Calidore String Quartet

String Quartet

January 13, 2019, 4 pm

Music Room

The Calidore String Quartet—violinists Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violist Jeremy Berry, and cellist Estelle Choi—won the 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant, and the 2016 inaugural M-Prize Competition sponsored by the University of Michigan School of Music. Founded in 2010, the Calidore Quartet served as Resident Quartet at Stony Brook University from 2014–16. It has given concerts in major European, Asian, and American cities, and in 2018 the Quartet makes its debuts for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the BBC Proms. The Quartet has worked closely with composer Caroline Shaw, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013, and her work co-commissioned by The Phillips Collection will be featured in their program.

Program:

FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartet in F Major, Op. 77, No. 2

CAROLINE SHAW (b. 1989)
Three Essays

INTERMISSION

ROBERT SCHUMANN (1810-56)
String Quartet No. 3 in A Major, Op. 41, No. 3

The Calidore String Quartet’s “deep reserves of virtuosity and irrepressible dramatic instinct” (New York Times) and “balance of intellect and expression” (Los Angeles Times) has won them accolades across the globe and firmly established them as one of the finest chamber music ensembles performing today.

The Calidore String Quartet have garnered the most prestigious prizes for chamber music in North America and Europe including their most recent 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant and, in 2017, the Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award. They made international headlines as the winner of the $100,000 Grand-Prize of the 2016 and inaugural M-Prize International Chamber Music Competition, the largest prize for chamber music in the world. Also in 2016, the Quartet became the first North American ensemble to win the Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship and was named BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists. Within two years of their founding, the Calidore String Quartet won grand prizes in virtually all the major US chamber music competitions, including the Fischoff, Coleman, Chesapeake, and Yellow Springs competitions and captured top prizes at the 2012 ARD Munich International String Quartet Competition and Hamburg International Chamber Music Competition.

The Calidore String Quartet regularly performs in the most prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Wigmore Hall, Berlin Konzerthaus, Cologne Philharmonie, Seoul’s Kumho Arts Hall, and at many significant festivals, including Verbier, Ravinia, Mostly Mozart, Music@Menlo, Rheingau, East Neuk, and Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The Quartet has collaborated with many esteemed artists and ensembles, including Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Joshua Bell, David Shifrin, and the Emerson String Quartet to name a few. Strong advocates of contemporary composers, in the 2016/2017 season the Calidore gave world premieres of works by Pulitzer-prize winner Caroline Shaw in New York, Berlin, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Portland, Detroit, and Belfast, as well as works by Hannah Lash and Benjamin Dean Taylor.

Highlights of the 2017/2018 season included debuts at the BBC Proms, Kennedy Center, and Allice Tully Hall, presented by Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, as well as returns to Wigmore Hall, the Verbier and Music@Menlo Festivals. As protégés of the Emerson Quartet, the Calidore String Quartet will perform a joint program with the Emersons at the Ravinia Festival as well as major series in Portland, Ann Arbor, and Southern California. In addition to their Emerson collaboration, the Calidore will also perform with cellist David Finckel, pianists Wu Han and Alessio Bax, and violist Roberto Diaz. The 2017/2018 season continued the Calidore’s three-year residency with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s CMS Two program.

