2023-24 Season Programs
Reena Esmail (b.1983): Ragamala (2018)
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847): Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81
No. 3 Capriccio in E Minor
Judd Greenstein (b.1979): Four on the Floor (2006)
Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940): String Quartet No. 4, Música de Feria (1932)
Clara Schumann: Die stille Lotosblume from Sechs Lieder, Op. 13 No. 6 (1844)
Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel: String Quartet in E-flat Major (1834)
This program explores the idea of community in a multi-faceted way. Driving the first half of the concert is the spirit of coming together, with voices coalescing and becoming larger than the sum of their parts. Reena Esmail captures the special, communal atmosphere at concerts she attended in India, where she noticed audience members humming, almost subconsciously, the characteristic phrases of raags after they were announced: “It had a magical feeling – as if that raag was present in the air, and tiny wisps of it were already starting to precipitate into the audible world in anticipation of the performance.” This first movement of her work Ragamala, a fantasie based on the raag Bihag, layers the voices of the string quartet to create a beautiful, swirling world that invites players and audience into the concert experience. These voices transform into an ebbing and flowing accompaniment under a lyrical solo line in Felix Mendelssohn’s Capriccio, which grows into a fugue of four equal voices in fiery counterpoint. The energy and virtuosity of this fugue are taken to the next level with Judd Greenstein’s Four on the Floor, a grooving, joyous piece written for the occasion of a friend’s wedding. Greenstein pushes the quartet to sound like an ensemble with more than four players (perhaps a sextet or octet), through the frequent use of double stops and a relentless exuberance.
The second half of the program explores the breadth of experiences, complications and subtle twists inherent in the idea of community. Like Greenstein’s Four on the Floor, the Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas’s Música de Feria draws inspiration from a celebratory, public event — the fair — but rather than the continuous drive of the Greenstein, this music jumps around with sharp juxtapositions that create the feeling of many things happening at once, expressing the joyful cacophony and disorder of community. The middle of the piece transforms into a heartfelt duet, perhaps capturing the feeling of quiet connection that might be experienced within a large crowd, before the music returns to the flurry of the opening. With a similarly introspective spirit, Clara Schumann’s song Die stille Lotosblume is a musical snapshot of the incredibly intimate moment of communion between a lone swan and a silent lotus flower.
Concluding the concert is Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s adventurous String Quartet in E-flat Major, a piece rife with unexpected formal twists, featuring a combination of romantic lyricism, virtuosity and imitative counterpoint. Both Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn grew up surrounded by a community of scholars and artists, and in their early 19th century world, the locus of musical creativity was moving gradually away from courts and into intimate salons and drawing rooms. The irony for Fanny was that the same community that inspired both her and her brother in their early musical pursuits became the force, due to her gender and class, that limited her career. The quartet was never performed in public during Fanny’s lifetime, and Felix strongly criticized it for its unorthodox approach to form, but Fanny kept her quartet as is, remaining committed to her compositional convictions.
Reena Esmail (b.1983): Zeher (Poison) (2013)
Benjamin Britten: String Quartet No. 2 in C, Op. 36
Trevor Weston (b. 1967): Juba (2017)
Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135
This program is a celebration of human resilience.The four composers in this program were all writing in response to traumatic circumstances, and their music embodies an acknowledgement and in some ways, a resolution of those struggles. Reena Esmail’s Zeher (Poison) was written during the course of an illness which limited her ability to eat, speak, and at times, even breathe. As the piece reaches its end, two contrasting raags emerge, one angular and dissonant (played by the cello), that is gradually neutralized by the calm, undulating waves of the other, as the music gently releases. Benjamin Britten wrote his second string quartet at the conclusion of World War II, after giving a series of recitals with violinist Yehudi Menuhin for concentration camp survivors in Germany. The quartet’s epic third movement pays homage to the English composer Henry Purcell through its use of chaconne form. The music cycles through a series of variations, ebbing and flowing before culminating in a passage of incredible intensity featuring twenty-one C-Major chords, final and cathartic, yet not fully resolved, as if Britten understood the immense shadow the war cast upon the world.
The second half of the program begins with Trevor Weston’s Juba, which pays homage to previous generations of Africans and African Americans through the incorporation of traditional musical elements. Weston writes: “Juba honors the lives and contributions of African and African American forced laborers who cultivated various crops during slavery. The work makes a musical journey from Africa to the United States through traditional African music and traditional folk music by African Americans…This work highlights the musical contributions by African Americans and celebrates the lives of those who helped create our American economy, industry, and culture.” Featuring folk fiddling styles and rhythmic foot stomping, this music traverses a broad terrain of styles and emotions in just nine minutes. At times exuberant, celebratory, intense and thoughtful, the music leaves the audience in a place of quiet and contemplation. The program concludes with Beethoven’s final quartet, Op. 135, a piece that stands in contrast to the expanse and weight of his other late quartets. It was written as Beethoven’s health was failing, at a time when Beethoven had taken refuge in the country with his nephew Karl, following Karl’s attempted suicide. But despite the circumstances surrounding Beethoven, the quartet is full of lightness and buoyancy, with rhythmic play, jokes, and incredible beauty. It is not an innocent or youthful piece; but rather, it feels like the work of a composer who has arrived at a new sense of truth and peace after a long, arduous journey.
“Music and Migration” is a collaborative touring program offered with Syrian-American clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh. All five of us have different personal relationships to and experiences of migration, as do our families, and the music of this concert approaches the theme of migration in the broadest possible terms, both as a physical journey and state of mind, something that occurs both between and within countries. Stemming from a deep friendship between the Aizuri Quartet and Kinan Azmeh, and built around two new commissions from the extraordinary composers George Lewis and Layale Chaker, the music of this program, wide ranging in style and approach, will include additional works for string quartet and clarinet by Azmeh, Michi Wiancko and Wang Lu, among others.
Presenters are encouraged to participate as commissioning partners in “Music and Migration.”