Dover String Quartet

Sunday, November 20, 2016
Dover String Quartet

Formed in 2008 at the Curtis Institute of Music, the Dover Quartet swept the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition and has since become one of the most in-demand ensembles in the world. “The young American string quartet of the moment,” says The New Yorker. Currently the faculty Quartet-in-Residence at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, they’ve received the Cleveland Quartet Award and Hunt Family Award by Lincoln Center, and won grand prize at the Fischoff Competition and special prizes at the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition.

The Dover Quartet catapulted to international stardom following a stunning sweep of the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition, becoming one of the most in-demand ensembles in the world.  The New Yorker recently dubbed them “the young American string quartet of the moment,” and The Strad raved that the Quartet is “already pulling away from their peers with their exceptional interpretive maturity, tonal refinement and taut ensemble.”  In 2013-14, the Quartet was the first ever Quartet-in-Residence for the venerated Curtis Institute of Music, and is now faculty Quartet-in-Residence at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music.

In addition to winning the Grand Prize and all three Special Prizes at the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition, the Dover Quartet has continued to receive accolades:  in 2015 it was announced that the group had been awarded the highly prestigious Cleveland Quartet Award, and shortly thereafter, Lincoln Center awarded the quartet the annual Hunt Family Award, as part of the organization’s Emerging Artist Awards.  In its early years, the quartet also won grand prize at the Fischoff Competition, and special prizes at the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition.

During the 2015-16 season, the Dover Quartet will perform more than 120 concerts throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East. Highlights include the group’s debut at Carnegie Hall, and several residencies including those at Dumbarton Oaks, Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival, and People’s Symphony Concerts in New York. 2016 also includes the quartet’s first tour of Israel, and the recording of three albums, to be released beginning next fall.  The group regularly appears with acclaimed collaborators, and this season these will include such artists as Anthony McGill, David Shifrin, Anne-Marie McDermott, Avi Avital, and Edgar Meyer.  The collaborations with Avi and Edgar will include extensive tours together next season.

The Dover Quartet participates regularly in some of the continent’s most reputable summer festivals, including Chamber Music Northwest, Artosphere, Bravo Vail, and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and are active proponents of new music: this season included a premier of Pulitzer-Prize winning Caroline Shaw’s new quartet at Dumbarton Oaks, and next season will include the premieres of multiple commissions, including works from Richard Danielpour and Michael Djupstrom.

The Dover Quartet was formed in 2008 at the Curtis Institute of Music, and continued their studies as Graduate Quartet-in-Residence at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music from 2011-13.  Because of the exceptional faculty at both of these institutions, the group draws from the musical lineage of the Cleveland, Vermeer, Concord, and Guarneri Quartets. The Quartet has been mentored extensively by Shmuel Ashkenasi, James Dunham, Norman Fischer, Kenneth Goldsmith, Joseph Silverstein, Arnold Steinhardt, Michael Tree, and Peter Wiley, and is dedicated to sharing their music with underserved communities and is an active member of Music for Food, an initiative to help musicians fight hunger in their home communities.

Program

Mozart: Quartet in F major, K. 590
Britten: Quartet No. 2, Op. 36
Beethoven: Quartet in C major, Op. 59, No. 3
Program Notes

Mozart, Quartet in F, K.590

Mozart wrote his Quartet K.590 a year and a half before his death, during the interim between the operas Cosí fan tutte and The Magic Flute. K.590 was the third and last of the Prussian Quartets, so called because they were written for King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, an avid amateur cellist for whom Mozart wrote ambitious and wonderful cello parts.

The Prussian quartets were Mozart’s only forays into the medium to be written on commission, and were undertaken in dire financial circumstances. Mozart ended up unhappy with his fee, writing to his friend Puchberg: “I have now been obliged to give away my quartets (those very difficult works) for a mere song, simply in order to have cash in hand to meet my present difficulties. And for the same reason I am now composing some clavier sonatas.” (Puchberg himself, who was one of Mozart’s masonic brothers, was much more generous with the composer than the king was; there is no shortage of letters in which Mozart asks his friend for help, and Puchberg generally responded by sending money.)

