Between tours, Takács Quartet plays hometown concerts March 6–7 and April 10–11

Programs include Haydn, Shostakovich, Dvořák, Schumann, Mendelssohn

By Peter Alexander March 4 at 1:25 p.m.

COVID-19 is, momentarily, receding, and the Takács Quartet is back to a full performing schedule.

They had to cancel several concert tours over the past two years, but not in 2022. “We just came home from Princeton, Berkeley and Los Angeles,” the group’s cellist, András Fejér, explains. “And now we will go to New York, Sarasota, Los Angeles and San Francisco.”

Around and between those trips, they have their usual concerts on the CU campus: music by Haydn, Shostakovich and Dvořák March 6 and 7; and music by Schumann performed with pianist David Korevaar, and Mendelssohn with the CU graduate quartet in residence, the Ivalas Quartet, April 10 and 11 (see performance details below).

Takács Quartet. L-R: Edward Dusinberre, András Fejér, Harumi Rhodes, Richard O’Neill. Image by
Amanda Tipton Photography

Except for the interruption caused by the pandemic, touring is a normal part of life for the Takács Quartet. “It’s a nice chugging-along routine,” Fejér says. “We just say we would love to tour, say, 10 days each month in the States, and that gives us enough time to rehearse and teach and rest a little.” They also make longer tours every year to Europe and Asia, all arranged through their agents.

Joseph Haydn. Painting by Thomas Hardy.

Like the Takács now, Haydn had just returned from touring in 1796, in his case home to Vienna from two trips to London. Upon his return, an aristocratic patron commissioned a set of six quartets, published a few years later as Op. 76. These works are considered the pinnacle of Haydn’s quartet composition.

The Fourth Quartet of the set, known as the “Sunrise Quartet,” opens the Takacs’s March concerts—but Fejér wants you to know that Haydn is not “just a warmup piece” for the rest of the program. “I mean, the guy invented the (string quartet)!” he says. “We are just in awe—(playing his music) is a constant wonderment. Even familiar pieces, we try to dig deeper. We always try to give his music justice.”

Likewise, Dvořák wrote his G major String Quartet, the final piece on the program, soon after returning home from his years in America. It is considered one of the composer’s most profoundly expressive quartets, particularly the meditative slow movement.

The quartet has enjoyed exploring Dvořák ‘s score. “It’s fascinating for us,” Fejér says. “Its scope is unprecedented, in length and orchestration. Most of the time it sounds totally symphonic. He goes left and right and returns—just totally unpredictable and delightful. We love it.”

Dmitri Shostakovich

Between Haydn and Dvořák, the Takács will play Shostakovich’s Eleventh Quartet. Written in memory of a violinist with the Beethoven Quartet, which was long associated with Shostakovich’s music, the Eleventh Quartet is an austere work that uses the instruments sparingly. It’s seven movements are anything but cheerful, but as Fejér says, with Shostakovich “cheerful is not the first description which would come to mind.

“I’m always amazed about the simplicity of his motifs. How such simple notes can work in mysterious ways on the audience is unbelievable. You cannot put together a more simple music and somehow the effect on audiences is mesmerizing. I notice it every time.”

For the April concerts the quartet has programmed two pieces, each of which includes invited guests. First they will be joined by pianist David Korevaar to perform Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet. Written in 1842 and dedicated by the composer to his wife, Clara, it is the first major quintet written for piano and string quartet.

Schumann alternates between intimate passages that feature conversational exchanges among the five instruments, and nearly symphonic passages that feature the four strings together against the piano. At a time when chamber performances were first moving into the concert hall, Schumann helped create the model for the quintets that followed by Brahms, Dvořák and Franck, all destined for the concert hall.

The April program concludes with another piece that had no precedent, the Octet for Strings, which the Takács will play with the members of the Ivalas Quartet. Like the Schumann Quintet, the combination of instruments was unprecedented when Mendelssohn wrote the Octet at the age of 17, and it’s one of the most magical pieces to come out of the Romantic era. “It’s such an adrenalin rush (to play it),” Fejér says.

Ivalas Quartet. L-R Aimée MsAnulty, Tiani Butts, Reuden Kebede, Pedro Sánchez.

“It’s wonderful and makes you humble all over again. Comparing what most of us had been doing at 17, it’s even more impressive.”

Fejér gives two reasons that he is looking forward to playing the Octet. First, he says, “we love playing with additional people because the function of our individual instruments is different from a string quartet. I’m not playing as much bass line as I usually do, (and) I enjoy the different role very much.”

The second reason is the opportunity to share the stage with the their students in the Ivalas Quartet. “It is their final month in April at CU of their three years, and we loved working with them,” Fejér says.

“We look forward very much to have fun with capital letters with this Mendelssohn Octet!”

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Takács Quartet

  • Haydn: String Quartet in B-flat Major. op.76 no. 4 (“Sunrise”)
  • Shostakovich: String Quartet Nr.11, op.122
  • Dvořák: String Quartet No. 13 in G-major, op.106

4 p.m. Sunday, March 6
7:30 p.m. Monday, March 7
Grusin Music Hall

TICKETS

Takács Quartet and guests

  • Schumann: Quintet for piano and strings in E-flat major, op. 44
    With David Korevaar, piano
  • Mendelssohn Octet for Strings in E-flat major, op. 2
    With the Ivalas Quartet

4 p.m. Sunday, April 10
7:30 p.m. Monday, April 11
Grusin Music Hall

TICKETS

NOTE: Digital tickets are available for both programs

Colorado Music Festival announces its 2022 festival programs

Takács Quartet, composer John Adams will be among the featured artists

By Peter Alexander Jan. 19 at 3 p.m.

CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian

The Colorado Music Festival (CMF) announced its 2022 festival season last night (Jan. 18) in an event live-streamed from the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.

During the hour-long event, music director Peter Oundjian introduced the concerts that are scheduled during the festival, planned for June 30–Aug. 7. “Every festival should be a celebration,” he said by way of introduction. “This is no exception. It’s a very eclectic series of programs.”

John Adams. Photo by Riccardo Musacchio

Also speaking remotely from his home in California was composer John Adams, who will be composer in residence during the festival. He will conduct parts of two concerts that feature his music, and he also helped Oundjian curate the “Music of Today” week, July 11–17, which will feature works by contemporary composers most of whom are still living.

The announced programs for the summer make good on Oundjian’s intention to make the festival a lively event that both honors the great works of the past and recognizes the music and composers of today. There have been times in the past when the CMF seemed unfocused and unadventurous, but under Oundjian’s leadership that has changed. Through thoughtful programming, the participation of figures like Adams and some remarkable young performers, the CMF is becoming an event worthy of broad attention.

Wang Jie

As part of the emphasis on music of today, this year’s festival will include three premieres: the world premiere of a commissioned work by Timo Andres (July 14); the world premiere of Wang Jie’s Flying on the Scaly Backs of Our Mountains (Aug. 4); and the Colorado premiere of a work co-commissioned from Wynton Marsalis (Aug. 7). 

Introducing these works, Oundjian noted that “We always love to have premieres at the festival. It’s so important for us to hear new ideas and to give opportunities to composers.”

In addition to Adams, other composers featured during the “Music of Today” series include Steven Ellison (known as Flying Lotus), Anne Müller, Philip Glass, Caroline Shaw, Stacy Garrop, Valerie Coleman, Osvaldo Golijov, John Corigliano and Christopher Rouse, among others (see the full summer program below).

In addition to the Music of Today, interest in the 2022 festival will be generated by the inclusion of composers who are outside the standard repertoire. African-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor will be represented by his Fantasiestücke for String Quartet (July 5) and Solemn Prelude for orchestra (July 21­–22); and African-American composer Florence Price will be represented by her Violin Concerto No. 2 (also July 21–22). Starburst by the young American composer Jessie Montgomery will be played on July 31, outside of the Music of Today programs.

Danish String Quartet

Concerts of chamber music on Tuesday nights will form the second Robert Mann Chamber Music Series, named for the founding first violinist of the Juilliard Quartet. The series will feature the Takács Quartet playing music by Haydn, Dvořák and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (July 5); the Attacca Quartet in a wide-ranging program of contemporary pieces during Music of Today (July 12); and the Danish String Quartet in a creative program that includes a collection of folk music from Britain. Other chamber concerts will feature members of the CMF Orchestra.

The Takács Quartet will also be featured on opening night, marking their return to the Chautauqua stage for their first live performances at CMF since 2004. They will be soloists with the CMF Orchestra in a performance of Adams’s Absolute Jest. Other works on the opening night program are Fate Now Conquers by Carlos Simon and Dvořák’s Symphony “From the New World.”

Simone Dinnerstein. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Other featured soloists during the summer will include pianist Jan Lisiecki performing all of Beethoven’s piano concertos in programs that also honor the 150th birthday of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (July 7, 8 and 10); pianist Jeremy Denk playing Adams’s Must the Devil have all the Good Tunes? (July 17); violinist Randall Goosby playing Price’s Violin Concerto No. 2 (July 21–22); pianist Simone Dinnerstein on an all-Mozart program (July 24); pianist Gabriela Montero playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor (July 28–29); and clarinetist Anthony McGill (Aug. 4).

Conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni, former music director of CMF, returns to lead two programs (July 28–29 and 31). The award-winning young American conductor Ryan Bancroft will also lead the orchestra in two programs (July 21–22 and 24).

Reverting to past patterns, there will be three pairs of Festival Orchestra concerts with the same program on Thursday and Friday nights, with the Thursday performance at 7:30 p.m. and the Friday performance at 6:30 p.m. (June 30–July 1; July 21–22; July 28–29). The annual Family Concert will be Sunday, July 3, with Tubby the Tuba and Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.

The 2022 Festival ends on Sunday, Aug. 7, with the Colorado premiere of a fanfare by Wynton Marsalis and Mahler’s massive Fifth Symphony, which Oundjian described last night as “virtuosic for the orchestra, incredibly entertaining for all of us.

“The final moments of Mahler 5 are as exuberant as music can possibly get. There is no greater way to witness a symphony orchestra than to come and listen to a Mahler symphony!”

Single tickets to the 2022 Festival will be available for purchase on the CMF website beginning March 1. You may also email  tickets@comusic.org, or call 303-440-7666. At this time, CMF states that they will follow recommended and required COVID guidelines during the 2022 festival. Any specific rules have not yet been announced.