Franz Joseph Haydn: String Quartet in F Major, Op. 77 No. 2, Hob. III:82
Haydn was at the height of his fame in 1799. As an internationally successful composer who was feted in London and Paris as well Vienna, and whose music was widely published, he had composed string quartets since the late 1750s and over the next four decades he developed and enriched the form, elevating the quartet from the realms of pleasant musical diversions into one with the greatest potential for formal and expressive innovation. Having composed a set of six quartets (Op. 76) for Prince Joseph Erdödy in 1797, Haydn was commissioned in 1799 to write a further set of six for Prince Joseph Franz von Lobkowitz (1772–1816), another of Vienna’s musical aristocrats. Lobkowitz had already helped to sponsor the first performance of Haydn’s Die Schöpfung in 1798, and that year he also commissioned the young Beethoven to compose six quartets (the result was Beethoven’s Op. 18 set). The Prince was an enthusiastic amateur musician, described by one contemporary as being “as kind-hearted as a child ... He played music from dusk to dawn and spent a fortune on musicians. Innumerable musicians gathered in his house.” (One of the most celebrated of these gatherings was in 1804 when his private orchestra gave the premiere of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony in the Palais Lobkowitz.) For reasons that remain something of a mystery, Haydn never completed the set. In a letter dated July 24, 1801 to the publisher Breitkopf & Härtel, Haydn’s friend Georg Christoph Griesinger (whose biography of the composer appeared in 1810) wrote that “the six quartets that Haydn has composed for Lobkowitz are the latter’s private property and Haydn was well paid for them. The first four of them are ready.” If Griesinger was correct about this, then at least two of Haydn’s last set of quartets have been lost—and there is no further mention of them. The two extant Op. 77 quartets were published in 1802, and Haydn’s autograph manuscripts of both works are now in the National Library in Budapest. The Quartet in F Major, Op. 77 No. 2 is thus Haydn’s last complete work in one of the great musical forms that he had made his own (the other being the symphony). 

The F Major Quartet opens with a movement in Sonata Form demonstrating the kind of seemingly effortless musical conversation between the four instruments that is such a familiar part of Haydn’s approach to quartet writing. The Minuet second movement (also in F Major) is marked Presto and is thus Scherzo-like in mood. Full of cross rhythms and witty development of the opening idea, this is music that brilliantly combines verve and ingenuity. The central Trio section is a real surprise: it is the remote key of D-flat Major and has a texture that is a complete contrast. At the end of this section, Haydn provides a link back to the opening in which he shifts the key back to F Major. The Andante, in D Major, is a set of variations that begins with a statement of the theme by the first violin which is mostly accompanied only by the cello. The variations that follow are extraordinarily inventive. In one the cello plays the theme while the viola serves as the bass instrument and the first violin weaves an elaborate kind of instrumental descant over the main melody with great delicacy. This subsequently works towards a dramatic high point (all four instruments rushing up a scale) to prepare for a return of the opening, now fully harmonized by the whole quartet. The finale, back in the home key of F Major, is an exuberant movement that takes its inspiration from the rhythms of the Polonaise, a dance that was also used by Mozart and Beethoven. 

Nigel Simeone, 2019

Caroline Shaw: Three Essays
I fell in love with playing in a string quartet when I was about 10, and it’s been a love and obsession ever since. It’s an amazing way to converse musically with others, and you can really get a sense of someone’s personality through reading a quartet with them for the first time. I had the good fortune of getting to play in a quartet with the Calidore cellist, Estelle Choi, back in grad school, so of course that experience feeds into my writing for the group. I also love the way that they play together, and their approach to timing and phrasing.

I was lucky enough to write a piece for the Calidore Quartet in 2016—First Essay: Nimrod—which was my eighth string quartet. This was a slight departure for me. Instead of beginning with a visual concept or harmonic idea, I decided to try and start from words and language, thinking about syntax and style and form in prose writing. I started writing the piece in the calm and optimism of an audio recording of Marilynne Robinson reading from her book The Givenness of Things and completed it during the turmoil of the US Presidential election in November 2016, hence the disintegration of elements that occurs through the piece. This consideration of the essay-writing process—how we generate, understand, and organize language and thought—is very interesting to me, and I wanted to approach it from two more angles, which is what I have done in these Second and Third Essays.

The Second Essay: Echo is a stylistic contrast to the first and third, in the spirit of a typical “slow movement” nested between two quick ones. The title touches on a number of references: the concept of the “echo chamber” that social media fosters in our political discourse; the “echo” function in the Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP) programming language; and of course the effect of an echo. The Third Essay: Ruby returns to the fragmentation and angularity that was introduced in the First Essay but attempts to tame it into some kind of logical structure. The title refers both to the programming language Ruby (developed in Japan in the mid-1990s) as well the simple beauty of the gem stone for which the language was named. It’s more a point of inspiration than a strict system of generating material.

