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“Phrasing, color, tempo, and voicing are varied in a way that makes familiar works sound fresh, even radically new.” —Boston Globe

Exclusive New York engagement
Hagen Quartet
      Lukas Hagen, violin
      Rainer Schmidt, violin
      Veronika Hagen, viola
      Clemens Hagen, cello

BEETHOVEN:
String Quartet in F major, Op. 18, No. 1
String Quartet in F major, Op. 135
String Quartet in F major, Op. 59, No. 1

The concert is approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes.

 

Join us for more Beethoven! This concert can be purchased as part of a 3-concert, 4-concert or 6-concert package.

 

The Hagen Quartet series is partially supported by an endowment gift from Joan L. and Dr. Julius H. Jacobson, II and by the Austrian Cultural Forum.

 

Y Beethoven? This is Why Beethoven, according to six young 92Y guest artists.

Report on Hagen Quartet’s debut at Trondheim Chamber Music Festival, Sep 24, 2011. Program included Schubert’s String Quintet with cellist Ralph Kirshbaum and quartets by Haydn and Brahms. Voiceover is in Norwegian but interviews with Hagen violinist Rainer Schmidt and Mr. Kirschbaum are in English. Mr. Schmidt’s comments include:

We understand each other very well. I think we have a very good relationship, each one of us with the other one, so we’re usually having a very good time together, and not much strife at all. That’s number one, and the second is that we always enjoy the music, discovering something new in the music, so for us it always stays fresh and never becomes stale. This job, we always love what we are doing, so that’s certainly important.

Hagen Quartet performing Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 18, No 3: IV. Presto, from its latest recording, released this past June on Myrios Classics

Hagen Quartet at 2000 Salzurg “Mozartwoche,” performing Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 135: II. Vivace

Hagen Quartet at 2000 Salzurg “Mozartwoche,” performing Ravel’s String Quartet in F major: II. Assez vif: tres rythmé

Beethoven on 92YOnDemand: 92Y’s video and audio library offers brilliant performances from 92Y’s past including cellist Miklós Perenyi and pianist András Schiff performing the Cello Sonata in A major, Op. 69.

Plus The Knights, Tokyo String Quartet, Zukerman ChamberPlayers, Inon Barnatan, Shai Wosner & more.

On the Blog

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From BBC Music:


North American Live Choice”—Hagen Quartet’s cycle at 92Y named one of Top 20 Live Events in North America for November, 11/13. Here is an excerpt:

Austria’s Hagen Quartet has been playing Beethoven’s 16 string quartets throughout much of its 32-year history, and now it’s demonstrating the fruits of that accumulated experience.

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From 92Y:


Interview with Rainer Schmidt—A Q&A between 92Y and the Hagen Quartet’s second violinist. Here’s an excerpt:

200 years after their genesis, Beethoven’s quartets still hold tons of exciting questions for us. And over time we certainly have changed the way how to approach them—which question comes first …

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From Süddeutsche Zeitung.de:


Beyond words and stereotypes”—An interview with the Hagen Quartet members by Helmut Mauró (translation by Eriksen Translations Inc.) for Germany’s largest national subscription daily newspaper, 8/14/13. Here is an excerpt:

Veronika Hagen: We explore the character and the emotional world of each piece. In our concert cycle, we do not follow the order in which they were created; we follow other criteria. We may play a concert consisting of nothing but Beethoven’s F major quartets, which come from all the periods of his work.

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Reviews of Hagen Quartet’s latest Beethoven recording—Op. 18/3, 18/5, 135:


From From The Guardian:

“The playing is insightful, probing, masterly.”

From Der Spiegel (in German):

“It's been a long time since Beethoven sounded so outrageously fresh—a monumental achievement.”

From Classical Modern Music:

“The music comes alive fully, with orative power, like Laurence Olivier doing Shakespeare. Every particle is given due consideration for a whole that is ravishing. Ravishing.”