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Colorado Music Festival 2022
All performances at Chautauqua Auditorium

7:30 pm. Thursday, June 30: Opening Night
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 1
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with the Takács Quartet

  • Carlos Simon: Fate Now Conquers (2020)
  • John Adams: Absolute Jest (2012) 
  • Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 in E minor (“From the New World”)

11 a.m. Sunday, July 3: Family Concert
Maurice Cohn, conductor, with Really Inventive Stuff

  • George Kleinsinger: Tubby the Tuba
  • Benjamin Britten: Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 5
Takács Quartet

  • Joseph Haydn: String Quartet in F Major, op. 77 no. 2
  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Fantasiestücke for String Quartet
  • Dvořák: String Quartet No. 13 in G Major

7:30 pm. Thursday, July 7
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Jan Lisiecki, piano

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major
    —Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor

6:30 p.m. Friday, July 8
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Jan Lisiecki, piano

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Overture to The Wasps 
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major
    —Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 10
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Jan Lisiecki, piano

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5 in D major
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major (“Emperor”)

——-Music of Today——-

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 12
Attacca Quartet

  • John Adams: selections from John’s Book of Alleged Dances 
  • Flying Lotus: Clock Catcher
    Remind U
    Pilgrim Side Eye
  • Anne Müller: Drifting Circles 
  • Louis Cole: Real Life
  • Philip Glass: String Quartet No. 3, “Mishima”
  • Caroline Shaw: The Evergreen
  • Gabriella Smith: Carrot Revolution

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 14
Peter Oundjian and John Adams, conductors
With Samuel Adams, composer; Tessa Lark, violin; and Timothy McAllister, saxophone

  • Timo Andre: world premiere commission 
  • Samuel Adams: Chamber Concerto 
  • John Adams: City Noir

7:30 p.m. Friday, July 15: Kaleidoscope
Timo Andres, piano; Tessa Lark, violin; Timothy McAllister, saxophone; and members of the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra

  • David Skidmore: Ritual Music 
  • Stacy Garrop: Reborn in flames (from Phoenix Rising)
  • Osvaldo Golijov: Last Round
  • Valerie Coleman: Red Clay & Mississippi Delta for Wind Quintet
  • Timo Andres: Honest Labor 
  • Roshanne Etezady: Recurring Dreams 
  • John Corigliano: STOMP 
  • Philip Glass: Etude No. 6 
  • John Adams: Road Movie

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 17
Peter Oundjian and John Adams, conductors, Jeremy Denk, piano

  • Gabriella Smith: Tumblebird Contrails 
  • John Adams: Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? 
  • Christopher Rouse: Symphony No. 6

—————————

7:30 Tuesday, July 19: Flavors of Russia
Members of the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra

  • Borodin: String Sextet in D minor
  • Mikhail Glinka: Trio Pathétique in D minor
  • Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence Sextet in D Minor, op. 70

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 21
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 22
Ryan Bancroft, conductor, with Randall Goosby violin

  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Solemn Prelude
  • Florence Price: Violin Concerto No. 2
  • Saint-Saëns: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, op. 28
  • Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D major

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 24
Ryan Bancroft, conductor, with Simone Dinnerstein, piano

  • Mozart: Serenade in C minor for winds, K388 
    —Piano Concerto B-flat major, K595 
    —Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K543

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 26
Members of the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra

  • Mozart: Flute Quartet in D Major, K285
  • Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson: Movement for String Trio
  • Dvořák: Terzetto in C Major, op. 74
  • Brahms: Clarinet Quintet in B minor, op. 115

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 28
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 29
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor, with Gabriela Montero, piano

  • Mussorgsky, arr. Rimsky-Korsakov: Night on Bald Mountain
  • Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor
  • Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major

6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 31
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor with Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson and Abigail Nims, sopranos; John de Lancie and Marnie Mosiman, actors

  • Jessie Montgomery: Starburst 
  • Georges Bizet: Symphony No. 1 in C major 
  • Felix Mendelssohn: Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2
Danish String Quartet

  • Henry Purcell, arr. Benjamin Britten: Chacony in G minor
  • Folk Music from the British Isles, arr. Danish String Quartet
  • Schubert: String Quartet No. 15 in G major, D. 887

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Anthony McGill, clarinet

  • Wang Jie: Flying On the Scaly Backs of Our Mountains (world premiere) 
  • Carl Maria von Weber: Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor 
  • Debussy: Première Rhapsodie for clarinet and orchestra
  • Stravinsky: Suite from The Firebird (1919) 
Peter Oundjian with the CMF Orchestra. Photo by Michael Emsinger

6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7: Festival Finale Concerto
Peter Oundjian, conductor

  • Wynton Marsalis: Fanfare (Colorado premiere)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor

Takács Quartet show goes on, with revised program

Live performances Jan. 9 and 10 in Grusin Hall also available online

By Peter Alexander Jan. 6 at 11:25 a.m.

So far this year, COVID has not stopped the music. The Takács Quartet will begin their spring 2022 series of concerts on the CU campus as planned, with performances Sunday and Monday (Jan. 9 and 10) in Grusin Hall.

Takács quartet. Image by Amanda Tipton Photography.

They will not, however, play the program that was originally announced. Pianist David Korevaar was scheduled to perform the Schumann Quintet in E-flat major, op. 44, but he is unavailable due to possible exposure to COVID. Korevaar reports that he feels fine, and he will perform the Schumann Quintet with the Takács Quartet later in the semester.

To fill his place on the January program, the quartet turned to members Harumi Rhodes and Richard O’Neill, violin and viola, who will play the Mozart Duo in G major, K423. The full ensemble will finish out the concert with the new String Quartet No. 1 by Stephen Hough, subtitled “Les Six rencontres” (The six encountered), and the String Quartet in F major by Maurice Ravel.

Both the Sunday and Monday performances will be open to an in-person audience, and will also be available for streaming from 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon until 11 p.m. Monday, Jan. 17. In-person and online tickets can be purchased from CU Presents

At this time, face masks are required in all buildings on the CU campus.

Stephen Hough

Widely celebrated as a pianist, Hough is also active as a composer of works for a variety of media including chamber music, piano solo and choral works, among others. The Takács Quartet asked him to write a piece for string quartet to fill out a recording of Ravel’s String Quartet and Ainsi le Nuit (Thus the night) for string quartet by Henri Dutilleux, which the Takács played in Grusin last fall.

