Jasper String Quartet
Winner of the 2012 Cleveland Quartet Award, the Jasper String Quartet has been hailed as “sonically delightful and expressively compelling” (The Strad) and as "powerful" (The New York Times). On their return to our series they will play quartets by Samuel Barber and Aaron Jay Kernis and will be joined by pianist Gilles Vonsattel to conclude with the Brahms Quintet.
This concert is generously sponsored by the
Ralph E. Ogden Foundation
Jasper Quartet Website: http://www.jasperquartet.com/
Gilles Vonsattel Website: http://www.dispeker.com/artist.php?id=gvonsattel
J Freivogel, violin
Sae Chonabayashi, violin
Sam Quintal, viola
Rachel Henderson Freivogel, cello
String Quartet Op. 11 (1936) SAMUEL BARBER
Molto allegro e appassionato
Molto adagio – attacca:
Molto allegro (come prima) - Presto
String Quartet No. 1, "musica celestis" (1990) AARON JAY KERNIS
Piano Quintet in f minor, Op. 34 (1864) JOHANNES BRAHMS
Allegro non troppo
Andante un poco adagio
Finale: Poco sostenuto; Allegro non troppo; Presto non troppo
Program subject to change.
Barber wrote only one string quartet and while it presented him with great problems in its composition, it provided him with the key to fame, prosperity and musical recognition. Barber began work on the quartet in the summer of 1936 expecting to have finished it for the Curtis Quartet to premier it in their Fall series. The first movement was completed and then the second, which Barber indicated in a letter, was “a knockout.” But then it began to get difficult. The expected movements did not materialize, no matter how much Barber struggled and the final version has only the very short third and last movement in the completed score. The Pro Arte Quartet premiered it in December. Barber then withdrew and reworked it, to finally republish it in 1943.
The First movement is based on a strong rhythmic statement, which is thematically built on the interval of a semitone rather than a longer romantic, melodic line. It has an energetic, Beethovenian intensity, and shows all the qualities of becoming a taut and rigorous classical-like movement. The second theme is a more lyrical, almost liturgical response-like section. The development of these motifs is interspersed with new episodes, which leads to a recapitulation – all suggesting a loose sonata form. After a slow Second movement, Adagio, the brief Finale movement, that presented so much difficulty for Barber, returns to material from the first movement, with a varied reprise of the main theme and motifs from the development section.
The Second movement has become the famous “Adagio”, truly the heart of the work, since arranged for a variety of ensembles and used all over the world for events and moments of great pathos, solemnity and emotion. Its popularity exploded after the release of Oliver Stone’s movie “Platoon” where it provided the primary soundtrack. It is one of the most recorded pieces in the catalogue. Barber knew he had hit and made an arrangement of it early on for strings that Toscanini premiered and recorded. The movement is simply based on a mode-like (Phrygian) melodic idea first presented by violin. It builds up, using the theme canonically, to an emotional climax before subsiding to its peaceful close.
-- Michael Lebovitch
…I believe that a good piece of music should not need words to be described, so I hope that listeners will find these words superfluous in retrospect. But I would like to provide some background on some of the ideas and influences in this work.
Composing this quartet has been an exhilarating experience for me. I have wanted to write a quartet for years, and hence, was delighted when the Lark Quartet asked me to provide one for their Naumburg commission. But at the time I could not have imagined the sense of growth and pure pleasure that I have felt during its composition.
The form of the work is based on the string quartet model from the classical period-that is, in four movements:
I. Sonata Form;
II. Slow Movement;
III. Scherzo with Trio; and
This seems ordinary and quite basic, but if anyone had told me five or even two years ago that I'd write a classically structured work in the future, I'd have suggested (politely) that they see a helpful and friendly doctor. This quartet follows on the heels of my Symphony in Waves, written last year for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and for which the same remark holds true in regard to symphonic form. (Not for me, thank you). I'd felt traditional forms were outmoded and inapplicable to the music of our time.
But I've been gradually realizing that the music I keep on going back to - the music I really love - was written before 1945 and especially before 1911. I love the emotional inclusiveness of music of the past and have grown weary of the intellectualization that has limited the expression and communicativeness of so much music in this century. I want everything to be included in music: soaring melody, consonance, tension, dissonance, drive, relaxation, color, strong harmony, and form, and for every possible emotion to be elicited actively by the passionate use of those elements. This brings us back to the quartet.