From schallplattenkritik.de (in German):

Winner of German Record Critics’ Award (Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik)

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Reviews of recent Hagen Quartet Beethoven concerts:


From The Spectator, Apr 13, 2013

Program included String Quartet in F major, Op. 59, No. 1 (Nov 7); String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2 (Nov 10). An excerpt from the review:

Now that the Alban Berg Quartet is no more, the Hagen, along with the Takács, are the supreme performers of Beethoven. There is a high-born, almost patrician quality to their music-making, which has sometimes been mistaken for emotional detachment. But there was nothing detached about their performances of the first two Razumovsky quartets, which got this latest cycle off to such a bracing start. It was thrilling playing; so thrilling they may even have surprised themselves.

From The Guardian, Jan 31, 2013

Program included String Quartet in A minor, Op 132 (Nov 10); String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2 (Nov 10). An excerpt from the review:

The Hagen's approach also says something about their development. For years, theirs has been the very model of a well-engineered, central European sound. Increasingly, though, the Hagens have become greater risk takers, too. There's a more impulsive quality to their playing, epitomised by the almost freewheeling style of first violinist Lukas Hagen…. It also showed an openness to new styles in quartet playing, which promises anything but a stock cycle when the Hagens return in April.

From Cleveland Plain Dealer, Feb 29, 2012

Program included Quartet in F major, Op. 18, No. 1 (Nov 7); Quartet in F minor, Op. 95, “Serioso” (Nov 9); Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 74, “Harp” (Nov 9). An excerpt from the review:

It was a marvelous evening of music-making marked by scrupulous attention to phrasing, texture and balance. And something else kept ears wide open: the performances surprised through the players' elastic sense of line and fierce intensity.

From Boston Classical Review, Feb 27, 2012

Program included Beethoven’s Quartet in F minor, Op. 95, “Serioso” (Nov 9); plus Haydn’s Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 33, No. 2 “The Joke”; Mozart’s Quartet in D major, K. 575. An excerpt from the review:

Even in this rather hard-edged music [from Beethoven’s “Serioso” Quartet], it was evident that the four players—consisting of siblings Lukas Hagen, first violin; Veronika Hagen, viola; and Clemens Hagen, cello; with Rainer Schmidt, second violin—had achieved a rare combination of matched and blended tone with transparent, persuasive voicing. Their sound was not big and room-filling but seductive, enticing the listener to lean closer and savor every detail of the music.

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Explore the Music

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BEETHOVEN: The Sixteen String Quartets

BEETHOVEN: The Sixteen String Quartets

by Sandra Hyslop

With this set of six concerts at 92nd Street Y, the Hagen Quartet continues a practice set in motion by the renowned Budapest Quartet 75 years ago. In 1938 92Y invited its audiences to New York City’s first-ever hearing of all 16 Beethoven string quartets played in a cycle. It would also be the Budapest’s first-ever performance of the entire set. “If you are a musician,” read the Y’s 1938 advertisement, “you will appreciate the importance of this announcement—if not, just ask any real musician and you will be convinced.” In 2013 92Y presents the Hagen Quartet’s six Beethoven concerts—its first-ever in New York City—with undiminished enthusiasm and appreciation for “the importance of this announcement.”

* * * * * *

When the 22-year-old Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792 from Bonn, intending to study composition with Joseph Haydn, he arrived as a good professional violinist, violist and organist—and a knock-out pianist. His virtuosity at the piano keyboard opened doors in Vienna society, and he found his way into the circles of Vienna’s social and musical elite. His engaging, if rough-edged, personality and his love of social interaction made him a popular guest—especially when he dazzled the assembled company with his pianism. That Beethoven and Haydn failed to develop a good working relationship mattered little in the long run. Beethoven was ready to prove himself as a composer without significant further instruction; he took full advantage of all that Vienna offered, creating a life for himself as an independent professional.

Beginning in 1798, when he began to write his first quartets, and continuing to the final months of his life, Beethoven repeatedly stretched the concept of “string quartet.” Like his 32 piano sonatas, which similarly engaged his creative energies from early to late in life, Beethoven’s 16 string quartets represent a road map of his growth as a musician. They lead the way in tracing his journey toward the deepest realms of the composer’s art.

