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“Mr. Lonquich was absolutely first rate: a pianist of great energy” —The New York Times

Christian Tetzlaff, violin / viola
Tanja Tetzlaff, cello
Jörg Widmann, clarinet
Alexander Lonquich, piano

MOZART: Piano Trio in B-flat major, K. 502
WIDMANN: Fantasie for Solo Clarinet
MOZART: Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major, K. 526
MESSIAEN: Quartet for the End of Time for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano


This concert is approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes in duration.

 

The Contrasts series is supported by an endowment gift from Joan L. and Dr. Julius H. Jacobson, II.

Jörg Widmann, with Jan Vogler & Ewa Kupiec
WIDMANN: Nachtstück for clarinet, cello & piano
(Edel Classics)

Explore The Music

(Click the names below to expand info.)

Contrasts, an Introduction

by Christopher Cerrone

The music of Mozart, endlessly imaginative and foundational in the Western art canon, plays a prominent role in this series of three concerts which 92nd Street Y has appropriately named Contrasts. The series showcases a musically rich and diverse array of composers with Mozart as the palliative to the other more piquant musical flavors; these other flavors are the music of Bela Bartók, Olivier Messiaen, and the German composer Jörg Widmann. The joy of Mozart’s musical world is that it can easily tease out connections between these other musics. For example, Mozart was obsessed with the clarinet, which is featured throughout the Contrasts series. In addition to the “Kegelstatt” Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano heard on April 18, he composed his clarinet concerto, a clarinet quintet, and prominently featured the clarinet the “Gran Partita” Serenade and the Requiem. He even wrote a piece for five clarinets alone!

The clarinet features prominently in the Bartók, Widmann and Messiaen pieces in the series. In Bartók’s Contrasts (originally written for Benny Goodman) on April 16, the clarinet plays a demanding and soloistic role. Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time) on April 20, features a 9-minute-long solo clarinet movement, entitled “Abîme des oiseaux” (“Abyss of the Birds”). And Widmann is a world class clarinetist whose works often feature highly idiomatic and virtuosic clarinet writing. In Widmann’s works he often explores the fantastic technical resources of the instrument: the ability to play fast runs, enormous dynamic range from nearly inaudible to loud and strident, and a chameleon-like quality which allows the instrument to blend with any other instrument, as Widmann does to such powerful effect in his Nachtstück for Clarinet, Cello and Piano on April 18.

In between these works are duos by Mozart and Widmann which are chamber music in the truest sense of the word. Mozart’s works for piano four-hands, which will be heard on April 16 and 18, were often performed in small salons among music lovers, doubtlessly with the composer at piano. Widmann’s 24 Duos for Violin and Cello, likewise heard on April 16 and 18, have a similar quality; despite their sometimes (in his words) “brittle” exterior, the works often also display the quality of a conversation among old friends, sometimes amiable, sometimes argumentative, but always intimate.

© 2013 Christopher Cerrone

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MOZART: Piano Trio in B-flat major, K. 502

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART

Born Salzburg, January 27, 1756; died Vienna, December 5, 1791
Piano Trio in B-flat major, K. 502
Composed 1786; 22 minutes

Mozart’s B-flat Trio is an exercise in the breadth of his compositional voice. The first movement is elegant, balanced and refined; it is the paragon of Enlightenment art. Showing the influence of his forbearer Haydn, Mozart casts the first movement in a monothematic sonata form: rather than two opening themes, we get just one, played twice a fifth apart. This economy of means allows Mozart to maximize the movement’s organicity by developing the entire movement out of one simple yet effective theme.

The second movement, a Larghetto, shows an entirely different side of Mozart—the master of the lyric stage. The movement is clearly an aria. First we are given the melody alone in the piano, suspended in air. Then we hear it in the violin, with the cello gently supporting, organ-like in its fullness and simplicity. A second theme follows with each instrument playing in counterpoint against the piano’s flowing pulse. Rather than becoming a piano sonata with obligato strings, or a violin sonata with a cello bass line, the instruments’ unique qualities work together to create a commensurate whole. The Larghetto also shows Mozart to be a master of variation. After each of the two themes is presented, they are recapitulated but filled with expressive filigrees, trills, runs and passing tones—and a quick dip into minor, thereby making the whole listening experience new.

The final movement picks up where the first one left off. After the reverie of the second movement, we return to the elegance, balance and clarity of the first. A rondo, the movement takes its main theme from the first movement, lending the trio evermore balance and structural cohesion.

