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A Letter from 92Y
92nd Street Y has been blessed with performances by many wonderful string quartets, but the Tokyo String Quartet holds a very special place in our hearts. You don’t need us to tell you about their purity of taste, their consistent standards of excellence, or their integrity as musicians. So let us remind you how they organically became part of the 92Y family.
The Tokyo first played here in 1977, as part of their first prize in the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, and have been beloved by our audience ever since. Over the last ten years they have been resident here, we’ve formed a very special creative relationship, exploring together the great chamber works with outstanding programs, developing new commissions and giving world premieres.
These great artists have given their total dedication to our beloved institution. They’ve touched so many parts of our community—performing for kindergarteners and first graders in our educational outreach programs, cutting short a tour to appear at our Spring Gala, even rehearsing in the executive offices when all other spaces were taken. (Sol has been inspired ever since by what was left in the room after they’d gone!) In their farewell season, the Tokyo is playing at the very height of their powers, attracting rave reviews from all over the world. As they come to our stage for the very last time, they will play three masterpieces: Schubert’s Quintet in C Major; Haydn’s brilliantly vibrant D minor Quartet; and Bartok’s Quartet No. 6—composed as his mother was dying and the inevitability of World War II became a reality. Three final works; one final performance.
So many of you have been part of this journey. Together, we thank the Tokyo for the enlightenment, insight and sheer pleasure they have brought into our lives. Tonight we bid farewell to this remarkable ensemble, knowing they leave us richer in so many ways. As we set off down new pathways, we look forward to welcoming them back to 92Y as individuals and friends in the years to come.
Stuart J. Ellman
Executive Director, 92Y
Director, 92Y Tisch Center for the Arts
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SCHUBERT: String Quintet in C major, D. 956
Born Vienna, January 31, 1797; died Vienna, November 19, 1828
String Quintet in C major, D. 956
Composed in 1828; 52 minutes
There is no evidence that Schubert ever heard a performance of his valedictory masterpiece, the String Quartet in C major. Six weeks before his death, on October 2, 1828, he wrote to the publisher Albert Probst in Leipzig to inquire about the publication of his Piano Trio in E-flat major. In the same letter, he mentioned the new string quintet and three piano sonatas that he had composed during the months of August and September. “The Sonatas I have played with much success in several places,” Schubert reported, “but the Quintet will be tried out only during the coming days.” Apparently, the tryout never took place, and Schubert, who was by this time acutely aware of his failing health, was forced to husband his strength for other endeavors.
The last few months of Schubert’s life have been microscopically studied, with scholars leaving no stone unturned in their quest to pin down the cause of the composer’s untimely death. No amount of documentation, however, can adequately account for the miraculous burst of creative energy that Schubert experienced in the early fall of 1828, even as his syphilis-wracked body was wasting away. At the beginning of September, heeding his doctor’s advice, he moved out of his apartment in Vienna and took up residence with his brother Ferdinand in the supposedly more salubrious suburbs. There, despite his steadily worsening condition, he labored to complete his last three piano sonatas, several of the songs later published under the sentimental title Schwanengesang (Swan Song), the effervescent concert aria “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” (“The Shepherd on the Rock”) and the C-major String Quintet, his last, and arguably greatest, piece of extended chamber music.
The string quintet, with its rich, quasi-orchestral sonorities, had been a popular alternative to the string quartet since the late 18th century. Schubert’s interest in the genre dates from his early teens, when he wrote a little Overture in C minor for two violins, two violas and cello. (Later, in the process of polishing his skills as a quartet composer, he arranged that work for a conventional foursome.) In 1824, Schubert became acquainted with Mozart’s great double-viola quintets in the form of arrangements made by a composer named Josef Hugelmann. The Schubert scholar Martin Chusid speculates that Schubert’s decision to score the C-major Quintet for two cellos rather than two violas sprang from a desire to avoid invidious comparisons: the only double-cello quintets with which Viennese audiences in the 1820s were likely to be familiar were the comparatively lightweight specimens by Luigi Boccherini and George Onslow.
In neither form nor content can the C-major Quintet be described as lightweight. Clocking in at just under an hour, it is a work of epic proportions and surpassing intensity, wedded, as always in Schubert, to an irrepressible lyrical impulse. The first half of the opening Allegro ma non troppo might be likened to an extended song, with each melody merging organically into the next and an astonishing variety of accompaniment figures. (Listen for the magical passage in which the first violin and viola play the melody in canon, while the second violin and first cello carry on a dialogue in interlocking 16th-notes, and the second cello beats out a steady walking pattern in the bass.) A sharp sforzando chord leads into darker harmonic territory; the music grows increasingly stormy and dramatic until the air miraculously clears and we are back where we started from, basking in the sunny, uncomplicated warmth of C major.