The concept “Early-Middle-Late Beethoven” arose as a scholarly categorization of his music in general and has come to designate three specific groupings of string quartets— those composed in 1798–1800, 1806–1810, and 1824–1826. The three periods of success are shadowed by Beethoven’s growing deafness, which was already painfully evident to him in 1798, and which isolated him increasingly from the world.

1801: Early quartets. The success of Beethoven’s first major publication for string ensemble, a set of three String Trios published in 1798, alerted Vienna’s music lovers that the phenomenal pianist had emerged as an equally remarkable composer. Even as music connoisseurs were awakening to that fact, Beethoven was beginning work on the ne plus ultra of chamber music, the string quartet. In 1801Beethoven issued six String Quartets, published as Op. 18. These new quartets found immediate success and secured his reputation not only with the public, but also with Vienna’s fine professional musicians. For the next 25 years, Beethoven was the most prominent musical force in the city.

In the wake of the Op. 18 Quartets, Beethoven composed piano sonatas, symphonies, the Violin Concerto, the Fourth Piano Concerto, and his opera Fidelio, any one of which would have secured his eminent position. In spite of his growing deafness, he possessed the exquisite inner hearing of a powerful musical mind, a faculty amply demonstrated as he fearlessly produced works that set him apart in conception, style and execution from all his contemporaries.

1806–1810: Middle quartets. The Vienna correspondent of the Leipzig Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, the most important music journal of its day, reported early in 1807 that “three new, very long, and difficult Beethoven quartets…are attracting the attention of all connoisseurs. They are profoundly thought through and admirably worked out, but not to be grasped by all.” Indeed, Beethoven’s new music proved bewildering to musicians and audiences. One violinist, the Italian Felix Radicati, asked the composer if he seriously considered the three Op. 59 quartets to be real music. Oh, said Beethoven, this music is “not for you, but for a later age.” Undeterred by the puzzled reception accorded his string quartets, Beethoven published two further gems, Op. 74 and Op. 95, in 1809 and 1810.

1824–1826: Late quartets. After that, Beethoven left the genre alone for a full 12 years. In the summer of 1822, once again thinking in string quartet terms, he produced some sketches that he soon put aside—temporarily. A commission for string quartets offered him by an amateur cellist from St. Petersburg, Prince Nicholas Galitzin, then living in Vienna, got Beethoven’s full attention. In 1825 he composed three quartets for Galitzin—published as Opp. 127, 130, and 132. Two more followed—the quartets of Op. 131 and Op. 135—and shortly before he died, Beethoven composed a new final movement for the Op. 130 quartet.

Beethoven was a trained violist and violinist; but by all accounts, he was a careless performer—lax in practice habits and apparently indifferent to playing accurately or in tune. His inner ears, however, remained acute for his entire lifetime, and he had a superior sense of how the four instruments of a string quartet could be challenged. If such a thing were possible, Beethoven might have played a string quartet as one instrument as well as he played a piano.

Already in the 18th century, the metaphor of string-quartet-as-conversation was widely known and accepted. No one knew better than Beethoven how to structure such a conversation, not merely as a polite agreement among voices (such as a simple canon or a fugue), or one person expressing an opinion and the others amiably following along (such as a melody with supporting accompaniment), but also as an exchange of ideas—exploratory, challenging and discursive. The voices might be heated, calm, elevated or hushed, but they are always vibrantly engaged. It was this vibrancy and engagement that increasingly characterized Beethoven’s quartets, and he was by no means finished with the medium when he died, in March 1827, at age 57.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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Concert Introduction

When constructing a concert program musicians consider myriad details. Just as a chef instinctively analyzes flavors, colors and textures in creating a menu, so performers would normally consider a variety of musical qualities that might entice an audience. Contrasting musical flavors, colors and textures? By all means. A variety of tonalities, with pleasing relationships between the keys of the works? Definitely, yes. Unless….