K.590 would turn out to be Mozart’s final quartet; but there is some evidence that his straitened circumstances led him to use, as a shortcut, sketches for a quartet he had made seventeen years earlier. We are thus faced (at least hypothetically) with a historically complex work: an unintended final statement, written at the efficient height of its composer’s powers, which looks both forward and back.

In the first movement, Mozart begins by showing the extraordinary things that can be done with just the three notes of a triad and a scale. The style in this movement is what is known as concertante, in which solo voices are more likely to be highlighted one at a time than to be combined in dialogue and counterpoint. The publisher Artaria advertised all three of the Prussian Quartets as “entirely new concertante quartets” shortly after Mozart’s death; but the concertante style is far more typical of his early work.

The second-movement Allegretto was deemed by Mozart scholar Alfred Einstein to be “one of the most sensitive movements in the whole literature of chamber music … It seems to mingle the bliss and sorrow of a farewell to life. How beautiful life has been! How sad! How brief!” The style may be said to look forward to the music of Beethoven: Mozart crafts his theme from a series of notes more rhythmic than melodic, and then works wonders around it. The minuet, on the other hand, has been compared to the music of Haydn, owing to its prominent dynamic contrasts and, again, an approach to melody which respects rhythm more than it rebels against it. In the finale we at last hear the kind of complex counterpoint Mozart became increasingly fond as he advanced into his final years, that is, his mid-thirties.

 

Britten, String Quartet No. 2 in C

Benjamin Britten was not quite into his mid-thirties (only thirty-two) when he wrote his second string quartet. Nor was the work commissioned by a king for private enjoyment. Instead, it was written for a public concert, given upon the two-hundred-fifty year anniversary of composer Henry Purcell’s death – thus the inscription: “In Homage to Henry Purcell.” The anniversary concert doubled as a fundraiser for famine relief in India; and Britten gave his fee for that cause.

As with Mozart’s last quartet, there is in this work both a sense of newness and an awareness of the past. The Second Quartet was written six months after what is perhaps Britten’s greatest opera, Peter Grimes, and the timing and circumstances of the composition – the connections to both Purcell and Peter Grimes – do much to explain the music Britten wrote, and its two faces.

Britten was a proudly British composer and, as a student in a country that had not given the world many great composers since the early eighteenth century, had early become a lover and proponent of long-ago composers such as Dowland, Byrd, and especially Purcell. His interactions with Purcell’s music ranged from realizations of the continuo bass for some fifty Purcell songs, to the use of a Purcell theme for the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, to the arrangement for modern string orchestra or quartet of a Purcell Chacony written for the royal band known as the Twenty-Four Violins. Regarding this last, the chacony was a favorite form of Purcell’s; it is a variety of passacaglia, a musical form consisting of variations over a repeating bass line, or ground bass. The chacony (or chaconne) is a passacaglia written in triple meter, with a strong second beat and a dotted figure on the third beat. For the third, massive movement of his quartet written in tribute to Purcell, Britten chose to also write a Chacony.

As for the Peter Grimes connection: Peter Grimes is the story of a fisherman living in coastal England who, misunderstood by his neighbors, is accused of murder. By nature, the title character is alternately quiet and wild, not unlike the sea, which has been called the opera’s most important character. One of the story’s most dramatic scenes comes when Peter and his apprentice are climbing a cliff, and the apprentice falls to his death (thus the charge of murder.) Britten writes this scene in the form of a passacaglia: the music begins in a low register, traverses wide-ranging emotional ground, displays extraordinary compositional freedom and inventiveness, and incorporates, further along, vocal solos onstage. Throughout, there is a highly concentrated expressivity, and a sense of spaciousness which calls to mind the sea.

The Chacony Britten wrote six months later for his quartet shares much in atmosphere and structure with the Peter Grimes passacaglia. Instead of vocal solos, it incorporates instrumental ones, which serve to organize the twenty-one variations. The Chacony has four sections: prelude, scherzo, adagio and coda. The first three sections each consist of six variations, and the coda, three. The solos marking off these sections are played by, in order, cello, viola, and violin. The movement begins in B-flat, and ends with multiple iterations of C major, so many that a careless audience might be led into premature applause.

