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“Astonishing…this was some of the most sophisticated ensemble playing I can remember.”—Dallas Morning News

“Superb artistry…she negotiated each phrase with remarkable agility and expressive acumen.” —Chicago Tribune

Exclusive New York engagement
Brentano String Quartet
      Mark Steinberg, violin
      Serena Canin, violin
      Misha Amory, viola
      Nina Lee, cello
Hsin-Yun Huang, viola

MOZART: String Quartet in D major, K. 575
LARA: Archi Elastici for String Quintet (New York premiere, 92Y co-commission)
MOZART: String Quintet in G minor, K. 516

The concert is approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Brentano String Quartet plays Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 130, IV, Alla danza tedesca at Princeton University, April 2012.

Brentano String Quartet plays Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80, II. Allegro assai.

WQXR Café Concert: Brentano String Quartet performing Schubert’s Quartettstatz in C minor, D. 703.

A visualization of the Brentano String Quartet’s “Fragments” Project, in which active composers are invited to write works related to fragmentary works by earlier composers, done in a drawing class at Dartmouth University.

Felipe Lara discusses his new commission, a viola quintet for the Brentano Quartet and violist Hsin-Yun Huang, and his working process in general.

On the Blog

(Click the names below to expand info)

From dfw.com:


Tune in for much more from the Brentano String Quartet”—Interview with Brentano violinist Serena Canin by Punch Shaw for Dallas-Ft. Worth lifestyle website, as the resident ensemble of the Van Cliburn Competition and on the area screening of A Late Quartet. Here is an excerpt:

How did the affiliation with Cliburn come about?

It was pretty much out of the blue. We didn't expect it. But we were thrilled at the idea of being part of something so important. And it will be so interesting to meet all these different pianists and deal with all those different styles. It's going to be a very interesting challenge. No two pianists will be the same. But I'm looking forward to that aspect of it. I think I will need a different colored pencil [for marking scores] for each one.

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From nytimes.com:


New York Times review by Allan Kozinn of the Brentano String Quartet’s concert at Carnegie Hall on March 22, 2012, which featured its “Fragments” project. Here is an excerpt:

The Brentano players closed the program with Bartók’s String Quartet No. 1. The work has come down to us complete and was offered here in a passionate account that thrived on the tight interplay and rich hues that are among this ensemble’s trademarks.

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From opusonereview.com:


Review by Stanley Fefferman of the Brentano String Quartet’s concert during this summer’s Toronto Summer Music Festival. The program included Beethoven’s String Quartet in D major, Op.18. No. 3, which will be heard on the Brentano’s second 92Y concert, on Mar 1, 2014. Here is an excerpt:

The musical lilt that distinguishes the Brentano’s insight into this particular Beethoven returned in the finale, animated their tight unison work, and moved the audience to shout out their pleasure.

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From the American Viola Society:


Introducing Prof. Hsing-Yun Huang,” a Q&A by Gabriel Taubman, Jan 21, 2013. Here is an except:

How did you come to the viola?

I had no idea what a viola was!!! Taiwan 40 years ago was a very different place. I was a serious pianist from the age of 6 on. In fact I continued taking lessons throughout my Menuhin School days. I went to a specialized music school in elementary school—this model of school exists in many Asian countries. When I was 10, everyone was required to take a second instrument. So all the pianists picked the violin and all the violinists picked the piano. I thought that was terribly boring, so I went to the orchestra office to ask if there was an instrument that no one played. They told me they needed oboists and violists. We didn’t know what a viola was, my father thought that a girl playing the oboe doesn’t look so good. So we chose the viola….

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From icareifyoulisten.com:


5 Questions to Hsin-Yun Huang”—Q&A with Ms. Huang prior to her appearance with the American Modern Ensemble a program of contemporary works in New York City, Mar 18, 2013. Here is an excerpt:

What do you look for in a new piece?

I think a composer should be allowed to write in any way they like. I suppose mostly I look forward to being surprised. To be taken places that I don’t expect. That’s the beauty of a commission. Then the learning process is just the same as you would to learn a Beethoven Quartet. There is definitely the beginning phase, then getting to know it better and finally feeling like you can really speak the language. So it is always a privilege to be able to play something new several times.

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Explore the Music

(Click the names below to expand info.)

