“Superlatives are inadequate in describing just how fine this playing [by the Jerusalem Quartet] was.” —The Strad

“Inon Barnatan’s performance was “fine music-making wedded to astounding technique.” —The Washington Post

“Pavlovsky's tone in particular is a wonder.” —Broad Street Review

To close the Intimate Brahms series, pianist Inon Barnatan joins the Jerusalem Quartet for one of Brahms’ most passionate, powerful and popular works, the Quintet for Piano and Strings. This program is rounded out with the equally dark and tempestuous Violin Sonata in D minor, but contrasted with the sunny and bucolic String Quartet in B-flat, inspired by Mozart’s famous “Hunt” Quartet in the same key.

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

BRAHMS: String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 67
BRAHMS: Sonata for Violin and Piano in D minor, Op. 108
BRAHMS: Quintet for Piano and Strings in F minor, Op. 34

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


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Brahms Quintet Op. 34 4th movement with the Jerusalem Quartet and Ilan Rechtman.

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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 B-flat major, Op. 67


Born in Hamburg, May 7, 1833; died in Vienna, April 3, 1897
String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 67
Composed between about 1865 and 1873; 29 minutes

Brahms began work on his third and last string quartet, Op. 67, in the summer of 1875. Not yet settled permanently in Vienna, the 42-year-old composer was lodging with a painter friend outside Heidelberg. The countrified setting was so idyllic that Brahms declined a tempting invitation to conduct his German Requiem in Munich. As he told a friend, “I stay sitting here, and from time to time write largely useless pieces in order not to have to look into the stern face of a symphony.” Among the “useless pieces” he produced that summer was the Quartet in B-flat major, the gayest and most accessible of the three, and Brahms’s personal favorite. A contemporary critic compared it favorably to the knotty Op. 51 quartets, observing that Brahms “this time seems to have decided to take the sunlit meadow-path.”

Whether consciously or otherwise, Brahms evokes the cheery mood and B-flat tonality of Mozart’s “Hunt” Quartet in the Vivace’s opening 6/8 theme (which, despite its jagged syncopations, one can easily imagine being played by horns), the profusion of cascading sixteenth notes, and the dance-like second subject in 2/4 time. Here, as elsewhere in the quartet, Brahms mixes meters, often setting two beats in one part against three in another. The two middle movements are a study in contrasts: tempo (Andante versus Allegretto), key (F major versus D minor) and character (warm and spacious versus driven and somewhat skittish). The third movement’s delicate coda comes to rest on a major chord that sets the stage for the finale, a delightful set of theme and variations in the home key, in which Brahms ingeniously brings back the two themes from the first movement.

The violinist Joseph Joachim, Brahms’s long-time artistic confidant, registered his unqualified approval of the B-flat-major Quartet: “You have probably never written such beautiful chamber music as in the D-minor movement [the Agitato] and the finale, the first full of magical romanticism, the last full of intimacy and grace within a fully artistic framework. But the original first movement and that short, so beautiful-sounding Andante are also not to be disregarded.”

© 2014 Harry Haskell

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BRAHMS: String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 67

Sonata for Violin and Piano in D minor, Op. 108
Composed in 1886–1888; 22 minutes

Brahms first met Joachim in Hanover in the spring of 1853. Although only two years older than the composer, the concertmaster of the Hanover court orchestra was already an international celebrity. As much as Brahms admired Joachim’s virtuosity on the violin, he respected the Hungarian even more as a composer and frequently turned to him for advice. “As an artist I really have no greater wish than to have more talent so that I can learn still more from such a friend,” he wrote in the first flush of their friendship. Joachim, for his part, recognized Brahms’s character flaws as well as his genius. The composer, he confided to a friend, was “egoism incarnate,” whose “malicious sarcasm” and “exuberant thoughtlessness” often offended even his closest allies. Yet Joachim’s practical knowledge of both the violin and the orchestra made him an invaluable sounding board, especially in the decade between 1878 and 1888, when Brahms was writing his D-major Violin Concerto and three violin sonatas.