© 2013 Christopher Cerrone

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WIDMANN: Fantasie for Solo Clarinet

JÖRG WIDMANN

Born Munich, June 19, 1973
Fantasie for Solo Clarinet
Composed in 1993; 8 minutes

On the surface, the Widmann work on the concert—the Fantasie for Solo Clarinet—could not start in a more dissimilar manner from the Mozart. The work opens with a multiphonic—a complex sound resulting from holding the “wrong” fingering on the clarinet. But rather than sounding like harsh noise (as is often associated with multiphonics), the sound is gentle, distant, like a car horn from 10 blocks away. A rhapsodic opening explores the many possibilities of the clarinet: fast, jazzy runs; extremely quiet notes (or “subtones”); glissandi (sliding between notes); and the extreme and very dexterous range of the instrument.

About a minute into the piece though, something very different happens, Widmann begins a section marked in the score as “Grazioso”—gracious—followed by the instruction to play “with an Alpine feel, like a dance.” What we hear is a disembodied waltz—as if a pianola were coming in from the other room. Much like Mozart, Widmann draws on the many styles of music in his world—everything from avant-garde sounds, to jazz to folk music from his native Germany for inspiration in his works.

After this lugubrious outset, the work moves into a fast mechanical section that shows off the clarinet (and the clarinetist’s) ability to play in a fast, rhythmic and articulated manner. Widmann uses this texture to explore the fantastic level of virtuosity possible on the clarinet, and the remarkable ability of a clarinetist to play at every dynamic and at any speed in every register. (In an essay titled “The Future of Orchestral Instruments,” Arnold Schoenberg remarked that the only two perfect instruments were the violin and the clarinet because of their musical range and flexibility.) After dipping back into the insouciant opening, the work returns to the rhythmic and mechanical section to build to a vibrant and rhythmic close.

© 2013 Christopher Cerrone

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MOZART: Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major, K. 526

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART

Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major, K. 526
Composed in 1787; 24 minutes

The A-major Sonata shares much in common with the Trio on the program. It shows the breadth of Mozart’s voice, his ability to both inhabit and innovate the forms of his day, and his remarkable slow movements. The sonata begins in triple meter, which is very unusual for a classical sonata. But as the work progresses, we realize that by casting the relatively brief first movement in a dance-like time signature, he is drawing attention away from the first movement and towards the second movement, a long and lyrical Andante. Rarely would a composer before Mozart place such a strong importance on the second movement (in Bach concerti the slow movement can often consist of just two chords). But in the Andante, we see a movement of inward reflection looking towards the introspection of Romanticism. The simple, folk-like opening material of the second movement belies the more complex and tempestuous second theme, which is flowing but filled with unusual modulations (almost Schubertian in character). After the second movement a jaunty, lively, but technically challenging Presto closes the work.

© 2013 Christopher Cerrone

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MESSIAEN: Quartet for the End of Time for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano

OLIVIER MESSIAEN

Born Avignon, December 10, 1908; died Clichy, April 27, 1992
Quartet for the End of Time for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano
Composed during 1940–41; 48 minutes

In musical history, certain pieces become so closely linked to the composer’s life that they are almost inseparable; a deaf Beethoven composing the Ninth Symphony, or the riot at the premiere of the Rite of Spring, for example. But few stories are as melodramatic as that of the Quartet for the End of Time. While a prisoner in a German war camp, Messiaen composed the piece on scraps of paper given to him by a prison guard. Messiaen and three fellow musician prisoners premiered the work in the middle of a field on old, broken instruments. The story is true, yet there is more to this piece than the extraordinary story: the Quartet for the End of Time is a work of remarkable construction, extreme beauty and extraordinary originality.

The quartet begins with the “Liturgy of Crystal.” Profoundly religious, Messiaen describes the movement as:

Between three and four in the morning, the awakening of birds: a solo blackbird or nightingale improvises, surrounded by a shimmer of sound, by a halo of trills lost very high in the trees. Transpose this onto a religious plane and you have the harmonious silence of Heaven.

The movement has a way of floating. After having listened to the recording of the piece and studied many times, I recall seeing this piece live for the first time and it seeming almost as if the players were playing with complete freedom, without regard for one another, the way birds calling, crickets chirping, and owls hooting in the night don’t coordinate, and yet make a remarkable whole.