In many ways the music of Beethoven confounds our expectations. When the Hagen Quartet decided to create this program, they knew that the concert would offer variety in full measure, despite the fact that every piece in the concert was in the key of F major.

Three utterly different Beethoven string quartets but all in F major: to begin the concert, one of his very first compositions in the genre; then his very last; and finally, one from his middle years. This concert in one key offers a stunning object lesson. Not only does it offer a varied and satisfying musical meal, it also reminds us anew of the apparently unlimited imagination that generated the 16 string quartets that Beethoven composed over the span of a quarter-century.

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BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in F major, Op. 18, No. 1

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

Born Bonn, baptized December 17, 1770; died Vienna, March 26, 1827
String Quartet in F major, Op. 18, No. 1
Composed in 1798–1800, 27 minutes

Not long after his move from Bonn to Vienna in 1792, Beethoven had the good fortune to rent rooms in the Lichnowsky Palace, home of Count—and later Prince—Karl Alois Johann Lichnowsky. Like several other of Vienna’s prominent music patrons, the count maintained a professional instrumental ensemble. Lichnowsky’s Friday morning musicales often featured his house string quartet, led by Ignaz Schuppanzigh, Vienna’s most prominent resident violinist who became a life-long friend and colleague of Beethoven. These were the first musicians to perform the Op. 18 Quartets, which Beethoven composed over a period of two years and published in two installments in 1801 with the Viennese firm of T. Mollo et Comp. He dedicated the entire set to Prince Lobkowitz, a prominent young music patron who would eventually be the dedicatee of several of Beethoven’s most well-known compositions.

Along with all his good fortune during this period, Beethoven also experienced the most dismaying personal decline: by 1800, approaching 30 years of age, he knew that he was going deaf. He confessed his condition to very few close friends. On June 29, 1800, he wrote to Dr. Franz Wegeler in Bonn: “…For the last two years I have avoided all society, for it is impossible for me to say to people, ‘I am deaf.’…It is not surprising that there are people who have never noticed it, for as a rule I am absent-minded, and they account for it in that way….”

The violinist Karl Amenda was another intimate friend to whom the composer had confessed his increasing deafness. He entrusted to Amenda the first copy of the F-major Quartet, which he composed in 1799. Beethoven then continued working on the piece, laboriously revising it throughout 1800. Upon publication of the entire set of six quartets, Op. 18, he wrote to Amenda, “Be sure not to hand on to anybody your quartet, in which I have made some drastic alterations. For only now have I learnt to write quartets; and this you will notice, I fancy, when you receive them.”

Since his arrival in Vienna, Beethoven had undertaken a few private lessons with Joseph Haydn and Johann Albrechtsberger (and perhaps Antonio Salieri). However, he had progressed beyond the need of their tuition by the time he was composing his first string quartets. His remark to Amenda, “…only now have I learnt…” refers to his own diligence in working at his craft. His copious sketchbooks attest to the care that he invested in his musical decisions.

Still writing within the general stylistic traditions of his great predecessors Mozart and Haydn, Beethoven was nonetheless finding his own voice. Publication of the Op. 18 quartets constituted his engraved announcement that he had serious intentions as a composer, and he carefully arranged the six quartets to capture maximum attention. Although he had composed the D-major quartet first (published as Op. 18, No. 3), he awarded this Quartet, in F major, pride of first place in the published scores.

Beethoven calculated the affect of his first two measures—an assertive introduction. Four voices speak their unison F, followed by a turn, and then silence. (Expressive use of silence would become a notable Beethoven characteristic—sometimes dramatic, sometimes humorous—throughout his life’s work.) The turn motive, vivacious and bold, suffuses the first movement.