In Britten’s later Third String Quartet, he would use music from his own opera Death in Venice; and the spirit of that opera pervades the entire score of the quartet. Similarly, the influence of Peter Grimes may be found from the opening measures of this quartet, not only in the Chacony. Musicologist Philip Rupprecht has noted that, in the first movement, “lyric episodes, ‘tranquillo,’ are interrupted by ‘agitato’ outbursts. This musical dichotomy suggests the character of Peter Grimes himself, given to states of poetic calm and violent instability.” Additionally, Britten writes this opening movement in spacious textures that recall the opera’s evocations of the sea.

The brief scherzo, in contrast, seems related both to Bartók’s “night music” movements, and to Shostakovich’s furious scherzi.

 

Beethoven, Quartet in C, Op. 59 #3, “Razumovsky”

Beethoven, too, was in his mid-thirties when, some fifteen years after Mozart’s death, he was commissioned by the Russian ambassador in Vienna to write the three Op.59 quartets. Prince Razumovsky’s payment was more generous than King Friedrich Wilhelm’s; and Beethoven responded with three masterpieces, of which the third was the most enthusiastically received by the public. A critic for the taste-making Leipzig weekly, Allgemeine musikalische zeitung, wrote 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 generally comprehensible, with the exception of the third in C major, which must win over every friend of music through its individuality, melody and harmonic strength.”

The accessibility of this third quartet in the set comes (according to general opinion) from a certain retrospective, backward-looking quality. The composer Vincent D’Indy, for example, claimed that the third-movement minuet marked “a return to the music of 1796.” (For the Wagnerite d’Indy, this was no compliment.) Beethoven’s use of a minuet here rather than a scherzo, and his rather uncharacteristic marking of grazioso, are, indeed, unusual. In a less accusatory tone, musicologist Michael Broyles has written that “increasing animation as a means of structural intensification” (a quality that can be heard in the opening movement) “is a Mozartean trademark not typical of Beethoven, and most of those pieces of Beethoven’s that use it have been singled out by scholars for their Mozartean character–e.g. Op. 18 No.6, or Op. 59 No.3.” The first movement’s chromatic introduction, and the seeming unrelatedness of the ensuing Allegro, are also, for “every friend of music,” inevitable reminders of Mozart and his own C Major Quartet, the “Dissonance.” Still another nod to the past comes toward the work’s end. Part of Beethoven’s preparatory work before writing the Op.59 set was to make quartet arrangements of fugues by Haydn and the baroque composers Fux and Muffat. This prep work shows in the fugal writing in the quartet’s brisk finale.

But despite the sometimes retrospective air, this is still middle-period Beethoven; and while there may be many backward-looking elements, there are as many forward-looking ones. For example, regarding the same first-movement introduction that recalls Mozart’s “Dissonance,” composer-critic Philip Radcliffe writes that “it would be hard to find anywhere else in Beethoven’s music a passage that relies so predominantly on color for its own sake.” And of the use of pizzicato in the second movement, the same author writes that “it was in the slow movements of Op.59 Nos. 1 and 3” that Beethoven “first realized to the full its emotional possibilities.” Meanwhile, other writers have called attention to the use of extreme high registers in this and the other Op.59 quartets, a distinct change from Beethoven’s writing in the Op. 18 group, and one which looks forward to the late quartets.

One other feature prefigures the late quartets–the difficulty of the finale, which, beginning with a set of fugal entrances starting with the viola’s, has given rise to a colorful anecdote: it involves a famous quartet, its excitable violist, his very fast tempo, the attempt of the quartet’s cellist to negotiate this tempo–and, finally, a post-concert death threat.

—Sasha Margolis

Sun, Nov 20,  2016
7:30 p.m.
Orvis Auditorium
University of Hawaii-Manoa
2411 Dole St.
Honolulu, HI 96822

Tickets

$45 General Admission
$20 Students

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Or call the the University of Hawaii at Manoa Outreach College at 956-8246