The second movement is the “Vocalise for the Angel who announces the end of time.” Messiaen writes:

The first and third parts (very short) evoke the power of this mighty angel, a rainbow upon his head and clothed with a cloud, who sets one foot on the sea and one foot on the earth. In the middle section are the impalpable harmonies of heaven. In the piano, sweet cascades of blue-orange chords, enclosing in their distant chimes the almost plainchant song of the violin and cello.

The movement begins like a recitative with the piano’s harsh chords interacting with birdsongs in the clarinet and rhythmic strings. But the Vocalise quickly dissolves into a slow and seemingly endless melody in the strings, with the piano in gentle and dissonant slow pulses. But this turns into a brusque ending with trills and sudden piano eruption.

The third movement is called the “Abyss of birds.” It is one of the great pieces of the solo clarinet repertoire. As Messiaen describes it, “the abyss is Time with its sadness, its weariness. The birds are the opposite to Time; they are our desire for light, for stars, for rainbows, and for jubilant songs.” Like the Widmann Fantasie, the movement explores the wide dynamic and range and the large tessitura of the clarinet. But where the Widmann is dynamic and contrasting, the “Abyss” is static and distant. The listener is left with his or her own thoughts and spirituality.

The fourth movement, a short “Interlude,” is rhythmic, pulsed and strongly contrasting against the long, static clarinet solo. Messiaen calls it a “Scherzo, of a more individual character than the other movements, but linked to them nevertheless by certain melodic recollections.”

The fifth movement is at the heart and center of the entire quartet. Entitled “Praise to the eternity of Jesus,” this movement is a long mediation for cello and piano. Marked “Infinitely slow” in the score, the unhurried pacing of the movement is meant to represent “the eternity of the Word, powerful and gentle, ‘whose time never runs out.’” The cello gradually moves up its register to its most expressive register, creating a profound and emotionally ecstatic experience.

The sixth movement, “Dance of fury, for the seven trumpets” breaks the meditative trance of the sixth with a vengeance. This fast and rhythmic movement features frequent use of Messiaen’s “added-value” rhythms—tiny syncopations that give the music its unsetting pulsation. It is nearly futile to count the movement’s pulse because of Messiaen’s constant and careful tweaking of the rhythms. Messiaen notes on the end of the movement: “Hear terrible fortissimo of the augmentation of the theme and changes of register of its different notes, towards the end of the piece. The theme returns fortissimo in augmentation and with wide changes of register towards the end of the movement.”

The seventh movement, "Tangle of rainbows, for the Angel who announces the end of time," gently recalls the second movement. The opening calm of the movement is contrasted against a middle section with mechanically pulsed piano rhythms, bird calls and col legno playing (playing with the wood of the bows) in the strings before returning to the opening music, this time played violently, ecstatically and with ornamentation.

Finally, we have the eighth and last movement, “Praise to the immortality of Jesus,” a sister piece to the fifth, for violin and piano. Again we explore a gradual ascent of a string instrument, infinitely slow, with a pulsing piano. This movement picks up where the fifth left off, taking us higher and higher with both the piano and the violin ending in the highest register, which sounds astral, delicate and ascendant.

© 2013 Christopher Cerrone

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Artist Bios

Christian Tetzlaff

Christian Tetzlaff is internationally recognized for his musical integrity, technical assurance and intelligent, compelling interpretations who gives 100 concerts a year.

Mr. Tetzlaff began his 2012/13 season in August performing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with David Zinman and the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, where he is artist in residence. He returned there earlier this month for a chamber music concert and performances of the Berg and Sibelius concertos.

His other recent and upcoming activities include concerts with the Berlin and New York philharmonics and the New World, London and Pittsburgh symphonies; a European tour with the Tetzlaff Quartet, which he co-founded; an Asian tour with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, recitals and chamber concerts in Berkeley, London, Miami, and Santa Barbara, and a performance of the complete Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin at the Vienna Konzerthaus.

Mr. Tetzlaff's discography includes solo works, chamber music and concertos. His recent recordings include Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Vienna Philharmonic and Pierre Boulez for Deutsche Grammophon; and Schumann’s complete music for piano trio with cellist Tanja Tetzlaff and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes for EMI. Mr. Tetzlaff plays a violin by German violinmaker Peter Greiner. His website is christian-tetzlaff.com.

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Tanja Tetzlaff 

As a successful chamber musician and concerto soloist, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff has built an extensive repertoire reaching into the 21st century. She has played with many worldrenowned orchestras, among them the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, the Bavarian Radio Symphony, the Orquesta Nacional de España, the Orchestre de Paris and the Cincinnati Symphony.