The title of Hough’s quartet—“Les Six rencontres”—refers to a group of composers known as “Les Six” (The six) who were a prominent part of French musical life between Ravel in the early years of the 20th century, and Dutilleux in the second half of the century. The six composers—Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc and Germaine Tailleferre—are not quoted directly in the score but occur “as an echo,” Hough wrote.

The title is also a pun, as the quartet is in six movements. Hough wrote in his program notes that the work “evokes a flavor more than a style. . . . seeing life through a burlesque lens is one recurring ingredient.” The titles of the six movements evoke places in Paris where one might have encountered the composers of “Les Six”—the boulevard, the park, the theater and so forth.

Ravel composed his one string quartet in 1902–03, when he was 28. Largely classical in form, it was inspired by, and in some ways modeled on, the String Quartet of Debussy that had been written a decade before. It remains one of Ravel’s most popular works.

Mozart wrote two duos for violin and viola in 1783 during a visit with his family in Salzburg. They were written as a favor for Michael Haydn, the brother of Joseph Haydn, who was court composer to the Archbishop of Salzburg and a friend of the Mozart family. Haydn was supposed to write six duos for the Archbishop but had fallen ill, and Mozart agreed to finish the set for him. 

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Takács Quartet
Edward Dusinberre and Harumi Rhodes, violin; Richard O’Neill, viola; András Fejér, cello

  • Mozart: Duo for Violin and Viola, K423
    Harumi Rhodes and Richard O’Neill
  • Hough: String Quartet No. 1, “Les Six rencontres” (The six encountered)
  • Ravel: String Quartet in F Major

In-person performances:
4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 9
7:30 p.m. Monday. Jan. 10
Grusin Hall, CU Imig Music Building

Streamed performance: 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 9, through 11 p.m. Monday, Jan. 17

Tickets for all performances available HERE.

The Parker Quartet from Harvard will perform Sunday and Monday at CU

They will play in Grusin Hall as guests of CU’s Takacs Quartet

By Peter Alexander Nov. 17 at 5:20 p.m.

The Parker Quartet may be the only string quartet named for a hotel.

Formed when the original members were students at the New England Conservatory, they wanted a name that reflected their connection to Boston. “None of us is from Boston, but we call Boston home,” says Ken Hamao, the quartet’s second violinist. “To have a landmark from the city to name ourselves after was appropriate.”

Parker Quartet. Photo by Luke Ratray

Today the Parker Quartet members maintain their ties to Boston, as Blodgett Artists-in-residence and faculty at Harvard University’s department of music. 

The landmark is the Parker House, which you may recognize from dinner rolls but which was an important gathering place for America’s literary figures in the 19th century, including Emerson, Hawthorne and Thoreau, and later for politicians including presidents U.S. Grant, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton.

The Parker Quartet will perform at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21, and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22, in Grusin Hall. They are appearing in the guest slot on the fall concert series of CU’s Takacs Quartet. Their eclectic program features the Lyric Suite by Alban Berg and the Third String Quartet of Robert Schumann, as well as shorter works by Adolphus Hailstork and György Kurtág.

Both in-person and digital tickets can be purchased from CU Presents. Masks are required in all indoor spaces in the CU campus, regardless of vaccination status.

Alban Berg

The central work on the program is Berg’s Lyric Suite, an emotionally and musically challenging work in six intense movements. It has always been seen as a dramatic and passionate piece of music, but more than 50 years after it was written in 1926, a secret “program” was found embedded in the score that explained the intensity of the music.

A combination of musical initials standing for the composer and his lover, multiple other musical symbols, the inclusion of Wagner’s Tristan chord and other musical references, all reflect Berg’s passionate and illicit affair with a married woman, Hanna Fuchs-Robettin. Even the movement titles suggest the subject: amoroso (lovingly), appassionato (passionately) and estatico (ecstatic).

But you don’t need to know the story to appreciate the music, Hamao says. “For us as performers, it helps us to get into the composer’s mindset, but on its own it’s just a very dynamic work, hugely expressive,” he says.

“We’ve been talking about performing it for many years, and after so many years you want to tell each other, ‘Let’s just go for it’. It’s really exciting (because) it has that drama, the very, very highs and the very, very lows of the affair. It did make sense (with) the Schumann as a companion piece. The Lyric Suite is as passionate as it also is desolate, while the Schumann is more uplifting.”

Calra Schumann. Portrait by Franz von Lenbach

Hamao describes the Schumann Third Quartet as representing a different kind of romantic love, that of the composer for his wife, Clara Schumann. “It’s just a love letter to his wife,” he says. “From the very first two notes that you hear, this Clara motive, he’s yearning for his wife. From the first page it’s a declaration of love.”

Hailstork’s Adagio is a piece that the quartet discovered more recently. “It was a piece that we fell in love with immediately and wanted to program it as soon as we can,” Hamao says. “In a program that can be as intense as the Lyric Suite can be, having this beautiful Adagio made a lot of sense to us.

“I think of it as an incredibly beautiful piece that kind of discovers itself throughout the whole piece. It’s definitely tonal but has what you might call notes that don’t quite belong to the scale. For a beautiful piece there’s a lot of surprises, but at the end of the day it’s a really gorgeous movement.”

Kurtág’s Aus der Ferne (From the distance) V is one of a group of pieces for different media. Two of are for string quartet—Aus der Ferne III and V. The Parker Quartet has worked directly with the composer in the past, and recently released a CD recording of his quartets, including those two miniatures. 