Brahms’s third sonata, in the “dark” key of D minor, is weightier and more overtly dramatic than its predecessors in G major and A major. Its dedicatee, Hans von Bülow, cut a notably titanic figure at the keyboard as well as on the podium, and the sonata’s impassioned, virtuosic character may well bear his stamp as much as that of Joachim. On a deeper level, the music may also allude to Brahms's long–simmering love for the pianist Clara Schumann, which every now and then rose to a rolling boil. That, at any rate, is how Clara seems to have interpreted the D-minor Sonata. Upon receiving the score, she wrote coquettishly to the 55-year-old composer that the third movement reminded her of “a beautiful girl sweetly frolicking with her lover—then suddenly in the middle of it all, a flash of deep passion, only to make way for sweet dalliance once more.”

Whatever the nature of the feelings it expresses, the Op. 108 Sonata is unmistakably infused with passion. From the first bars of the opening Allegro, the staggered 8th notes and recurrent dynamic swellings reflect the music’s underlying turbulence. The mood of barely contained wildness is briefly dispelled in the majestic D-major Adagio—despite its brevity, one of Brahms’s most concentratedly intense slow movements. This leads to an ethereal scherzo in F-sharp minor, marked Un poco presto e con sentimento (moderately fast and with feeling), whose opening theme returns at the end in a deceptively tranquil reminiscence. (Clara likened this delicate and devilishly difficult passage to walking on eggshells.) In the final Presto agitato, the sonata’s pent-up energy bursts forth in a high-spirited romp in 6/8 meter, charged with stabbing accents and syncopations.

Photo: Josef Joachim

© 2014 Harry Haskell

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BRAHMS: Quintet for Piano and Strings in F minor, Op. 34

Quintet for Piano and Strings in F minor, Op. 34
Composed in 1862–1865; 39 minutes

Brahms’s F-minor Piano Quintet has been described as a felicitous marriage of Beethovenian drama and Schubertian lyricism. The accolade surely would have delighted Brahms, for he was a passionate admirer and keen student of both composers. Beethoven’s characteristically dynamic energy is reflected in Brahms’s protean themes and the visceral vitality generated by his rhythms. Likewise, the Piano Quintet’s rich store of melodies and subtle harmonic shadings recall Schubert’s mastery of song and tonal chiaroscuro.

In its original form, as a string quintet (now lost) composed in 1862, Brahms’s Op. 34 owed an unmistakable debt to Schubert’s great C-major String Quintet. (Both works were scored for two violins, viola and two cellos.) Among Brahms’s artistic confidants, Clara Schumann unhesitatingly pronounced the first version a masterpiece, while Joseph Joachim criticized it as lacking in “charm.” Brahms subsequently recast the quintet as a Sonata for Two Pianos (known as Op. 34b). When Clara argued that the new piece was “so full of ideas” that only a full orchestra could do it justice, Brahms responded by reworking it once again, this time as a quintet for piano and strings. In this guise, as the musicologist Donald Francis Tovey observed, “the rhythmic incisiveness of the piano is happily combined with the singing powers of the bowed instruments.”

Despite its difficult gestation, the Piano Quintet ranks among Brahms’s most powerful and fully realized conceptions. The expansive melody that opens the Allegro non troppo, played in unison by the piano, first violin and cello, is almost immediately compressed into 16th-note passagework of mounting urgency and intensity. The first theme returns in the strings, louder and more majestic than before, above a cascade of falling arpeggios in the piano. A second subject of a milder and more lyrical character is introduced, only to be swept up in an undercurrent of ominously rumbling triplets. Henceforth, elements of these two basic ideas are combined, taken apart and reassembled with astonishing ingenuity as the movement works toward a thunderous climax.

The gently swaying rhythms of the Andante, which Clara Schumann described as “one long melody from start to finish,” signal an abrupt change of pace. Although the Quintet’s inner movements share the tonality of C minor, the tautly wound Scherzo is much the darker of the two. Its tense, demonic quality is only slightly tempered by the C-major radiance of the central Trio section. High drama returns in the Finale, which alternates between languid, mysterious reverie and outbursts of almost savage vehemence. In the end, Brahms’s instincts were proven right. As the conductor Hermann Levi told him, “Anyone who did not know the earlier forms of string quintet and piano sonata would not believe that it was not originally thought out and designed for the present combination of instruments.... You have turned a monotonous work for two pianos into a thing of great beauty...a masterpiece of chamber music.”

Photo: Clara Schumann

© 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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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 III

    Date: Wed, Oct 29, 2014, 7:30 pm

    Location: Lexington Avenue at 92nd St

    Venue: Kaufmann Concert Hall

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