Ms. Tetzlaff also frequently gives recitals in such concert series and music festivals as the Heidelberger Frühling and the festivals of Bergen und Edinburgh, and she is a regular guest at the Heimbach Festival. Together with violinist Florian Donderer, she organizes a concert series at the Sendesaal Bremen and with her brother Christian she formed the Tetzlaff Quartet.

Ms. Tetzlaff opened her 2012/13 season with festival appearances that included the Grant Park Festival in Chicago, and a performance with the Montreal Symphony and Kent Nagano. Earlier this year the Tetzlaff Quartet toured the cities of Berlin, Cologne, Freiburg, London, Oslo, Paris and Zurich. In June she will perform the Brahms Double Concerto with her brother in Münster.

Among Ms. Tetzlaff’s growing list of recordings is a disc of cello concertos by Rihm and Toch with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and Mr. Donderer. She has also participated in chamber music recordings by Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Sibelius, Schoenberg, Enescu and others. Ms. Tetzlaff plays a cello by Giovanni Baptista Guadagnini made in 1776.

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Jörg Widmann 

Jörg Widmann is both one of today’s most sought-after composers whose award-winning works range from solo pieces to operas, and a virtuoso clarinetist who is highly regarded as a chamber music partner and who has had several works dedicated to and premiered by him.

As a composer, Mr. Widmann’s season began with the premiere of his lavish, epic opera Babylon at the Bavarian State Opera in October. Among his major works is a trilogy for large orchestra based on the principle of transferring vocal forms to orchestral writing. He has served as composer-in-residence for the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin (DSO); the Lucerne, Salzburg and Schleswig-Holstein festivals; the Vienna Konzerthaus and Amsterdam Concertgebouw and the Cleveland Orchestra.

As a performer, Mr. Widmann has appeared with the world’s major orchestras.Works that have been written for him include Musik für Klarinette und Orchester by Wolfgang Rihm, Cantus by Aribert Reimann and Rechant by Heinz Holliger. Among his upcoming chamber music activities, he will be the guest of the Hagen and Signum quartets.

Mr. Widmann also continues his role as Principal Guest Conductor of the Irish Chamber Orchestra; this past weekend he led the ensemble in a program of Rossini, Mendelssohn and his own Trumpet Concerto in Limerick and Dublin. Mr. Widmann holds professorships for clarinet and composition at the Freiburg Hochschule für Musik. His website is joergwidmann.com.

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Alexander Lonquich 

Since winning the First Prize at the “Antonio Casagrande“ International Piano Competition in Terni, Italy, at the age of 16, Alexander Lonquich has enjoyed a prolific career around the world. Beginning in the the 2014/15 season, he will be artist in residence of the Musikverein Graz.

Mr. Lonquich has enjoyed successful soloist engagements with the Czech, Royal, Slovenian and Vienna philharmonics; Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich and Düsseldorf Symphony, to name a few. His appearances as conductor/soloist have earned critical acclaim, appearing with the Camerata Salzburg, the Frankfurt Symphony and the chamber orchestras of Basel, Bremen, Mantua, Munich and Stuttgart.

Mr. Lonquich’s many chamber music partners include violinist Leonidas Kavakos, violist Veronika Hagen, cellists Steven Isserlis and Heinrich Schiff, oboist Heinz Holliger, clarinettists Sabine Meyer and Jörg Widmann, and the Auryn and Carmina quartets. He last appeared at 92nd Street Y in autumn 2007 for the complete Beethoven sonata cycle with Christian Tetzlaff.

Mr. Lonquich’s recordings have won such awards as the “Diapason d’Or” in France, “Premio Abbiati“ in Italy and Edison Prize in the Netherlands. Last September ECM Records released a CD of Chopin’s Piano Concerto in F minor, together with Noskowski’s The Steppe. In February 2012 ECM produced an all Schubert disc with Mr. Lonquich and violinist Carolin Widmann, sister of Jörg Widmann, and in March 2011 Mr. Lonquich joined Mr. Holliger to record Schumann’s “Kreisleriana“ and Holliger’s own Partita.

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IN THE NEWS: From The Guardian (UK)—A Guide to Jörg Widmann’s Music

 

IN THE NEWS: Christian Tetzlaff profiled in The New Yorker, 8/27/12
 

 

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