As I began writing it, I found that the musical ideas that I chose to work with demanded extensive development and a well-shaped harmonic basis for that development. This led me, with great reservations at first and even greater disbelief, to the use of sonata form and caused me to confront using all the above elements head on, at once, in this abstractly formed composition. This felt especially new to me since so much of my work in the past derived its inspiration from images or texts. What convinced me to use the form, however, was the organic way that it developed from the musical ideas themselves.
The form of the first movement follows the traditional exposition-development-recapitulation "formula." Unlike older sonata movements, most of the conflict and development occurs in the exposition and recap. The development section here is harmonically relaxed and mostly lyrical, acting as an extended interruption between the two larger sections. For those interested in a more detailed view of the first movement's form, see below (others may skip without fear to the next paragraph).
I. Exposition: Theme 1 (alternates between pairs of instruments). Contrasting Section (Rhythmic Music A) ending in Climax on Theme 1 variant-- transition to Theme 2 (solo viola, then solo violin 1). Rhythmic Music B (variant of end of first climax). Climax with Theme 1 variant. Closing Section.
II. Development: Transition. Four solos which develop Theme 1 (separated by brief contrasting sections). Re- Transition.
Ill. Recapitulation: Theme 1 (shortened and varied). Contrasting Section (Rhythmic Section A) ending in Climax on Theme 1 variant. Theme 2 and Rhythmic Section B developed simultaneously. Closing Section variant. Harmonic Culmination. Coda.
The second movement musica celestis, is inspired by the medieval conception of that phrase which refers to the singing of the angels in heaven in praise of God without end. "The office of singing pleases God if it is performed with an attentive mind, when in this way we imitate the choirs of angels who are said to sing the Lord's praises without ceasing." (Aurelian of Réöme, translated by Barbara Newman) I don't particularly believe in angels, but found this to be a potent image that has been reinforced by listening to a good deal of medieval music, especially the soaring work of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). This movement follows a simple, spacious melody and harmonic pattern through a number of variations (like a passacaglia) and modulations, and is framed by an introduction and codas. The Scherzo is made of bits and scraps of things, while the Trio is based on a nonexistent ländler. The fourth movement, Quasi una Danza, begins in a halting fashion but develops a dance-like sense as it goes on.
String Quartet ("musica celestis") was generously commissioned by the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation. My deepest thanks to the Lark Quartet, and to Mrs. Lucy Mann, Mrs. Frances Kennedy, and the board of directors of the quartet.
—Aaron Jay Kernis
The combination of string quartet and piano makes the piano quintet a singularly powerful ensemble as it joins two self-sufficient forces in a grand partnership. Occurring far less frequently in the repertoire than string or piano quartets, the great works for this medium are equally singular and powerful coming from the likes of Schumann, Franck, Brahms, Dvo?ák, Fauré and Shostakovich as the most noteworthy examples. While Brahms’s lone Piano Quintet in f minor, Op. 34 is on the short list of masterworks, it assumed its final form only after a great deal of tinkering. It began its life in 1861 as a string quintet with two cellos. Brahms eventually destroyed this version and rescored it as a sonata for two pianos. With the feedback after several performances and the advice of his friends Clara Schumann and Joseph Joachim, Brahms finally settled on the present version for piano quintet that he published in 1865. Joachim would declare that it was the finest new chamber music work published since Schubert. A dark, mighty work of tremendous scope, it is generally considered to be Brahms’s great chamber music epic completed when he was only thirty-one.
The First movement (Allegro) is an epic all on its own. Brahms appears to provide a wealth of thematic ideas in its sprawling exposition, but careful analysis reveal that just about everything is laid out in the first eight measures and spun into a compelling narrative by Brahms’s gift for thematic variation. Essential to its success is Brahms’s skill with rhythmic complexity. Brahms exploits a rich variety of piano technique as well as the full contrapuntal resources of the string quartet. Musical lines pass from instrument to instrument and hand to hand with an almost delicate fluidity, at times interweaving multiple themes in parallel for a subtle series of echoes and premonitions. It remains dark throughout.
