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“The Hagen Quartet couples edgy drama with fragile lyricism.” —BBC Music magazine

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

BEETHOVEN:
String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132 
String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2

The concert is approximately 1 hour and 30 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

(Click the names below to expand info)

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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BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

Born Bonn, baptized December 17, 1770; died Vienna, March 26, 1827
String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132
Composed in 1825, 40 minutes

Hagen Quartet
BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132 – V. Allegro Appassionato
(Myrios Classics)

In 1815, following the composition of the two cello sonatas for Joseph Linke, Op. 102, Beethoven entered a period of great personal stress as well as intense professional activity. Work on two major compositions, the Symphony No. 9 and the Missa solemnis, occupied him from 1817–1823. After the successful premiere performances of these two large works in 1824, he turned his full attention to (what would become) his final compositions, the five string quartets Opp. 127, 132, 130, 131 and 135.

Beethoven had already made substantial sketches for a new quartet when he was contacted by an amateur cellist, Prince Nicholas Galitzin, who was looking for fresh materials for his own house quartet in Vienna. He offered Beethoven a commission for “one, two, or three” new string quartets. Galitzin waited patiently for Beethoven to finish the Ninth Symphony and the Missa solemnis (for which Galitzin became a subscriber), and he was rewarded with the three quartets that Beethoven completed in February (Op. 127), July (Op. 132), and November 1825 (Op. 130).

Leading up to this final surge of creativity, Beethoven had written (to an unidentified companion) this response to an inquiry in a conversation book from 1822–1823: “You may ask me where I obtain my ideas …. They come unbidden, spontaneously or unspontaneously. I may grasp them with my hands in the open air, while walking in the woods, in the stillness of night, at early morning …. I turn my ideas into tones, which resound, roar and rage until at last they stand before me in the form of notes.” Taken together, the five final string quartets show traces of every unbidden molecule and spontaneous vibration that Beethoven plucked from the open air. From quiet to roar, stillness to rage, Beethoven had learned to express his ideas exquisitely in music.

As a single example, the String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132, offers a particularly rich exploration of those extremes of human experience—brilliance, joy and tenderness in the first movement; delicacy alternating with acerbity (a bagpipe dance, even) in the second movement; a profound hymn of praise and thanksgiving in the third; brashness and biting humor in the penultimate movement; and passionate ecstasy to conclude the whole.

Amidst his other personal trials, Beethoven’s poor physical health had become ever more worrisome. Bouts with severe jaundice indicated a compromised liver. One such illness kept him housebound and bedridden from April to August 1825, during which he composed the String Quartet in A minor. It comprises a five-part poem of thanks for his return to health, which Beethoven expressed overtly in the work’s centerpiece, the Molto adagio “Heiliger Dankgesang” [“the holy hymn of praise”]. The Schuppanzigh Quartet performed the work several times in autumn 1825, with the official public premiere taking place on November 6, 1825. It was published, posthumously, in September 1827.

The first movement opens with a sustained passage that features an introductory motif, a rising half-step (on G-sharp and A) paired with a falling half-step (on F and E.) The main body of the first movement emerges from a violin flourish, Allegro, which forms the basis for the complex sonata structure. Half steps also infuse the second movement’s main themes, liltingly done up in triple meter. The Trio section of the second movement features a rustic bagpipe drone accompanying a gravity-negating dance. The low-voiced instruments interrupt rudely before the gentle dance returns to close the movement.

At the head of the Molto adagio movement, Beethoven inscribed the following: “Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart” [“A convalescent’s holy song of thanksgiving to the deity, in the Lydian mode”].

Beethoven’s use of a church mode for the third movement, his “Heiliger Dankgesang,” stems from his wide-ranging musical knowledge as well as his profound spirituality. It was not the first time that Beethoven moved outside the major-minor scale system for a particularly heartfelt expression—his recently composed Missa Solemnis being an outstanding example, among others. For this hymn of praise, he composed a chorale tune in the Lydian mode (basically, a scale like the F-major scale, only with B natural instead of B flat) and subjected it to variations: The hymn appears three times, with contrasting connecting passages of varied materials, and it closes “Mit innigster Empfindung” [“with the most profound sensitivity”], somewhere in the stratosphere.