“Kurtág has an incredible ability to tap into the idea of drama,” Hamao says. “There is a sense of narrative. I don’t think there is an explicit one, but an abstract narrative. He’s able to pack a story into two minutes of music. [He has] this incredible ability to create a lot of expression through quite minimal means.”

Whatever narrative you discover will have to be “in each listener’s imagination,” Hamao says, but that is part of the reward for both performer and listener.

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Parker Quartet

  • Adolphus Hailstork: Adagio from String Quartet No. 1
  • György Kurtág: Aus der Ferne V (From the distance)
  • Alban Berg: Lyric Suite
  • Schumann: String Quartet No. 3, Op. 41 No. 3

4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21
7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22
Grusin Recital Hall, CU Imig Music Building

In-person and Sunday live stream tickets available from CU Presents

Grace Notes: Reminders of two concerts this coming weekend

By Peter Alexander Oct. 28 at 9:50 p.m.

Boulder Phil presents “The Art of Jazz” Saturday at Mountain View Methodist

The Boulder Philharmonic will perform the second of their two short concerts scheduled for the month of October at 4 p.m Saturday, Oct. 30, in the Mountain View United Methodist  church in Boulder.

Tickets are available through the Boulder Phil Web page. Audience members will be required to present proof of vaccination and wear masks throughout the concert. The short program will be presented without intermission, to reduce interaction among audience members. You may read the orchestra’s full, up-to-date COVID protocols here.  

The program features three pieces for small orchestra that were influenced by American jazz: the Jazz Suite No. 1 by Shostakovich, Darius Milhaud’s Creation of the World, and Little Threepenny Music, an orchestral suite arranged from the music for Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera. Michael Butterman will conduct. You may read more about this performance in an earlier post on this blog.

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Takacs Quartet performs music by Mozart, Henri Dutilleux and Smatana

The Takacs Quartet will present the second of their 2021-22 campus concerts at 4 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, in Grusin Music Hall of the CU Imig Music Building.

Masks must be worn inside all buildings on the CU campus. Please note that online streaming tickets for Sunday’s performance are also available, and the stream will remain available for a full week following the Monday performance. Tickets for both in-person attendance at the streamed performance are available through CU Presents.

The quartet will play three works on the concert. One is a familiar part of the standard string quartet repertoire: Mozart’s String Quartet in D minor, K421/417b. The others are less familiar: Ainsi la suit by the French composer Henri Dutilleux, and the String Quartet No. 1 in E minor, “From my Life,” by Smetana. You may read more about this performance in an earlier post on this blog.

Takács Quartet recording wins Gramophone award for 2021

Piano Quintet recording with pianist Garrick Ohlsson winner in chamber category

By Peter Alexander Sept. 28 at 11:30 a.m.

The London-based classical music monthly Gramophone recently announced the winners of their Classical Music Awards for 2021, including a recording by the Takács Quartet and pianist Garrick Ohlsson in the chamber music category.

Primarily a magazine devoted to reviews of new recordings, Gramophone annually selects the recordings it considers to be the best in a variety of categories. For 2021, the winner in the Chamber Music category is Ohlsson and the Takács’s recording of piano quintets by Sir Edward Elgar and Amy Beach. This CD was reviewed on this site earlier this year.

Jeremy Dibble’s Gramophone review, which is included in the announcement of the winner, states “Ohlsson and the Takács are to be congratulated for the warmth of their interpretation and for their ability to encompass the challenging range of Elgar’s complex moods.”

You may see the full list of 2021 Gramophone Classical Music Awards winners here. The winners are all automatically in contention for Gramophone’s award for Classical Music Recording of the Year. That award will be announced at the Gramophone Awards ceremony, which will be available online at 12 noon MDT (7 p.m. BST) Tuesday, Oct. 5, on the Gramophone YouTube channel.

Takács Quartet opens 2021–22 campus concert series Sunday

Performances will be available for in-person attendance and streaming

By Peter Alexander Sept. 10 at 4:30 p.m.

The CU College of Music and the resident Takács Quartet go into the 2021–22 academic year with a full schedule of on-campus concerts.

Naturally, this marks a change from last year, when COVID-19 and construction in the Imig Music Building prevented the usual activities in the college from taking place in person. What effect the emergence of the Delta Variant of COVID-19 will have remains unknown, but for now the live series gets under way at 4 p.m. Sunday (Sept. 12) in Grusin Music Hall with a full concert program. The Takács series also includes guest performances by the Parker Quartet from Harvard University.

Takács Quartet— Amanda Tipton, Photographer

At this time, masks are required in public indoor spaces on the CU Boulder campus regardless of vaccination status. Furthermore, an order from Boulder County Public Health also mandates masks indoors in public spaces throughout Boulder County. This order applies, regardless of vaccination status, to all persons age two and up. Dates in the future remain subject to any changes in university policy. 

As in past years, all Sunday Takács programs are scheduled to be repeated on Monday evenings. Each concert will also be available through a ticketed live stream Sunday afternoon that will remain available up to one week after the Monday performances. Details and tickets to live performances and the streams are available through CU Presents.

In addition to familiar works from the standard repertoire—quartets by Haydn, Mozart and Schubert—the Takács Quartet will play two important works by Czech composers that are heard less often. These are the String Quartet No. 2 by Leoš Janáček, titled “Intimate Letters” by the composer (Sept. 12 & 13); and the String Quartet No. 1 by Smetana, titled ”From My Life” (Oct. 31 & Nov. 1).

Written in 1928, Janáček’s Quartet No. 2 was inspired by the composer’s unrequited love for a married woman nearly 40 years his junior. The title refers to the more than 700 letters between Janáček and the woman, Kamila Stösslová, who remained emotionally distant but was with the composer when he died. Janáček wrote to Stösslová, “You stand behind every note” of the quartet.

