The New York Philharmonic String Quartet in its Bravo! debut takes center stage with three of the most popular pieces in the string quartet repertoire. Full of tenderness and intensity, lyricism and energy, this is the epitome of great chamber music.
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MENDELSSOHN: String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80
BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4
DVOŘÁK: String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 “American”
String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80 (1847)
FELIX MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
On May 14, 1847, two days after arriving home to Leipzig from an exhausting tour to London, Mendelssohn learned that his beloved sister Fanny had died suddenly in Berlin from a stroke at the age of 41. He collapsed upon receiving the stunning news, and he was too ill even to attend the funeral. He seemed to be recovering somewhat by early fall, when he went to Berlin to discuss business matters with his brother, Paul. The sight of Fanny’s rooms, left exactly as they had been on the day she was stricken, was, however, more than Mendelssohn could bear. He collapsed again and reverted to his state of the previous months. He made it back to Leipzig but suffered three strokes between October 7th and November 3rd. On November 4th, four months shy of his 39th birthday, Mendelssohn died. The F minor Quartet was his last important work.
The Quartet opens in an unsettled, almost tempestuous mood; the second theme is quieter and more lyrical. The development concerns itself exclusively with the passionate main theme. The second movement is not one of those scherzos of elfin grace that had vivified Mendelssohn’s compositions since his teenage years, but is rather sardonic and macabre. A barren trio stands at the movement’s center. The Adagio, the expressive heart of Mendelssohn’s memorial to his sister, herself a composer and pianist of excellent talent, is based on a little song he had sent to her in June 1830. The finale is at times almost a-thematic, consisting wholly of bare figurations and skeletal arpeggios. The sense of grief remains unassuaged through the work’s anxious closing measures.
String Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4 (1800)
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
The year of the completion of the six Op. 18 Quartets—1800—was an important time in Beethoven’s development. He had achieved a success good enough to write to his old friend Franz Wegeler in Bonn, “My compositions bring me in a good deal, and may I say that I am offered more commissions than it is possible for me to carry out. Moreover, for every composition I can count on six or seven publishers and even more, if I want them. People no longer come to an arrangement with me. I state my price, and they pay.” At the time of this gratifying recognition of his talents, however, the first signs of his fateful deafness appeared, and he began the titanic struggle that became one of the gravitational poles of his life. Within two years, driven from the social contact on which he had flourished by the fear of discovery of his malady, he penned the Heiligenstadt Testament, his cri de coeur against this wicked trick of the gods. These first Quartets stand on the brink of that great crisis in Beethoven’s life.
The C minor Quartet opens with a darkly colored theme that rises from the lowest note of the violin to high in the instrument’s range; the subsidiary subject is a sunshine melody derived from the leaping motive that closed the main theme. The witty sonata-form Scherzo begins with a jolly fugato and remains largely contrapuntal thereafter. The somber Menuetto is balanced by a delicate central trio. The Quartet closes with a Haydnesque rondo based on a sparkling theme reminiscent of the exotic “Turkish” music that was popular in Vienna at the end of the 18th century.
String Quartet in F major, Op. 96, “American” (1893)
ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK (1841 - 1904)
On June 3, 1893, Antonín Dvořák left his apartment at 327 East 17th Street in New York City and journeyed to Spillville, Iowa, a settlement of a few hundred souls founded some forty years before by a “Bavarian- German” named Spielmann. It was not the Germans, however, who followed Spielmann to the open spaces of Iowa, but the Czechs and the Bohemians, Dvořák’s countrymen. On June 8th, just three days after arriving in Spillville, he began his F major Quartet and finished the sketches in an astonishing 72 hours. Still bubbling with inspiration, the following day he started the String Quintet, Op. 97, which was completed on August 1st, just before he left to participate in a “Czech Day” at the Chicago World’s Fair.
A shimmering halo of string sound opens the Quartet and serves as the cushion for the viola’s presentation of the folk-like main subject. A shadow of darker emotion draws briefly across the music for the presentation of the complementary subject, but the mood brightens again for the closing theme, a delightful melody entrusted to the first violin. The development concerns itself first with permutations of the main subject and then with an imitative treatment of a motive derived from the dark-hued complementary theme. The recapitulation brings balance, formal closure and complete fulfillment to this most satisfying movement. The beautiful main theme of the Lento is first sung by the violin above a sadly undulating accompaniment. The mood becomes brighter as the movement progresses, but the plaintive tone of the opening again settles upon the music as it reaches its close. The vivacious third movement is built from two contrasting strains, one (in F major) lively and dance-like, the other (F minor) more lyrical and mysterious. The finale is a rondo built on a dashing folk-dance melody.
NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC STRING QUARTET
The New York Philharmonic String Quartet comprises four Principal musicians from the Orchestra: Concertmaster Frank Huang (The Charles E. Culpeper Chair); Principal Associate Concertmaster Sheryl Staples (The Elizabeth G. Beinecke Chair); Principal V
NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC STRING QUARTET
The New York Philharmonic String Quartet comprises four Principal musicians from the Orchestra: Concertmaster Frank Huang (The Charles E. Culpeper Chair); Principal Associate Concertmaster Sheryl Staples (The Elizabeth G. Beinecke Chair); Principal Viola Cynthia Phelps (The Mr. and Mrs. Frederick P. Rose Chair); and Principal Cello Carter Brey (The Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Chair). The group was formed in January 2017, during the Philharmonic’s 175th anniversary season; the New York Philharmonic String Quartet will make its debut as the solo ensemble in John Adams’s Absolute Jest in New York in March 2017, and will reprise the work on the Orchestra’s EUROPE / SPRING 2017 tour. All four members are multiple prize winners, have appeared as concerto soloists with the Philharmonic and orchestras around the world, and have appeared frequently in the Philharmonic’s chamber music series at David Geffen Hall and Merkin Concert Hall.