The second movement, too, uses musical turns, this time as a gently expressive adagio motive. His friend Amenda maintained, probably accurately, that the affettuoso ed appassionato character of the movement represented Beethoven’s reactions to the tomb scene in Romeo and Juliet. Indeed, the music is reminiscent of Italian opera of the period, with tenderness and drama in alternation. High spirits and wide-ranging dynamics mark the third movement, in which the two iterations of the quick-paced Scherzo enclose an exuberant Trio. The fourth movement closes the Quartet with confidence and élan.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in F major, Op. 135

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

String Quartet in F major, Op. 135
Composed in 1826, 22 minutes

Hagen Quartet at 2000 Salzurg “Mozartwoche,” performing Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 135: IV. Grave ma non troppo tratto—Allegro

Beethoven began work on the String Quartet in F major—his 16th quartet and his last completed work—in late summer 1826. Despite a physical condition weakened by abdominal pain and surgical procedures, he was able to finish the work that October. It was published posthumously by the firm of Moritz Schlesinger the following year, and the Schuppanzigh Quartet gave its first public performance in March 1828, one year after the composer’s death. Beethoven dedicated this Quartet to a musician friend, Johann Nepomuk Wolfmayer.

By contrast with the four other quartets of his final years, Op. 135 is relatively brief and hews closely to a regular classical structure. The charming opening movement is in sonata-allegro form, and the conversation among the instruments is relaxed. The second movement, a vivacious scherzo, proceeds breathlessly, with a crazed trio offering key changes that tumble rapidly and unpredictably. By contrast, the gently beautiful cavatina of the Lento assai practically sings itself, even as Beethoven instructed: cantante e tranquillo. He cast it as a theme and variations—a straightforward, yet searching, set of comments upon the basic arioso melody.

Beethoven subtitled the fourth movement “Der schwer gefasste Entschluss” [“the difficult decision”] and opened it with a Grave section, over which he wrote, onto the score’s manuscript, this question: “Muss es sein?” [“Must it be?”]. The matching musical phrase, shaped like a question, describes the upward-moving interval of a diminished fourth, which is introduced, pleadingly, by the cello and viola.

At the head of the following Allegro section, Beethoven wrote the reply: “Es muss sein! Es muss sein!” [“It must be. It must be.”] The musical illustration of this reply is a set of unambiguous, falling, perfect fourths—ES MUSS SEIN—cheerful and unflappable. This question-and-answer dialogue translates into music of great wit, with serious undertones. The movement closes with a coda in quiet pizzacati that explode into a boisterous, fortissimo conclusion.

Although the question-and-answer device hints of something profound, the origin of what Beethoven called his “difficult decision” has been explained in a story—perhaps apocryphal—about a social situation that Beethoven found highly amusing. An acquaintance had attempted to obtain a copy of one of Beethoven’s compositions without paying for the score. Beethoven’s friend Karl Holz, intervening on the composer’s behalf, insisted on proper payment, to which the man asked, “Muss es sein?” and Holz responded, “Es muss sein!” Hearing of this exchange, Beethoven laughed loudly and immediately set about composing music that echoed the question-and- answer between Holz and the would-be free-loader. Or so the story goes.

Submitting this manuscript to his publisher Schlesinger, Beethoven appended a letter: “You see what an unhappy man I am, not only that [this Quartet] was difficult to write, because I was thinking of something else much bigger, but because I had promised it to you and needed money, and that it came hard you can gather from the ‘It must be.’ Now add to that…my being unable to find a copyist anywhere…and so I had to copy it myself, and was that ever a nice piece of work! Oof, it’s done. Amen.”

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in F major, Op. 59, No. 1

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

String Quartet in F major, Op. 59, No. 1
Composed in 1806, 36 minutes

Late in 1805, Count Andreas Kirillovich Razumovsky (1752–1836), the Russian Ambassador in Vienna, commissioned three new string quartets from Beethoven. Written between May and November 1806, the works were eventually dedicated to the Count; they are widely known as the “Razumovsky Quartets.”