The radiant E-major Adagio is one of Schubert’s most sublime and searching creations. Against a backdrop of silky, slow-moving chords in the inner voices, the first violin’s tentative queries are answered by the plodding pizzicato bass. The extreme polarity of registers is effective in purely musical terms, but it also suggests the gulf between flighty innocence and plodding experience. A sudden modulation to F minor sets off a surging wave of turbulence, which slowly subsides into a transfigured image of the movement’s first section. Schubert restores our high spirits in the rambunctious triple-time Scherzo, only to dampen them again in the slow, mysterious, brooding Trio midsection. The exuberant finale, with its foursquare, Hungarian-flavored rhythms and lilting syncopations, steadily gathers momentum as it wends its way toward a breathtaking climax.
© 2012 Harry Haskell
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HAYDN: String Quartet in D minor, Op. 103 (Unfinished)
FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN
Born Rohrau, Lower Austria, March 31, 1732; died Vienna, May 31, 1809
String Quartet in D minor, Op. 103 (Unfinished)
Composed in 1803; 11 minutes
Prolific and endlessly imaginative, Haydn virtually invented the string quartet as we know it. His music epitomizes the “classical” virtues of equilibrium, clarity and seriousness of purpose, tempered with a playfulness and often earthy humor that have long delighted audiences. Haydn’s influence was felt throughout Europe, although he spent virtually his entire career either in Vienna or in the idyllic seclusion of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy’s country estate in Eisenstadt. After that sinecure, so conducive to sustained creativity, came to an end in 1790, he embarked on two extended trips to London, from which he returned in 1795 to close out his days in Vienna. This late period produced some of his finest works, including the oratorios The Creation and The Seasons, the two Op. 77 string quartets, and their seldom-played sequel, the torso known as Op. 103.
The unfinished D-minor Quartet was an afterthought. Haydn wrote the Op. 77 quartets in 1799, but held off publishing them until he could round out the set with a third quartet. (Six was the customary number, but at this stage of his life Haydn must have realized that such an undertaking was beyond him.) In the event, he gave up after completing the two middle movements in the summer of 1803. Breitkopf & Härtel published them three years later, accompanied by an implicit disclaimer drawn from one of Haydn’s vocal works: “Gone forever is my strength / old and weak am I.”
The composer of Op. 103 may have been old, but he was still capable of flexing his creative muscles. The Andante grazioso opens in typically Haydnesque fashion with a warm-blooded melody in B-flat major set forth in two symmetrical four-bar phrases. Then, after the customary elaboration, Haydn leads us on a merry chase through a succession of distantly related keys, moving from G-flat major to C-sharp minor before returning home. Moreover, he makes this dizzying harmonic excursion seem natural and effortless. The vigorously accented D-minor Menuet, with its lyrical Trio midsection in D major, explores a more conventional tonal dichotomy. But this movement, too, is full of subtle felicities and surprises.
© 2012 Harry Haskell
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BARTÓK: String Quartet No. 6
Born Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary, March 25, 1881; died New York, September 26, 1945
String Quartet No. 6
Composed in 1939; 28 minutes
The history of this, the last of Bartók’s six string quartets, mirrors the peripatetic composer’s wanderings in the last years of his life. The first three movements were drafted in August 1939 in Switzerland, where Bartók was fulfilling a commission from the conductor and philanthropist Paul Sacher to write his Divertimento for String Orchestra. (“I feel like a musician of olden times,” the composer wrote to his son, “the invited guest of a patron of the arts.”) Returning to Hungary shortly before the Germany army overran Poland, he completed the quartet in Budapest that fall. One year later Bartók sought refuge in the U.S. He was in the audience when the Kolisch Quartet gave the first performance of the Sixth Quartet in New York City on January 20, 1941.
To what extent these displacements, the brutal efficiency of the Nazi blitzkrieg and other life experiences left a mark on Bartók’s music is a matter of interpretation and conjecture. But there is no mistaking the fact that his musical language, for all its roots in Middle European folk traditions and turn-of-the-century impressionism, was forged in the crucible of the early 20th century. The restless, tormented spirit of W. H. Auden’s “Age of Anxiety” permeates the Sixth Quartet, from the mournfully meandering melody of the opening viola solo to the violins’ hollow-sounding fifths and the cello’s spectral pizzicato chords at the close. Here gathered together are all the elements of Bartók’s late-period style—the terse, angular gestures; spiky, irregular rhythms; astringent harmonies; fitful lyricism; slithering chromatic linesand surreal coloristic effects.