MOZART: String Quartet in D major, K. 575

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART

Born Salzburg, January 27, 1756; died Vienna, December 5, 1791
String Quartet in D major, K. 575
Composed in 1789; 24 minutes

The feverish compositional activity that marked the last year or two of Mozart’s life was partly induced by the precarious state of his finances. Despite his poor health, he brought forth one masterpiece after another in a wide variety of genres. Così fan tutte, the last of the three great comic operas that he wrote with Lorenzo da Ponte, premiered at the court theater in Vienna in January 1790; it was soon followed by Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), a Masonic morality play masquerading as a lighthearted Singspiel, and La clemenza di Tito (The Mercy of Titus), an opera seria written for the coronation of Leopold II, the Holy Roman Emperor, as King of Bohemia Somehow Mozart also found time to write concertos for piano (his last) and clarinet, three string quartets, two string quintets, a clarinet quintet and several small-scale vocal works. And of course there was also the great Requiem Mass that he was working on when he died on December 5, 1791.

In the spring of 1789, Mozart, who was also a virtuoso pianist, embarked on a concert tour to Leipzig, Berlin and Dresden in hopes of replenishing his depleted bank account. It was on this trip that he undertook to compose the last of his 27 string quartets—the three so-called “Prussian” Quartets—for King Friedrich Wilhelm II, an enthusiastic and apparently quite accomplished amateur cellist. The Quartet in D major, K. 575, was written in Vienna that June, a few weeks after the Prussian monarch had received the composer in Potsdam. Mozart—who seems to have received no payment for his work from the king—forthwith dispatched the scores of the three works to his publisher, grumbling to a friend that he had been “forced to give away my quartets ... for a song, simply in order to have cash in hand.” Immediately afterward he accepted a more lucrative commission from his friend and patron Baron Gottfried van Swieten, a connoisseur of what was then called “ancient” music, to arrange two of Handel’s choral works for private performances in Vienna.

In a nod to his royal patron, Mozart awards the cellist unusual prominence in the D-major Quartet. Much of the cello writing is virtuosic and highly exposed; indeed, the central Trio section of the Menuetto movement—here placed in third position instead of second, as in Mozart’s earlier quartets—is virtually a cello solo, with the other instruments relegated to a supporting role. By spotlighting the cello’s upper register, Mozart further accentuates the music’s soloistic character, and the absence of a strong bass foundation gives the Trio a light, ethereal quality that contrasts with the more robust and vigorous tone of the Menuetto.

The Quartet’s two outer movements, both in cut time and marked Allegretto, feature kindred melodies that trace ascending D-major triads and incorporate lively “snap” rhythms. There is much engaging repartee between the first violin and cello, with first one and then the other taking the lead in presenting thematic material. Their dialogue intensifies in the luminous A-major Andante: the two instruments respond to and comment on each other’s music, and for four sublime measures in the middle of the movement their voices interwine in a rapturous duet.

© 2013 Harry Haskell

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LARA: Archi Elastici for String Quintet (New York premiere, 92Y co-commission)

FELIPE LARA

Born Sorocaba (near São Paulo), Brazil, Feb 23, 1979
Archi Elastici for String Quintet (New York premiere, 92Y co-commission)
Composed in 2014; 25 minutes

The dictionary defines “elastic” as springy or flexible; it describes something that regains its original shape after being stretched, expanded or deformed. The concept of elasticity is central to Felipe Lara’s new string quintet. But the title Archi Elastici—which plays on the double meaning of archi as string instruments or arches—doesn’t denote a property so much as a process: Lara’s infinitely malleable music is continually being stretched “out of shape,” producing new configurations and combinations of tones. The result is a sonic kaleidoscope in which gradually shifting harmonies, rhythms, timbres and dynamics conspire to convey what the composer calls an “enhanced perception of time.”

Born in Brazil, Lara came to the US to study; he got swept up in the East Coast new-music scene and now teaches at New York University. Although his music doesn’t bear an identifiable Latino stamp, he has formed a consortium called Álta Voz (Loud Voice) with four other young South American composers who have chosen to build careers here. Over the past 14 years, Lara has composed three dozen works for various chamber and orchestral ensembles, including a pair of string quartets written for the Arditti Quartet. As a rule, he works closely with performers, studying the acoustical properties of their instruments before setting pen to paper. Archi Elastici is his first collaboration with the Brentano Quartet and guest violist Hsin-Yun Huang.

As might be expected from a composer who counts Mario Davidovsky, Tristan Murail and Brian Ferneyhough among his major influences, Lara’s musical vocabulary is modernist to the core. Archi Elastici is shot through with grating dissonances, microtonal tunings, slithering glissandos, screeching harmonics and extended performing techniques, such as asking the string players to place their bows “behind the bridge.” For all its avant-garde edginess, though, Lara’s music rarely assaults the listener’s ears. Indeed, for the most part Archi Elastici is extraordinarily delicate, eschewing the sharp, often violent transitions that characterize some of his other works. The music ebbs and flows in waves, one sound-complex spilling almost imperceptibly into another, so that the listener is often unaware of the transformation until it has happened.