I think about conversation and flow whenever I’m composing, but I have never really started from that place. It’s often a fun game for me, writing music. Like designing your own game environment and then solving the puzzles that crop up. I love reading an essay by a favorite writer (lately it’s been Kathryn Schulz and Doreen St. Félix) and seeing how they dance around a thesis before slipping it in brilliantly in a way you weren’t expecting. I like trying to do that with music.

I keep coming back to the string quartet—even though there are now so many possibilities for combinations of sounds and instruments—because it has been around for so long and has such clear parameters. And I love the dialogue with the repertoire that came before. It’s part of the joy of designing and destroying and solving the puzzle of music. You can love the rules and undermine them at the same time.

Caroline Shaw, 2018

Robert Schumann: String Quartet No. 3 in A Major, Op. 41, No. 3
In 1839, Franz Liszt had written to Schumann encouraging him to compose “a few chamber music works, trios, quintets or septets.” Up to this point in his career, all of Schumann’s published works had been for solo piano, including two sonatas, the Fantasie in C Major, and several major cycles of character pieces such as Kreisleriana and the Davidsbündlertänze, but he was already feeling the need to compose for different forces, writing to Clara Wieck in 1838, “the piano has become too limited for me.” In 1840, the year in which he married Clara, he turned to song (including Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe und -leben) and in 1841 composed his First Symphony and the original version of the Fourth. It was not until 1842 that Schumann followed his own inclinations—and Liszt’s advice—by composing a remarkable body of chamber music in the space of a few months: the three string quartets, Piano Quintet, and Piano Quartet were all written between June and October 1842. Schumann had been contemplating writing string quartets since at least 1839: that year he wrote to his friend Hermann Hirschbach, “I am thinking about writing some string quartets” and, a few weeks later, “I am living through some of Beethoven’s last quartets, even to the love and hate that are in them.” Schumann also immersed himself in the quartets of Haydn and Mozart, and by the time he started to compose his own quartets in June 1842 he was thoroughly prepared. All three quartets were completed in the space of a few weeks. The last of the set, in A Major, was written in mid-July (the first movement was finished on July 18, the second on July 20, and the whole work by July 22). All three of the String Quartets were dedicated to Schumann’s friend Felix Mendelssohn. The parts were published by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig in February 1843 but the first public performance of No. 3 did not take place until five years later, in a concert at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on January 18, 1848.

The Quartet opens with a brief slow introduction, the melody beginning with a falling fifth (harmonized in an unusual way that echoes the start of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 31, No. 3). In the space of these few measures, Schumann implants this idea in the listener’s consciousness—and then launches the main Allegro molto moderato with the same falling phrase. The second theme is a flowing melody presented over a syncopated accompaniment. Throughout the movement, the mood is one of a gentle, amiable exploration of these two memorable ideas. At the close, a short coda emphasizes the importance of the falling fifths, initially in the first violin, and finally, under unadorned A Major triads by the cello. The second movement, in F-sharp minor, is marked Assai agitato. It begins with a breathless, uneasy idea full of rhythmic ambiguities, and what follows is a set of free variations, each sharply contrasted and ending with a dream-like passage which closes in F-sharp Major. The Adagio molto is in D Major. Solemn and songlike, it opens with an eloquent theme played by the first violin over a richly-harmonized accompaniment. A more turbulent passage, driven by dotted march-like rhythms, gives way to a lyrical return of the opening music which is developed and extended. As the movement nears its end, the dotted rhythms propel the music with quiet determination before eventually settling on a chord of D Major. In Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music (1929), the editor wrote of this movement: “Here is the romantic Schumann in his most romantic mood, unashamed; but the mood is clarified and sustained in a higher flight than he obtained in his earlier years.” The finale is a vigorous Rondo. One episode marked “Quasi Trio” comes as a surprise with its elegant allusion to the Gavotte from Bach’s French Suite in E Major. The energetic rhythms of the movement’s main theme give this final movement its motive power and it is this idea that forms the basis the triumphant coda. 

Nigel Simeone, 2019