Formally, the Sixth Quartet represented a new path for the composer. In place of the symmetrical “arch” construction that characterized its two immediate precursors, Bartók opted for a four-part ritornello structure. The opening viola solo recurs, in richly varied settings, at the beginning of the second and third movements as a kind of unifying head-motif, and it is woven into the very fabric of the slow, searingly intense finale. All four movements are marked Mesto, “sadly,” but only the last one is unremittingly lugubrious, lacking the satirical bite and dancelike, almost manic vitality that tempers the pessimism of its predecessors.
To attribute the change of tone to the outbreak of World War II would be overly simplistic; art and life are not so easily correlated. But not long after the premiere of the Sixth Quartet, the composer Virgil Thomson, one of America’s most perceptive critics, argued that the expressive content of Bartók’s music was inseparable from the times in which he lived: “The despair in his quartets is no personal maladjustment. It is a realistic facing of the human condition, the state of man as a moral animal, as this was perceptible to a musician of high moral sensibilities just come out of Hungary. No other musician of our century has faced its horrors quite so frankly. The quartets of Bartók have a sincerity, indeed, and a natural elevation that are well-night unique in the history of music."
© 2012 Harry Haskell
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Tokyo String Quartet
Regarded as one of the supreme chamber ensembles of the world, the Tokyo String Quartet—Martin Beaver and Kikuei Ikeda (violins), Kazuhide Isomura (viola) and Clive Greensmith (cello)—is concluding its performing career with the close of the 2012/13 season. For more than 43 seasons, the Quartet has built a devoted following around the globe.
The Tokyo String Quartet has built a lasting relationship with 92nd Street Y; it made its debut here in 1977, and it has been 92Y’s quartet in residence since the 2003/04 season. During those years, the Quartet has presented 31 concerts of 101 works by 20 different composers, and featured 31 guest artists. Residence highlights include all-Mozart and all-Schumann seasons, a threeyear cycle of Beethoven string quartets and solo piano works, and the two-year Bartok-Haydn cycle that concludes this season on May 11.
During its farewell season, the Quartet is also visiting such North American cities as San Francisco, Toronto, Cleveland, Miami and Philadelphia. For its final season in Europe, the Quartet will visit Vienna, Copenhagen, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Warsaw and Moscow, among other cities. Its “Farewell Tour” in Japan will occur in May 2013, followed by a tour of Australia and New Zealand.
The Quartet’s final US concert will take place at the Music Shed at Yale’s Norfolk Chamber Music Festival on July 6, 2013. The Quartet has served on the faculty of the Yale School of Music as quartet in residence since 1976. This season the members are continuing their tradition of conducting master classes in universities and towns across the US, at the Conservatoire de Paris and Tokyo’s Suntory Hall.
The Tokyo String Quartet has released more than 40 landmark recordings and is now an exclusive artist for Harmonia Mundi. For the Quartet’s final season, the label released a disc of Brahms’ piano and clarinet quintets with pianist Jon Nakamatsu and clarinetist Jon Manasse in November, and it will release a CD of works by the Czech composers Dvorˇak and Smetana on May 14.
The Quartet performs on the “Paganini Quartet,” a group of renowned Stradivarius instruments named for legendary virtuoso Niccolo Paganini, who acquired and played them during the 19th century. The instruments have been on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation since 1995, when they were purchased from the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Officially formed in 1969 at The Juilliard School of Music, the Tokyo String Quartet traces its origins to the Toho School of Music in Tokyo, where the founding members were profoundly influenced by Professor Hideo Saito. Its website is tokyoquartet.com.
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A consummate soloist, chamber musician, recitalist, conductor and teacher, Lynn Harrell’s work around the world has placed him in the highest echelon of today’s performing artists. A frequent guest of many leading orchestras, this season’s engagements include the Boston, Detroit, Edmonton, Singapore and Taiwan symphonies; the Los Angeles Philharmonic; and a European tour with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.
In recent seasons Mr. Harrell has particularly enjoyed collaborating with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Andre Previn. In January 2004 the trio appeared with the New York Philharmonic performing the Beethoven Triple Concerto with Kurt Masur. An important part of Mr. Harrell’s life is participation in summer music festivals, which include Aspen, Grand Teton, Tanglewood and Verbier.
Mr. Harrell’s discography of more than 30 recordings include the complete Bach Cello Suites and the world-premiere recording of Victor Herbert’s Cello Concerto No. 1 with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Together with Itzhak Perlman and Vladimir Ashkenazy, Mr. Harrell was awarded Grammy Awards for the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio and for the complete Beethoven Piano Trios. More recently, Mr. Harrell recorded Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 2, and Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
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