One of his last works, the quartet was premiered a month after Janáček’s death.

Smetana’s quartet was also written relatively late in the composer’s life and is also autobiographical. The name “From My Life” was provided by the composer, making the quartet, and along with Janáček’s Quartet No. 2, one of the few deliberately programmatic chamber works. 

The first three movements refer to different stages in Smetana’s life—his youthful romanticism, his love for dancing as a young man, and his love for his wife. The final movement dramatizes the persistent ringing that developed in the composer’s ears in his later years, represented by a sustained high E, and his subsequent loss of hearing.

The quartet was composed in 1876 and given its official public premiere in 1879. For an earlier private performance the viola part, which has a prominent solo at the beginning of the first movement, had been played by the young Dvořák.

Another lesser known work will be performed during the fall, Henri Dutilleux’s Aini la nuit (“Thus the night”) Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. Composed over period of years 1973–76, Dutilleux’s quartet was inspired in part by the quartets of Beethoven, Bartók and the 12-tone works of Anton Webern.

A meticulous composer who has a relatively small output, Dutilleux was not a strict adherent of serialism, although he does make use of pitch series. The quartet, aimed at evoking a sense of the night, is in seven strongly contrasting movements with four very short interludes he called “parentheses” serving as transitions between movements.

Though performed relatively infrequently, Ainsi la nuit is regarded as one of the most important works for string quartet from the late 20th century.

Parker Quartet. Photo by Luke Ratray.

The Parker Quartet, whose members are Blodget Artsists-in-Residence at Harvard University’s College of Music, will complete the fall series with guest performances Nov. 21–22. Their program has not yet been announced.

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Takács Quartet
Fall 2021 concert series

Takács Quartet

  • Haydn: String Quartet in F minor, Op. 20 No. 5 
  • Leoš Janáček: String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters” 
  • Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, “Death and the Maiden”

4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 12; 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13
Grusin Music Hall 

Takács Quartet

  • Mozart: String Quartet in D minor, K421
  • Henri Dutilleux: Ainsi la Nuit
  • Smetana: String Quartet No. 1 “From My Life”

4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 31; 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 1
Grusin Music Hall 

Parker Quartet

  • Program TBA

4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21; 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22
Grusin Music Hall 

In addition to live performances, each concert will be streamed live on  Sundays, and each stream will remain available until one week following the Monday performances. Details and tickets to both live performances and the streams are available through CU Presents.

Tickets available for Sunday’s concert by Takács Quartet

Music by Haydn, Schubert, Dutilleux: Stream available through May 10

By Peter Alexander April 7 at 12:30 p.m.

The CU-based Takács Quartet has played a series of concerts in Grusin Hall this year, but you can be forgiven if you missed them. They were played without an audience, and most of the live streams were available only to season ticket holders.

The final concert of ’20-21, at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 11, will again be in an empty hall, but tickets for the stream are available to the general public. The performance will be streamed live at 4 p.m., and the stream will remain available through Monday, May 10.

David Requiro

Cellist and CU faculty member David Requiro will join the Takács for Schubert’s much loved Quintet in C major for Strings, D956. Other works on the program will be two quartets by Joseph Haydn—Op. 42 and Op. 103, both in D minor—and the atmospheric Ainsi la nuit (Thus the night) by 20th-century French composer Henri Dutilleux.

András Fejér, the quartet’s cellist, has been with the Takács since it was founded in 1975. He has played everything on the program many times, but he never gets tired of his job. “The literature is so incredibly rich!” he says. “One can argue and counter argue on any page of any of the pieces for lifetime. It’s a joy to listen to (other players’) ideas.”

Take for example the two Haydn quartets that will open the program. “With Haydn, whenever we start learning and studying you are just swept away by his generosity of ideas—surprising key changes, character changes and trickery,” he says.

Fejér believes the “trickery,” for which Haydn is well known, was done for the composer to entertain his audience—and himself. “If you spend 40 years in a palace on the Austro-Hungarian border, however generous your patron is, you need to care about your own entertainment,” he says.

Some of the fun also comes from Haydn’s contact with the local peasants, Fejér believes. “They were full of joy, they were full of rowdiness, probably some dancing, and we can find most of it on those pages. Hopefully you will see the enjoyment in our body language, and you will be transported into the 18th-century. It’s got such spice and an earthy, primal energy. Wonderful!”

Both Haydn quartets are unusual among the composer’s works. For one thing, they are both in D minor, at a time when few works were written in minor keys. Further, both are short works that do not belong to a larger set, as most Haydn quartets do. Op. 42 is in four short movements—less than 20 minutes all together. 

One of the last pieces Haydn wrote, Op. 103 remains a fragment of two movements. Written in B-flat major and D minor, they are assumed to have been the second and third movements of a planned four-movement quartet, but even that is uncertain. Haydn was in poor health as he was writing, and was unable to finish a full quartet.

Like the Haydn Op. 103, Schubert’s Quintet in C major was the composer’s last piece of chamber music. It was completed about two months before Schubert’s death in Nov. 1828 but was not performed until 1850, and published three years after that.

Schubert added a second cello to the standard string quartet, which gives a great resonance and warmth of sound to the ensemble. This is especially true because the piece is in C major, and the two bottom string of the cello are C and G, tonic and dominant of the key. Fejér explains that “the open strings of the cello, C and G, resonate just by lightly touching the instrument. It just rolls out—wonderful!”

Henri Dutilleux

The Takács Quartet has performed the Schubert with Requiro in the past, including a performance at Lincoln Center. “We are just looking forward to (performing with) David Requiro,” Fejér says. “We already played the Quintet many times with him, and it was wonderful.”