Lara has spoken about the “immediacy” of the listening experience and the “thrill of being confronted with new sonorities, new combinations.” In Archi Elastici—which had its world premiere in San Francisco on April 4—one senses that the thrill is shared by composer and audience alike.

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MOZART: String Quintet in G minor, K. 516

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART

String Quintet in G minor, K. 516
Composed in 1787; 35 minutes

Mozart’s G-minor String Quintet, the third of his five works for this combination of instruments (string quartet plus a second viola), has inspired an impressive amount of commentary, much of it focusing on the intensely personal and almost tragic character of the music. Hermann Abert, the composer’s indispensable biographer, called it “the most profound of all Mozart’s works in this key,” a category that also includes such towering masterworks as the Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550. If one reflects that the Quintet was composed in the same year as Don Giovanni, it seems clear that Mozart’s characteristically buoyant spirits had been deflated by a strain of fatalism, not to say morbidity.

Shortly before he finished the Quintet, on May 16, 1787, Mozart received news that his father was gravely ill in Salzburg. On April 4 he wrote Leopold a moving letter that is often cited as evidence of his preoccupation with mortality: “I have now made a habit of being prepared in all aspects of life for the worst. As death, when we come to consider it closely, is the true goal of our existence, I have formed during the last few years such close relations with this best and truest friend of mankind, that his image is no longer terrifying to me, but is indeed soothing and consoling! And I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity (you know what I mean) of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness. I never lie down at night without reflecting that—young as I am—I may not live to see another day.”

Wolfgang’s grief at Leopold’s death on May 28 was compounded a week later by the death of his beloved pet starling. (In Mozart’s mind, even seemingly minor losses could be transmuted into the stuff of tragedy: recall the acute anguish that the hapless Barbarina suffers when she loses the Count’s pin in The Marriage of Figaro.) To be sure, it is never safe to draw too close a parallel between a work of art and the creator’s state of mind or external circumstances. Yet even if the G-minor Quintet is not demonstrably autobiographical, one can hardly overlook the correspondence between its mood of agonized soul-searching and the powerful emotions that Mozart was surely grappling with at the time.

The first movement’s opening eight-bar theme has been described as expressing either “nervous desperation” or “the most anguished resignation.” Such reactions are, inevitably, highly subjective; others may hear in the melody nothing more than a bittersweet yearning, a quality that is even more pronounced in the first violin’s thrice-repeated sighing figures that comprise the second subject. (Note the dramatic leap—the interval of a ninth—that launches the third “sigh”; it will return, transformed, in the radiantly beautiful second theme of the slow movement.) But perhaps the most striking aspect of the Allegro is its economy of means—almost everything in it derives from the two principal themes—and Mozart’s endlessly inventive disposition of the quintet ensemble, with the first viola playing a pivotal role as both leader and accompanist.

The second-movement Menuetto, with its lumbering accents on the third beat of the bar, is decidedly undancelike. Although the Trio section echoes the theme in a more relaxed, softer-edged form, it does little to dispel the prevailing mood of restlessness and urgency. The Adagio ma non troppo opens in the mellow glow of E-flat major, all five instruments muted, but it soon moves into murkier territory, with stinging dissonances and an ominous undercurrent of pulsing 16th notes in the inner voices. Twice the sun abruptly breaks through the clouds in a lilting melody introduced (as mentioned above) by a leap of a major ninth, as the music wends its way toward a quiet, tranquil close.

The last movement opens in high tragic mode, with the first violin singing a tender aria above throbbing 8th notes in the middle voices and plucked notes in the cello. Then, seemingly out of the blue, there emerges a cheery G-major rondo in 6/8 time, full of playful imitation and bravura passagework. It’s possible that this incongruous Allegro was an afterthought: at least one scholar has suggested that Mozart originally intended to cap the work with a surviving quintet fragment in G minor. Be that as it may, Abert interprets this unexpectedly life-affirming finale not as “a Beethovenian victory following an earlier struggle,” but as an expression of Mozart’s down-to-earth realism, the attitude of one who has known both joy and suffering and learned to juxtapose, if not to reconcile, “the opposing aspects of reality.”

