Avalon String Quartet
Saturday, January 24, 2004
in 1995 at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, the Avalon String Quartet has
since won several prestigious honors including the Grand Prize at the 1998
Fischoff Chamber Music Competition, First Prize and the Channel Classics and
Rockport Chamber Music Festival Prizes at the Concert Artists Guild 1999
International Competition, and the top prize at the 2000 International Music
Competition of the ARD in Munich.
Active in arts education, the Avalon has been a quartet-in-residence at
The Juilliard School, the Hartt School of Music, Northern Illinois University,
and the Caramoor International Music Festival.
String Quartet (composed
on February 6, 1975, in Edmonton, Alberta, Fung has been the recipient of two
BMI Awards, the Peter Mennin Prize from Juilliard for outstanding achievement
and leadership in music, the Stephan Albert Award from the American Music
Center, and two Sir James Lougheed Awards of Distinction from the Alberta
Heritage Fund. She studied
composition at The Juilliard School with David Diamond and Robert Beaser and
piano with György Sándor, earning her Doctor of Musical Arts in May 2002.
She is currently on the Literature and Materials of Music faculty at
Juilliard. As part of Meet the
Composer’s “Music Alive” program, Ms. Fung will be composer-in-residence
for the San José Chamber Orchestra for the 2004-2005 season.
her new “String Quartet,” Ms. Fung has written:
residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in 2001 provided the foundation
for my String Quartet. The coordinators of the residency asked the participants to
compose a short work for string quartet, no longer than five minutes, which was
later to be read by the American String Quartet. At the time, I had been listening to and absorbing influences
from the folk music of certain parts of Asia, including China and Indonesia.
I began to think of ways to incorporate the exotic atmosphere created by
that music into my own music, and the result what was to become the third
movement of my Quartet, “Pizzicato.” Inspired
by the success of that the ASQ’s reading, I composed the first, second, and
fourth movements over the next two years. Those
three movements also have elements of Asian folk influence, and, in many
instances, use the same scale patterns found in “Pizzicato.”
first movement, “Animato,” is lively with frequent use of interlocking and
syncopated rhythms under long, flowing, melodic lines.
Next, “Interludium,” the only slow movement, has hints of a folk
melody, superimposed over alternating chords that appear and disappear to create
an atmospheric mood. As the title
suggests, “Pizzicato” requires the string players to pluck the strings of
their instruments. The final
movement, “Moto Perpetuo,” is a virtuosic display of constantly swirling
sixteenth notes that drives the work to an explosive conclusion.
the third movement had its concert debut in 2001 with the Avalon String Quartet,
this evening’s performance marks the world premiere of the complete String
Vivian Fung is in attendance this evening for this world premiere of the new
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Quartet in F major (composed 1902-1903)
Allegro moderato – Très doux
Assez vif – Très rhythmé
Vif et agité
matter how unreceptive it may have been to his melding of innovation with
classicism, the Paris Conservatoire owed a lot to Maurice Ravel.
Around the turn of the century, he was largely responsible for the change
of administration from the academic conservatism of Théodore Dubois to the
graceful progressivism of Gabriel Fauré. Under
Fauré's tutelage, Ravel failed four times (1901, 1902, 1903, and 1905) to win
the coveted Prix de Rome, so scandalizing the school that Dubois was forced to
resign in 1905. Fauré became the
new director, but by that time, Ravel had reached the age limit for the
scholarship and was no longer eligible for the competition.
had dismissed Ravel as a mere Debussy imitator; traditionalists felt that he was
too avant-garde. With historical hindsight, we can compare and contrast the
sensuous "impressionism" of Debussy with the classic precision of
Ravel, but the charm, clarity, and freshness Ravel injected into his musical
world is undeniable. Even Debussy
recognized this. The two had been
on friendly terms until the time of Ravel's “Quartet in F major,” the
reaction to which forced a public cooling of their relations. Privately however, Debussy urged Ravel, "In the name of
the gods of music, and in mine, do not touch a single note of what you have
written in your quartet."
to his composition teacher and mentor Fauré, Ravel's lone string quartet lost
him the Prix de Rome for the third time. Employing
closely related themes in the first, third, and fourth movements, the quartet
possesses a unity not often found in multi-movement works.