Schubert’s String Quintet has become one of the most loved pieces of chamber music from the 19th century. Like many of Schubert’s last works, it has a warmth and benedictive quality that audiences have responded to. It is indicative of that quality, Fejér says, that “the most people I know ask for the Schubert Quintet slow movement for their own funeral.”

That is unlikely to be true for the final piece on the program, which comes from another world. Dutilleux’s Ainsi la nuit (Thus the night) is a highly atmospheric work from the late 20th century. The composer has been identified with the atonal 12-tone style of composition, although he notably rejected the more radical and intolerant aspects of musical modernism.

“The music is extremely atmospheric,” is how Fejér describes Ainsi la nuit. “Many composers were trying to give meaning for the noises of the night, and Dutilleux certainly tries it his own ways. As performers, we need to (bring out) the colors and character to give the audience some sense of within what cosmos are we moving about.

“There are clashes and supernovas and black matter and God knows what else, but the beauty and atmosphere keep recurring.”

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Takács Quartet

Takács Quartet, with David Requiro, cello

Haydn: String Quartet in D minor, op. 42
Haydn: String Quartet in D minor, op. 103
Henri Dutilleux: Ainsi la nuit (Thus the night)
Schubert: String Quintet in C major, D956

Live stream at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 11; available through 11 p.m. Monday, May 10

Tickets

CU Faculty Member wins “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” Grammy

Violist Richard O’Neill, newest member of the Takacs Quartet, wins first Grammy award

By Peter Alexander March 22 at 3:51 p.m.

Violist Richard O’Neill, member of the CU College of Music faculty and the Takacs Quartet, has won the Grammy award for “Best Classical Instrumental Solo.”

His recording of Christopher Theofanidis’ Concerto for Viola and Chamber Orchestra with David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony (Albany Records TROY1816, released August 2020) was nominated along with these recordings: 
• pianist Kirill Gerstein playing the Thomas Adès Piano Concerto, with Adès and the Boston Symphony; 
• pianist Igor Levit playing the complete Beethoven piano sonatas; 
• violinist Augustin Hadelich playing “Bohemian Tales,” a collection of music by Dvořák, Janáček and Josef Suk, with Jakub Hrůša and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks; and
• pianist Daniil Trifonov playing the Second and Fourth piano concertos of Rachmaninov with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

O’Neill was caught by surprise last year when the nominees were announced. This time, of course he knew that he was in the running for the award and when the awards would be announced, but he nearly got caught by surprise again. For one thing, he looked at the distinguished list of other nominees, and thought, ‘OK, we’re going to lose’.”

For another, the streamed Grammy ceremony was held Sunday, March 14, the same day that Boulder was under a heavy blanket of snow. O’Neill had arranged to attend the ceremony online, but Sunday morning his internet kept going out. “I was like, ‘How am I going to be able to Zoom if I don’t have internet?’” he says. He even planned to walk to his studio in the CU Imig Music Building if he had to—since he couldn’t get out of his driveway.

Finally, the internet came back on just in time, but the ceremony was running ahead of schedule. “There was supposed to be 30 minutes buffer, and then you’re on,” he says. “I tuned in and it was basically five minutes to go! So I was like, ‘Holy, bleep!’ 

“And when they said ‘the Grammy goes to,’ I almost burst into tears. I just wasn’t expecting it.”

Richard O’Neill

To keep the ceremony on schedule, each recipient is allowed just 30 seconds to thank everyone. “There’s a very conspicuous clock, and it started right as they announced my name. Basically, they’ll just cut you off! It’s very, very short, but I tried my best to get everybody thanked. It was a really great, great moment, and then my phone was going crazy with all my friends who were watching.”

After than, O’Neill was asked to enter the virtual press room to take questions, and later he had several interviews with press from South Korea, where he is very well known. He took a quick break to step outside and gather his thoughts and chat with his neighbors, who were all out clearing their driveways and had no idea that he had just won a Grammy.

This was O’Neill’s third nomination for a Grammy and his first win. He also has won an Emmy Award and an Avery Fisher Career Grant. He has an extensive record of working with living composers, including the premieres of works written for him. Theofanidis’s Concerto was written for the distinguished violist Kim Kashkashian in 2002 and revised for O’Neill in preparation of his performances and recording.

O’Neill joined the Takacs Quartet in June of 2020, replacing Geraldine Walther as the group’s violist. He has appeared in streamed performances by the quartet, and in a handful of concerts before small, distanced audiences, but has not yet appeared onstage before a live Boulder audience.

Reflecting on the past year, O’Neill says it has been tough. He moved to Boulder, he joined the Takacs Quartet and the CU faculty, planned tours as solo artist and with the Takacs were interrupted by the pandemic, and his mother has had breast cancer—“This has been a long haul,” he says. 

“It feels good to have something nice happen.”

Musical Adventures 1: Now’s the time to explore new musical territories

A Grammy nominee and a new disc from the Takacs Quartet

By Peter Alexander Jan. 19 at 11:15 p.m.

I am someone who enjoys adventures, in music as in other ways.

I’m not as interested in new Beethoven recordings, although I got notices about plenty of them last year. (In case you were completely isolated last year: 2020 was the 250th anniversary of his birth.) But give me a recording with composers I have never heard before, and I will go straight to the CD player.

Since we are likely to be isolated for a while longer, now is a good time for you to have your own musical adventures. Committed performances of music we don’t know, even music we don’t like, helps clean out the ears and open the mind to new experiences. If you don’t like it, don’t listen again; but at least you know what’s out there.