Unfortunately, neither the first musicians nor the first audiences welcomed the new quartets. Even Beethoven’s good friend and colleague the violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh objected, complaining of the music’s difficulty. Carl Czerny reported, “When Schuppanzigh [and his men] first played the Quartet in F, they laughed and were convinced Beethoven was playing a joke and that it was not the quartet that had been promised.” Beethoven—having written the three quartets with the Schuppanzigh Quartet’s considerable talents in mind—was apparently unperturbed. He had composed a difficult work that he had every expectation the Schuppanzigh Quartet would be able to perform. Their non-comprehension was not his problem, for, as he said to the Italian violinist Felix Radicati, he had composed the music “not for you, but for a later age.”

The cello launches the F-major Quartet with a self-assured and spacious theme, which the violin immediately takes to a soaring height. (It was not only Schuppanzigh’s violin sound for which Beethoven was writing. The cellist of the quartet, Joseph Linke, inspired Beethoven’s two sonatas for cello and piano, Op. 102, and it was Linke who would perform in the premieres of many of Beethoven’s quartets.) The rich harmonies, additional thematic materials and contrapuntal inventions speak to Beethoven’s mastery of the string quartet conversation. He balances formal structure with an air of spontaneity that sounds very modern.

The second movement’s one-note opening theme seemed strange and even amusing to some of the musicians who first encountered it. This pianissimo, pizzicato cello theme sets up a witty and adventurous scherzo, a movement that unfolds with alternating dancing and singing treatments of the repeated note motif.

The profoundly affecting Adagio comprises two beautiful arioso themes introduced, in turn, by the cello and the first violin. From the two themes Beethoven weaves an intricate and delicate fabric, which he ties off with sparkling violin filigree. The Russian Theme of the fourth movement takes over immediately. Beethoven chose a traditional tune from a collection of Russian folk songs—probably as an homage to his patron—and used it as the rollicking principal theme for a sonata-allegro form final movement. It alternates with a contrasting, legato second theme. The Russian folk song makes one last appearance as a slow, soulful melody before the entire quartet ends with a bright flourish.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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Artist Bio

Hagen Quartet

Praised for their unique, finely nuanced timbre and the engaging immediacy of their ensemble sound, the Hagen Quartet was founded in 1981 by four Hagen siblings: violinists Lukas and Angelika (whose chair has been filled by Rainer Schmidt since 1987), violist Veronika and cellist Clemens in Salzburg.

Thirty years later, the Quartet has been celebrating its anniversary with extensive touring of the first presentation of the complete cycle of Beethoven’s string quartets in its history. From August 2012 through December 2013, the Quartet is performing this pinnacle of musical composition in the major music centers of the world, including Paris, London, Vienna, Salzburg and Tokyo. The Quartet will perform it for the first time in North America on November 7-17, 2013 at 92nd Street Y.

Among other highlights of its 30th anniversary, in October 2011, the Hagen Quartet was recognized with the prestigious Echo Klassik Award for Ensemble of the Year, and in 2012, it was named Honorary Member of Vienna’s Konzerthaus. The Quartet also released two acclaimed new recordings to celebrate its anniversary, both on Myrios Classics: a disc of string quartets by Beethoven, Mozart and Webern; and a pairing of Grieg’s String Quartet in G minor with Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet, featuring clarinetist Jörg Widmann. In June, Myrios will release an all-Beethoven disc representing the opposite ends of his quartet-composing career: Op. 18, Nos. 3 and 5 (1798-1800), and Op. 135 (1826).

The Hagen Quartet’s concert repertoire and discography embrace the history of the string quartet, from its pre-Haydn beginnings to György Kurtág. The Hagen Quartet also works closely with composers of its own generation, whether by reviving existing works or by commissioning and premiering new pieces. Collaborations with other artists, such as Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Maurizio Pollini, Mitsuko Uchida, Sabine Meyer, Krystian Zimerman and Heinrich Schiff, are also important to the Quartet. As teachers and mentors at the Salzburg Mozarteum and the Hochschule in Basel, as well as in international master classes, the quartet’s members pass on their experience to younger colleagues.

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92Y Recommends

IN THE NEWS: BBC Music magazine names Hagen Quartet’s Beethoven cycle at 92Y a Top 20 Live Event in North America for November. (Click the On the Blog tab above for details.)


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