Hard on this ethereal moment, Beethoven brashly inserted a startling march movement, this one a quietly raucous diversion with ambiguous rhythmic figures. Once again, as it has done earlier in the Quartet, the violin engages in a showy, quasi-improvisatory solo; this leads without pause to the finale. The entire Quartet flies to a close with an exuberant fifth movement that concludes in a vivacious and emphatic A major.

© 2013 Sandra Hyslop

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BEETHOVEN; String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2
Composed in 1806, 33 minutes

Hagen Quartet
BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2 – III. Allegretto
(Myrios Classics)

Like so many cultured men of the era, the Russian Ambassador in Vienna, Count, and later Prince, Andrei Kirillovich Razumovsky (1752–1836), was a skilled amateur musician. When he commissioned three new string quartets from his friend Ludwig van Beethoven in 1805, he fully expected to take part in performances of the works. Beethoven fulfilled the quartet commission between May and November 1806 and dedicated the resulting three works to the Count. Since then they have commonly been known as the “Razumovsky Quartets.”

One of the wealthiest men in Europe, Count Razumovsky maintained a glamorous home in the Austrian capital and held frequent musicales in its palatial drawing room. At this time, the violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh had formed an independent, standing string quartet (that is, not attached to the household of his erstwhile employer Prince Karl Lichnowsky). When this ensemble performed the three Op. 59 quartets for the first time, Count Razumovsky himself occupied the second violin chair.

Beethoven composed all the movements of the Op. 59 No. 2 Quartet in the same tonic key, E. The inventiveness of his creative powers prevented any “sameness,” as the movements contain infinite surprises and treasures.

Two assertive, staccato chords set the Allegro movement into instant motion. After a startling silence (another fine example of the many expressive silences that Beethoven used so effectively in his compositions), the quiet twirling of pianissimo strings continues the drama. More silence. And then the whole thing repeats itself, a half step higher. This dramatic opening sets the scene for an entire quartet that brings constant changes of mood and character, while cleaving to a formal sonata-allegro structure. Throughout the first movement, for instance—including the grand and complex coda—Beethoven introduces many surprising changes of key, before finishing in a hushed E minor.

The second movement, in E major, is one of Beethoven’s most touching. The composer and pianist Carl Czerny, a close friend of Beethoven, alleged that this music “occurred to Beethoven when he was contemplating the starry sky and thinking of the music of the spheres.” Whether Czerny represented Beethoven’s inspiration accurately, we will never know. The music, however, tells us that something profound stirred the composer in this movement, which he marked “Adagio molto,” writing in addition, “This piece is to be played with great feeling.” This movement, too, finds its conclusion in an impressive coda, this time over a pedal tone on the tonic key, E. Like the third movement (Molto adagio) of the A-minor Quartet, Op. 132, heard earlier on this afternoon’s concert—and composed 19 years later—this “music of the spheres” is, truly, heavenly music.

Beethoven eases the listener gracefully into the Allegretto, which begins quietly. It soon increases in intensity and volume, moving along quickly with a rather eccentric rhythmic pattern. Just as he had done in the first Razumovsky string quartet, Beethoven included here a Russian tune in tribute to his patron’s homeland. Beethoven treated this Thème Russe, “Slava,” to repetitions and voicing by different combinations of instruments, without creating formal variations on the theme. It is the basis for a traditional Scherzo-Trio-Scherzo form, which Beethoven, in a non-traditional frame of mind, asks that the players repeat in its entirety.

Starting off in the key of C major, the fourth movement uses relatively simple materials, but it is a rousing, boisterous event. In this Presto, a sonata-rondo movement, Beethoven distracts from the tonic key, E minor, through extensive passages in the keys of C major and F major. This final movement exemplifies the fun-loving character of a country dance, which Beethoven whips into a blazing conclusion with a final Più presto 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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Details & Ordering


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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