The Second movement’s Andante couldn’t be more different. Gentle, swaying, simple and bright, it is a quiet intermezzo of the most romantic character. Absent are the rhythmic tumult and the contrapuntal complication of the opening movement. Instead, there is the translucent grace of the piano with the restrained accompaniment of the strings. The central section floods the music with a kind of euphoric light that seems to fall from the sky, supported by the deep baseline of the cello, until the return of the first section.
The Third movement, Scherzo, changes everything again. Brooding, suspenseful, even sinister, it rumbles until transitioned into a forceful march with a syncopated undercurrent that wells up into a probing fugue. A lyrical trio only serves to emphasize the dominant muscular majesty that recalls Schumann but with a gigantic power that Brahms alone seemed to perfect.
Brahms begins the Finale with a formless shadow in a manner that recalls Mozart’s “Dissonance” quartet or the finale to Beethoven’s third Razumovsky quartet. It is an incredible dramatic device particularly as a foreboding that follows on the heels of the devastating Scherzo. The cello introduces a simple, animated theme based on a sequence of repeated three-note cells. The sectional rondo juxtaposes a series of episodes that alternate between the main theme, a tender plea and moments of genuine calm that swiftly pass into smoldering tension. In a final rushing coda, he combines his materials and fuses the entire movement into a breathtaking, definitive conclusion.
Winner of the prestigious CMA Cleveland Quartet Award, Philadelphia's Jasper String Quartet is the Professional Quartet in Residence at Temple University's Center for Gifted Young Musicians.
The Jaspers have been hailed as “sonically delightful and expressively compelling” (The Strad) and "powerful" (New York Times). "The Jaspers... match their sounds perfectly, as if each swelling chord were coming out of a single, impossibly well-tuned organ, instead of four distinct instruments." (New Haven Advocate)
The quartet records exclusively for Sono Luminus and have released three highly acclaimed albums - Beethoven Op. 131, The Kernis Project: Schubert, and The Kernis Project: Beethoven.
The Quartet commissioned Aaron Jay Kernis’ 3rd String Quartet "River" for the 2015-17 seasons with a remarkable consortium of presenters. Throughout the next two seasons, they will perform the work in recital for each consortium member - Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, Chamber Music Northwest, Chamber Music Monterey Bay, Classic Chamber Concerts, and Chamber Music America.
In addition to their concert schedule next season, they will continue their work in the Philadelphia Public Schools through Astral Artists' Colors of Classical Music, a project funded through a monumental grant from the William Penn Foundation.
In 2008, the Jaspers swept through the competition circuit, winning the Grand Prize and the Audience Prize in the Plowman Chamber Music Competition, the Grand Prize at the Coleman Competition, First Prize at Chamber Music Yellow Springs, and the Silver Medal at the 2008 and 2009 Fischoff Chamber Music Competitions. They were also the first ensemble honored with Yale School of Music’s Horatio Parker Memorial Prize, an award established in 1945 and selected by the faculty for “best fulfilling… lofty musical ideals." In 2010, they joined the roster of Astral Artists after winning their national auditions.
The Quartet was the 2010-12 Ensemble-in-Residence at Oberlin Conservatory and, in conjunction with Astral Artists, was awarded a 2012 Chamber Music America grant through its Residency Partnership Program for work in Philadelphia schools. From 2009-2011, the Jaspers were the Ernst C. Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence at the Caramoor Center for Music and Arts (Katonah, NY). They were the first ensemble to be invited for a second year as such.
The Jaspers perform pieces emotionally significant to its members ranging from Haydn and Beethoven through Berg, Ligeti, and living composers. They have commissioned string quartets from some of today’s best composers, including Aaron Jay Kernis, Andrew Norman, Nicholas Omiccioli, Conrad Tao and Annie Gosfield. Critics and audiences commend the Jasper String Quartet’s “programming savvy” (clevelandclassical.com) and they have performed throughout the United States and in Canada, England, Italy, Japan, Korea, Norway and Panama.