Frank Huang has performed at the Marlboro Music Festival, Ravinia’s Steans Institute, Seattle Chamber Music Festival, and Caramoor. He frequently participates in Musicians from Marlboro’s tours, and was selected by The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center to be a member of the prestigious CMS Two program. Before joining the Houston Symphony as concertmaster in 2010, Frank Huang held the position of first violinist of the Grammy Award–winning Ying Quartet.
Sheryl Staples has performed chamber music for U.S. Ambassadors in London, Paris, Berlin, Beijing, and Hong Kong. She toured Mexico, Brazil, and Chile in 2013, and she has appeared at summer festivals including La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest, Boston Chamber Music Society, Salt Bay Chamberfest, and the chamber music festivals of Santa Fe, Mainly Mozart, Seattle, Aspen, Sarasota, Martha’s Vineyard, Strings Music Festival, and Brightstar. She appears on three Stereophile CDs with the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.
Cynthia Phelps performs with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Jupiter Chamber Players, and the Santa Fe, La Jolla, Seattle, Chamber Music Northwest, and Bridgehampton festivals. She has appeared with the Guarneri, Tokyo, Orion, American, Brentano, and Prague Quartets, and the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. She is also a founding member of the chamber group Les Amies, a flute-harp-viola group with Philharmonic Principal Harp Nancy Allen and flutist Carol Wincenc.
Carter Brey has made regular appearances with the Tokyo and Emerson string quartets as well as The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and at festivals such as Spoleto (both in the United States and Italy), and the Santa Fe and La Jolla Chamber Music festivals. He and pianist Christopher O’Riley recorded Le Grand Tango: Music of Latin America, a disc of compositions from South America and Mexico released on Helicon Records.
Photo: Chris Lee
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Where are the chamber music series performances held?
Bravo! Vail Chamber Music Series concerts at held at Donovan Pavilion, located at 1600 S Frontage Rd W, Vail, CO 81657
What time do performances begin?
Concerts start promptly at 6:00PM. Doors open 30 minutes prior. Give yourself plenty of time to park and get to the venue. Latecomers will be escorted to seats by ushers at an appropriate interval.
Where do I park for Chamber Music Series performances?
Free parking is available at Donovan Pavilion.
How long do concerts last?
Concerts generally last 90 minutes to 2 hours including a scheduled intermission.
How do I buy tickets?
Tickets, passes, and gift certificates may be ordered in the following ways:
1. Online: bravovail.org
2. By phone 877.812.5700
3. In person: Bravo! Vail 2271 N Frontage Rd W Suite C, Vail, CO 81657
Bravo! Vail accepts American Express, Visa, MasterCard, and Discover credit cards, cash, and checks. There is a $2 fee per ticket. Tickets are delivered by mail or email, or may be picked up at the Box Office.
What are the Box Office hours?
Bravo! Vail Box Office hours are Monday-Friday from 9AM to 4PM. During the Festival, hours include Saturday & Sunday from 10AM to 4PM. The Bravo! Vail Box Office can be reached at 877.812.5700. Tickets are also sold at the Donovan Pavilion one hour prior to concert.
Where is the Will Call window?
Will Call tickets may be picked up one hour prior to the concert at the Box Office table located to the right of the entrance of Donovan Pavilion.
Does Bravo! Vail offer group pricing?
Discounts for groups of 15 or more are available for select concerts. Please call 970.827.4316 for more information.
What if I buy tickets and cannot attend?
Tickets are non-refundable. You may exchange tickets ($7 fee per ticket) by calling the Box Office at 877.812.5700 up to 2 days before the concert. You may release your tickets or leave them for a friend at Will Call by calling the Box Office.
What if I misplace or forget to bring my tickets?
There is no charge to reprint tickets. Please call 877.812.5700 before 3PM on the day of the performance or allow extra time to request new tickets from the Box Office at the venue.
What is the seating plan?
Seating for Chamber Music Series concerts is general admission and is ADA (American Disability Act) accessible.
What food and beverages are available at the concert?
Food and beverages including beer and wine are available for purchase on the back patio prior to the concert and at intermission.
What should I wear?
There is no dress code for concerts.
What are some general rules of Chamber Series concert etiquette?
Please allow time for parking and seating. Concert attendees must silence all mobile devices prior to performances to not disrupt musicians and other patrons. Please limit conversations and other noisy activities during the performance. We recommend eating prior to the concert or at intermission. Parental supervision is required for all children attending Bravo! Vail concerts.
What is the Donovan Pavilion Child Policy?
Chamber Music Series concerts are very intimate. We strongly recommend that parents bring children aged six or older who are able to sit quietly through the entire performance.
What if I lose something at the concert?
Call the Bravo! Vail Box Office 970.827.5700 or the Donovan Pavilion 970.477.3699.
What if I still have questions?
Please contact the Box Office at 877.812.5700 Mon–Fri 9AM–4PM (and Sat–Sun 10AM-4PM during the Festival).