seems to wander off on a tangent, only to pick itself up and plunge forward again. Then, just as one feels the four players have run out of energy, they make one last prestissimo sprint across the finish line.

© 2015 Harry Haskell

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Artist Bios

Shai Wosner, piano

Pianist Shai Wosner has attracted international recognition for his exceptional artistry, musical integrity and creative insight. His performances of a broad range of repertoire communicate his imaginative programming and intellectual curiosity.

Mr. Wosner has been widely praised for his interpretations of Franz Schubert’s solo works, both in concert and in recording. He presented Schubert’s music in recital throughout the 2013-14 season in Santa Fe, Berkeley, London, San Miguel de Allende, Mexicom and other cities. His solo recording released by Onyx in October 2011, features a selection of works by Schubert that incorporate elements of folk music, and he performs solo works by Schubert and Missy Mazzoli on a new recording to be released by Onyx in November.

His orchestral engagements this season include a return to the Hamburg Symhony following his debut with the orchestra last year; his debut with the Orchestre symphonique de Québec, and performances with the Indianapolis Symphony and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. He also performs solo recitals in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Eugene, Oregon, and a duo recital with violinist Jennifer Koh in Santa Barbara as part of their new “Bridge to Beethoven” series.

Mr. Wosner is widely sought after as a chamber musician. He has collaborated with such esteemed artists as Martin Fröst, Lynn Harrell, Dietrich Henschel, Cho-Liang Lin, Christian Tetzlaff and Pinchas Zukerman. Since his solo recital debut in March 2009, he has become a welcome guest at 92Y, appearing with the Tokyo String Quartet in March 2010 and baritone Wolfgang Holzmair in January 2012.

Born in Israel, Mr. Wosner is a recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant as well as a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award. His latest album, recorded with frequent recital partner violinist Jennifer Koh, titled Signs, Games + Messages and featuring works by Janáček, Bartók and Kurtág, was released by Cedille Records in October 2013. In 2010 he released a disc exploring the musical connections between Brahms and Schoenberg, including Brahms’ Handel Variations and Fantasies Op. 116, and Schoenberg's Six Little Pieces, Op. 19, and Suite for Piano, Op. 25, on Onyx. His website is shaiwosner.com.

Photo: Marco Borggreve

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Parker Quartet

Formed in 2002, the Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet (Daniel Chong, violin; Ying Xue, violin; Jessica Bodner, viola; Kee-Hyun Kim, cello) began its international touring after winning the Concert Artists Guild Competition as well as the Grand Prix and Mozart prizes at the Bordeaux International String Quartet Competition in France. Chamber Music America awarded the Quartet the prestigious biennial Cleveland Quartet Award for the 2009 through 2011 seasons.

The Parker Quartet recently joined the faculty of Harvard University’s Department of Music as Blodgett Artists-in-Residence. It is continuing its visiting residency at the University of South Carolina, and from 2008 to 2013 it was quartet-in-residence with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Highlights of the Quartet’s 2014/2015 season include the premiere of a new string quartet by Augusta Read Thomas as part of its four-concert series at Harvard University, and return engagements at London’s Wigmore Hall and Music at Amherst. The Quartet also continues to be a strong supporter of violist Kim Kashkashian’s Music for Food project by participating in concerts throughout the Boston area for the benefit of the Boston Food Bank.

Performance highlights from recent seasons include appearances at Carnegie Hall, the Library of Congress, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Wigmore Hall in London, the Musikverein in Vienna and the Seoul Arts Center. In April 2012 the Parker Quartet made its 92Y debut appearing with violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and pianist Anne-Marie McDermott.

The Quartet’s recording of György Ligeti’s complete works for string quartet on the Naxos label won the 2011 Grammy Award for best chamber music performance. Its debut release, Bartók’s String Quartets Nos. 2 and 5 for Zig-Zag Territoires, also won high critical praise. Its website is parkerquartet.com.

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Details & Ordering

  • Shai Wosner and the Parker Quartet: The Schubert Effect 1

    Date: Wed, Jan 28, 2015, 7:30 pm

    Location: Lexington Avenue at 92nd St

    Venue: Kaufmann Concert Hall

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