The Jasper String Quartet has brought well over 100 outreach programs into schools and enjoys educational work of all types. In their Melba and Orville Roleffson Residency at the Banff Centre they embarked on "guerrilla chamber music," performing concerts in unusual settings around Alberta, Canada. Currently, the quartet works closely with Philadelphia’s Astral Artists to bring outreach activities to schools.
Formed at Oberlin Conservatory, the Jaspers began pursuing a professional career in 2006 while studying with James Dunham, Norman Fischer, and Kenneth Goldsmith as Rice University’s Graduate Quartet-in-Residence. In 2008, the quartet continued its training with the Tokyo String Quartet as Yale University's Graduate Quartet-in-Residence.
The Jasper String Quartet is named after Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. The quartet receives Career Development support from Astral Artists and is represented exclusively by Dispeker Artists.
J Freivogel is the founding and current first violinist of the Jasper String Quartet. Born into a musical family, J started playing violin when he was 2 and string quartets with his siblings when he was 6. He grew up in Kirkwood, MO.
J attended Oberlin College and Conservatory for Bachelor’s degrees in Violin Performance and Politics and, during his time there, won the Kauffman Chamber Music prize three times, the Presser Music Award, the Hurlbutt prize for most outstanding violinist, and the concerto competition. He received his Master’s in String Quartet Performance from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and an Artist’s Diploma at the Yale School of Music. His principal teachers include Marilyn McDonald, Sylvia Rosenberg, and Cho-Liang Lin for violin and James Dunham, Norman Fischer and the Tokyo String Quartet for chamber music. J is also a core member of the East Coast Chamber Orchestra (ECCO). J is married to cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel and they live in Philadelphia, PA with their children, Leon and Evy.
Sae Chonabayashi is the second violinist of the Jasper String Quartet. She was born in Ibaragi, Japan and began playing violin at age three. Sae attended the prestigious Toho Gakuen School of Music in Japan from the age of fifteen, where she completed her studies with Koichiro Harada, a founding member of the Tokyo String Quartet. In 2001, Sae came to the United States to study with Donald Weilerstein at the Cleveland Institute of Music. As a full scholarship student, she continued her studies with Mr. Weilerstein at the New England Conservatory, where she received undergraduate and graduate diplomas. She won third prize in the 2006 Swedish Duo International Competition. She lives in Philadelphia, PA with her husband, Shun, and her son, Hideki.
Sam Quintal, founding violist of the Jasper String Quartet, was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska in a small log cabin with wood heat and no running water. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in violin performance from Oberlin Conservatory studying with Marilyn McDonald, his Master’s degree in String Quartet from Rice University studying viola with James Dunham, and his Artist's Diploma from Yale School of Music studying with the Tokyo String Quartet. In addition to many prestigious performances and collaborations with his quartet, he has individually performed with exceptional chamber musicians such as the Tokyo String Quartet, Paul Neubauer and Andrés Díaz. When not playing viola, he loves cooking, cross-country skiing, biking and and building things in his basement workshop. He lives in Philadelphia, PA with his wife, Anna, and daughter, Lena.
Rachel Henderson Freivogel is the founding cellist of the Jasper String Quartet She began her studies with her mother in her hometown of Ann Arbor, MI at the age of four and completed her undergraduate studies in cello performance at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where she also received a Master’s Degree in historical performance. She received a Master’s Degree in String Quartet from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and an Artist's Diploma in String Quartet from Yale School of Music. Her principal teachers include Norman Fischer, Clive Greensmith and Catharina Meints. Rachel is married to violinist, J Freivogel, and lives in Philadelphia, PA with her children, Leon and Evy.
Called a "wanderer between worlds" by the Lucerne Festival, Swiss-born American pianist Gilles Vonsattel is an artist of extraordinary versatility and originality. Comfortable with and seeking out an enormous range of repertoire, Vonsattel displays a musical curiosity and sense of adventure that has gained him many admirers. His performance highlights during the 2013-2014 Season include Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major with the Springfield (MA) Symphony, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 with the Quebec Symphony, recital debuts at the Lucerne Festival and in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan, as well as recitals in Washington, DC, Baltimore, Detroit, San Francisco, Geneva (Switzerland), Frankfurt, and Ludwigshafen (Germany).