The “Allegro moderato” opens with a sweetly melodic first theme.
A second theme sounds in the first violin; the development weaves the two
themes in and out of each other.
The fast-paced “Assez vif”
highlights the shifting rhythms of Iberian folk dances and contrasts the brisk
pizzicato passages with the more lyrical interludes.
Notice especially the broad middle section with its evolving variations.
The nocturne-like slow movement (“Très lent”) begins with muted
strings and a gentle theme in the viola. Again,
meters change often, as befits a movement that features variation.
Vigorous eighth notes open the finale (“Vif et agité”) and are
answered by recollections of the opening movement.
A whirlwind of melodic fragments contrasts with calmer passages, sweeping
toward the final dramatic progression of major chords.
van Beethoven (1770-1827)
in F major, op. 59, no. 1 (composed 1806)
to the change in Beethoven's style during the six years between the Opus 18 and
the Opus 59 quartets was the resolve to overcome his increasing deafness.
But around the time of Opus 59, he was also falling in love with a piano
student of his, the young widow Josephine von Brunsvik.
Though it would later become clear that she did not return his
affections, the summer of 1806 was among the composer's most creative:
The “Fourth Symphony,” the “Fourth Piano Concerto,” the “Violin
Concerto,” and the three "Rasumovsky" Quartets all date from this
season of optimism spent at the Hungarian manor of Martonvásár.
months earlier, the Russian ambassador to Austria, Count Andreas Rasumovsky,
building a new palace and hoping to establish his own resident ensemble,
commissioned a set of quartets from Beethoven.
So eager was the composer to return to the writing of quartets that he
finished the works before the palace was complete or the ensemble gathered.
In the event, the trio of works was not well-received and it would be six
or seven years before anyone would take them seriously.
most classical of the three "Rasumovskys" abounds with Beethoven's joy
of the time as well as his forward-looking touches.
Already he was stretching the boundaries of sonata form and defying
expectations by placing the scherzo (no longer a minuet) second and the slow
movement (sans repeats) third.
seeds of the entire first movement sound in the two short motives in the cello
(the Count's instrument); a second theme is largely ignored.
The highly contrapuntal development constitutes the bulk of the
“Allegro,” dominated by the first motive, though the second motive serves as
the basis of a fugato later on. In
preparation for the recap, the theme is heard again, but with chordal
accompaniment. The recap proper
opens with the second motive, the first not returning until the coda's
one-note rhythmic motto in the cello, lacking both harmony and melody, opens the
scherzo; the second violin follows with a lighthearted tune.
By contrast, the second theme is ardent, fluid, and lyrical.
The entire movement brims with startling shifts in rhythm, dynamics, and
key. In the slow movement, the
mournful first theme and the determined second are interrupted only once by a
more peaceful “Molto cantabile” section.
Then the first violin breaks floridly away to introduce, without pause,
the allegro finale. Another tribute
to Rasumovsky, the minor-mode Russian theme derives from a 1790 collection of
folk songs published by the Silesian composer Ivan Pratsch. In the development, Beethoven toys with this theme in
counterpoint, augmentation, and canon, leading to a brief “Adagio ma non
troppo” passage where the theme finally sings with joy.
Each voice takes one more turn with the theme before the whirlwind close.
notes by Jay Weitz, Consulting Database Specialist for music, OCLC Online
Computer Library Center, Dublin, Ohio. He
is a contributing performing arts critic for the weekly alternative newspaper
“Alive: Music, Art, and Culture
in Columbus” (http://www.columbusalive.com).
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