© 2013 Harry Haskell

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Artist Bios

Brentano String Quartet

Since its inception in 1992, the Brentano String Quartet has appeared throughout the world to popular and critical acclaim. Beginning in July, the Quartet (Mark Steinberg, violin; Serena Canin, violin; Misha Amory, viola; Nina Lee, cello) will succeed the Tokyo String Quartet as artists in residence at Yale University, fol¬lowing a 14-year residency at Princeton University. The Quartet also currently serves as the collaborative ensemble for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

The Quartet has traveled widely around the world; last month it completed a two-week tour of Europe, travelling to the UK, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium, performing works of Mozart, Beethoven, Shostakovich, Elgar and Mackey. It has appeared in the most prestigious venues, including New York’s Carnegie and Alice Tully halls; Washington, DC’s Library of Congress; Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw; Vienna’s Konzerthaus; Tokyo’s Suntory Hall; and the Sydney Opera House. The Quartet has participated in summer festivals such as Aspen, the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, the Edinburgh Festival, the Kuhmo Festival in Finland and the Caramoor Festival, as well as the Taos School of Music Festival.

In addition to performing the entire standard quartet repertoire, the Brentano String Quartet has a strong interest in both very old and very new music. It has performed many musical works pre-dating the string quartet as a medium, among them madrigals of Gesualdo, fan¬tasias of Purcell, and secular vocal works of Josquin. At the same time, the Quartet has worked closely with some of the most important composers of our time, among them Elliott Carter, Charles Wuorinen and György Kurtág.

Last spring Aeon Records released the second in a set of three Brentano CDs of the late Beethoven Quartets. Other Brentano recordings include a Mozart album, also for Aeon, and the Op. 71 Quartets of Haydn. In the area of newer music, the Quartet has released an all-Steven Mackey disc on Albany Records, and has recorded music by Wuorinen, Bruce Adolphe and Chou Wen-chung. In 2012 the Quartet was heard providing the central music of Beethoven’s String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, for the acclaimed 2012 independent film, A Late Quartet.

Within a few years of its formation, the Brentano String Quartet garnered the first Cleveland Quartet Award and the Naumburg Chamber Music Award. The Quartet is named for Antonie Brentano, whom many scholars consider to be Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved.” Its website is brentanoquartet.com.

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Hsing-Yun Huang, viola

Violist Hsin-Yun Huang has been firmly established as one of the leading violists of her generation since 1993 when, virtually simultaneously, she won the top prize of the ARD International Music Competition in Munich and the prestigious Bunkamura Orchard Hall Award. Since then her career has been particularly highlighted by broadcasts 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’s recent appearances include a tour with London Sinfonia in South America; concerts with the Naumburg Orchestra in Central Park and the International Contemporary Ensemble at Miller Theatre; and a collaboration with the Children’s Orchestra Society at Alice Tully Hall.

Ms. Huang is a founding member of the Variation String Trio with violinist Jennifer Koh and cellist Wilhelmina Smith. She was a member of the Borromeo String Quartet from 1994 to 2000, participating in festivals worldwide and performing in such prominent venues as London’s Wigmore Hall, Berlin’s Philharmonie and Japan’s Casals Hall.

Ms. Huang is the artistic director of the Sejong International Music Festival, founded in 2013. The festival takes place at the Seoul Arts Center in February and at The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in August. It is attended by students ages 14 and up, with a distinguished international faculty. She has collaborated with such artists as Yo-Yo Ma, Jaime Laredo, Joshua Bell, Joseph Suk, Menahem Pressler and the Guarneri, Juilliard, , Orion, St. Lawrence, and Johannes string quartets. A frequent partner with the Brentano String Quartet, she recorded the Mozart String Quintet, K. 593 with the Brentanos, and joined them to perform the complete Mozart quintet cycle under the auspices of Carnegie Hall in 2007.

Committed to expanding the repertoire for the viola, Ms. Huang has commissioned several works for solo viola and chamber ensemble. In July 2006 she premiered Shu Shon Key (Remembrance) by Taiwanese composer Shih-Hui Chen, with the Broyhill Chamber Ensemble; the Evergreen Symphony commissioned a version for solo viola and full orchestra. The next year she premiered Groudswell by Steven Mackey, also for solo viola and chamber ensemble, at the Aspen Music Festival. In 2012, Bridge Records released her debut solo CD, Viola, Viola, which included the Chen and Mackay commissions as well as works by Elliott Carter, George Benjamin and Poul Ruders.

A native of Taiwan, Ms. Huang received degrees from The Juilliard School and The Curtis Institute of Music. She now serves on the faculties of both schools. Her website is hsinyun.com.

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Details & Ordering


92Y Recommends

Class and Concert Combo Package:

Learn what to listen for when you register to the 92Y music appreciation class, “Mozart, Chamber Composer to the Emperor,” on Sun, Apr 6 at 2:30 pm with Louis Rosen. Then save when you purchase a ticket to this concert.

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