In that spirit, this is the first of several articles I plan to write about recordings that offer musical adventures, small steps into new territory. And if one of these is not new territory for you, congratulations. I will have other suggestions.

There is no better place to start than a stunning recent recording by violist Richard O’Neill, the newest member of the Takács quartet. His performance of the Concerto for viola and chamber orchestra by Christopher Theofanidis with the Albany Symphony Orchestra and conductor David Alan Miller (Albany Records TROY1816, released August 2020) has been nominated for a classical music Grammy. Since the Grammy awards have been postponed until March 14, you can hear the recording before the winners are announced.

Theofanidis teaches composition at Yale and is co-director of the composition program at the Aspen Music Festival. His orchestral work Rainbow Body has been performed by more than 150 orchestras worldwide. He is a composer of remarkably wide imagination and creativity, as his Viola Concerto shows.

The concerto was written for the violist Kim Kashkashian in 2002 and revised for O’Neill in preparation of his performances and recording. Partly inspired by Navajo texts, it is by design a work of great emotional intensity. “It is written as a response to [Kashkashian’s] incredible intensity and focus as a performing artist,” Theofanidis wrote.

O’Neill provides all the intensity Theofanidis calls for. As soloist he creates a wide palette of sounds that match the kaleidoscopic moods and sounds of the score. The are passages of dark, brooding gloom and fleet passages of sheer virtuosity, with O’Neill flying through these changes without a hitch or a stumble.

Each movement has its own individual rewards. The first is dominated by pulsing sounds in the orchestra, an extension of drum patterns that open the movement, interrupted by fleet passages for the soloist. The second enters a totally different sound world, with a static orchestral haze overlaid with barely-musical fragments for the soloist that gradually coalesce to reach a moment of passionate intensity.

The emotional high point is the third movement, written in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and using a Sikh melody that was sung at a memorial held at Yankee Stadium. Here O’Neill’s expressive playing creates a deep sense of mourning. This is eloquent music of loss, a barren emotional landscape that accepts the light of consolation only at the end. After this catharsis, the scurrying finale closes the concerto with an explosion of energy.

So varied are the movements and their internal sections that it is easy to see why this recording stood out to the Grammy committee. O’Neill’s interpretation and integration of the disparate elements seems flawless as he flies confidently through this emotionally virtuosic work. “No matter what happens with this nomination,” O’Neill says, “ I think this piece deserves to be in the repertoire.”

The Viola Concerto is paired on Albany’s disc with Theofanidis’s Violin Concerto, played by Miller and the Albany Symphony with violinist Chee-Yun. Another dramatic and varied work, it is dominated by a movement based on a theme the composer wrote for his new-born daughter. That moment of lyrical blossoming is framed by a dramatic movement where the soloist seems pitted in a struggle with forces of nature, and another whirlwind finale.

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Takacs

The full Takacs Quartet, recorded before O’Neill replaced Geraldine Walther in the viola chair, offers a comfortable adventure with their recording of the piano quintets of Amy Beach and Edward Elgar. Released in June, the recording was made with pianist Garrick Ohlsson (Hyperion CDA68295).

The first American woman to achieve success as a composer, Beach was a teenaged piano prodigy in the 1880s but had to give up her public career when she married. She published first under the name Mrs. H.H.A. Beach until her husband’s death in 1910, and then as Amy Beach. Her Quintet in F-sharp minor for piano and strings of 1905 was widely performed in her lifteime, often with the composer playing the piano part.

The Quintet was heavily influenced by Brahms’s popular Quintet in F minor, which she had played. An echo of Brahms is heard in the first movement, but Beach announcers her own imagination at the very opening, sustained notes that overlay dramatic flourishes in the piano. Here the atmospheric performance by Ohlsson and the Takacs pulls the listener in from the first notes. They follow Beach’s expressive turns, through sudden changes of mood from warmth to spookiness and a gentle sigh at the ending.

The sigh is followed by a realm of sweetness and gentle repose through a second movement marked by long, lyrical lines that build to a strong climax, subsiding to a quiet close. The finale seems less integrated, as passage follows passage. This is no fault of the performers, who follow Beach in her rambling walk. Every section is well crafted, creating just the sound that the composer wants, but it fails to hang together as an organic whole. It is none the less pleasant for that, especially as played by Ohlsson and the Takacs.

Elgar is closer to the beaten path than Beach, although the Quintet is less familiar than his “Pomp and Circumstance” or “Enigma” Variations. Like his other works, the Quintet is marked by a cheerful mixture of drama and playfulness that seems thoroughly Victorian in style. It is a musically challenging work that lacks conspicuous flamboyance; even the most energetic passages remain genial in mood.

The first movement is a moderate allegro that anecdotally may be based on supernatural tales about a wooded copse near Elgar’s home. The exact source of inspiration remains mysterious, and any sense of menace the woods may have suggested is lessened by sudden bursts of song. 

The second movement begins in a state of serenity, in Elgar’s best warm if slightly fuzzy Romantic manner. One is easily carried along by the flow of the Takacs Quartet’s performance, which conveys a feeling of enveloping comfort, with no danger in sight.

One idea succeeds another succeeds another in the long, fantasy-like Finale. In the hands of Ohlsson and the Takacs Quartet, the changing tempos seem organic across a wide and shifting range. Each idea and section emerges seamlessly from the material before, even as Elgar extends and extends his material toward a final firm ending. The performance is well balanced among the instruments, with the performers achieving a notable clarity of texture in spite of Elgar’s luxuriant harmonic language.

Both performances are exemplary. There is no better place to begin your musical adventures than with these congenial and thoroughly enjoyable works. And if these works are not new to you, stand by for further suggestions.