Escher String Quartet - Friends of Chamber Music Vancouver

Escher Quartet – Season 69

September 2, 2016

Tuesday September 13, 2016 at 8:00pm
Vancouver Playhouse

Escher Quartet

Adam Barnett-Hart, Violin
Aaron Boyd, Violin
Pierre Lapointe, Viola
Brook Speltz, Cello

We’re thrilled to welcome the Escher Quartet for a second concert by popular request. They enchanted our audience in 2014 with their profound musical insight and rare tonal beauty.

From the Beginning

Within months of its inception in 2005, the Escher Quartet was invited by both Pinchas Zukerman and Itzhak Perlman to be Quartet in Residence at each artist’s summer festival: the Young Artists Programme at Canada’s National Arts Centre, and the Perlman Chamber Music Program on Shelter Island, NY. The quartet has since collaborated with Khatia Buniatishvili, Leon Fleischer, David Finckel, Wu Han, Lynn Harrell, Joshua Bell, and Jason Vieaux. Inspired by Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher’s method of interplay between individual components working together to form a whole, the ensemble adopted his namesake.

Championed by the Emerson String Quartet, the group was on the BBC New Generation Artists scheme from 2010-2012, debuting at both the Wigmore Hall and the BBC Proms at Cadogan Hall. In 2013, the Quartet became one of the very few chamber ensembles to be awarded the prestigious Avery Fischer Career Grant.

Recently from its home town of New York, the ensemble presented the complete Zemlinsky quartets cycle in a concert streamed live from the Rose Studio. These were also released on CD on Naxos, as was their interpretation of the Mendelssohn Quartets in 2015 and 2016 on BIS; all to critical acclaim.

World Tour

The Escher Quartet has performed at world-class venues from the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC all the way to the Auditorium du Louvre in Paris.The group has toured China, and made its Australian debut at the Perth International Arts Festival. Last season, the Escher Quartet returned to Wigmore Hall and made debuts in Switzerland and Austria, as well as playing concerts at select spots in the USA. This season, the quartet will tour the UK, including Wigmore Hall, and debut at the Heidelberg Spring Festival and De Oosterpoort Groningen in the Netherlands. The ensemble will also partner with pianist Benjamin Grosvenor again in a European tour.


Quartettsatz in C minor, Opus post, D 703 Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Viennese proto-Romantic Franz Schubert composed the Quartettsatz (Movement for String Quartet) in December 1820 at 23 years old . It represents the first movement, Allegro assai, of a Twelfth String Quartet which Schubert never completed. In addition to the opening movement, Schubert also wrote the first forty bars of a second movement marked Andante.

A number of other compositions that Schubert began during 1820 were similarly abandoned due to an identity crisis attributed to his admiration of Beethoven at the time. Nevertheless, in its melodious style and structure the Quartettsatz was the forerunner of Schubert’s late string quartets. Four years after the Quartettsatz, Schubert returned to the genre to write several more and the Quartettsatz received its posthumous premiere on March 1, 1867 in Vienna.

String Quartet No 1 in D minor, Opus 7   Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)

Allegro molto
Intermezzo (Andantino grazioso)
Theme and Variations (Andante con moto)

Arnold Schoenberg is best known for pioneering the 12-tone, or serial means of composing music. the Opus 7 in four movements is Schoenberg’s earliest, surviving large-scale work. Written under the influence of composer Gustav Mahler, and the tonal Romantic music in his native Vienna, it was completed in 1897 and premiered privately on March 17, 1898, and publicly on December 20 that year. It was only published posthumously in 1966 by Faber Music in London.

he quartet is considered Schoenberg’s first masterpiece, and was the real beginning of his reputation as a composer. In 1937, the composer wrote:  “[The] First String Quartet played an important role in the history of my life. On the one hand the scandals provoked by it were so widely reported the world over that I was known at once to a considerable part of the public. Of course I was primarily regarded as the Satan of modernistic music; but, on the other hand, many of the progressive musicians became interested in my music and wanted to know more about it.”

Remarkable for its density and intensity of orchestration with only four instruments, it extends tonality to the limit, carries a small collection of themes, and makes use of another innovation, which Schoenberg called “musical prose.” Instead of balanced phrase structures typical of string quartets writing up to that period, he favored asymmetrical phrases that build themselves into larger cohesive groups. It’s the work of an ‘idealistic and optimistic young man’, in the words of his brother-in-law, Zemlinsky. A one-page text glued to the back cover of Schoenberg’s 1904–1905 sketchbook has been identified as a private programme for the piece. Below is an example from the first section:

(1) a) Revolt, Defiance; b) Longing; c) Rapture.
(2) a) Dejection; Despair; Fear of being engulfed; unaccustomed feelings of love, desire to be wholly absorbed. b) Comfort, Relief (She and He) c) New outbreak; Dejection, Despair; and d) Transition to 
(3) Struggle of all the motives with the determination to begin a new life. e) Mild disagreement.


String Quartet No. 3 in D Major, Opus 44, No. 1 Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Molto Allegro vivace
Menuetto: Un poco Allegretto
Andante espressivo ma con moto
Presto con brio

Although this quartet was published as the first of the three of his Opus 44 group, it was written last. Mendelssohn completed the work on July 24, 1838 and in a letter to the violinist Ferdinand David, Mendelssohn wrote, “I have just finished my third quartet, in D Major, and like it much. I hope it will please you as well since it is more spirited and seems to me likely to be more grateful to the players than the others.”

The opening Allegro vivace crackles with energy and exuberance. The second subject, more restrained and introverted than the main theme, provides a sharp contrast to the opening. The development continues with great verve, expanding various motifs of the main theme and the high tension is maintained throughout the recapitulation and concluding coda.

In the second movement, Mendelssohn introduced a calming effect by substituting a gentle Menuetto for the more traditional scherzo. The middle section is livelier with a ceaseless flow of eighth notes set against long sustained notes and short snatches of counter-melody. An abbreviated form of the Menuetto returns to conclude the movement.

The Andante espressivo provides an atmosphere of poignancy and intimacy that is unusual in Mendelssohn’s chamber music. Written in sonata form, its two themes are constructed in the same way – a lyrical melody in the first violin set against a faster-moving counter-melody in the second. The short development section provides a bridge from the second theme back to the first. In the recapitulation, the first theme is varied by the addition of another counter-melody played by the viola while the second theme is little changed.

The final Presto provides a brilliant contrast to the quiet inner movements of the quartet. It is a saltarello, based on the high-spirited Sixteenth-Century Italian dance of that name. The principal theme is constructed of two parts, the first forceful and the second more gentle and tender. The second theme, a soft lyrical descending line similar to the second motif of the first theme, provides contrast to the bustle of the opening. The sweep and drive of this movement continue through to the final bars.

Our Next Concerts at the Vancouver Playhouse

Israeli Chamber Project
Tuesday, October 18, 2016, at 8:00 pm

Aram Khachaturian
Trio for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano

Erwin Schulhoff
Duo for Violin and Cello

Gilad Hochman
Slightly Disturbed (Clarinet, Violin, Cello)

Johannes Brahms
Clarinet Trio in A minor, Opus 114

A Night in Vienna: CMS String Sextet
Sunday, November 13, 2016
Matinee at 3:00 pm

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Quintet for strings in C minor, K.406

Arnold Schoenberg
Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) for string sextet, Opus 4

Johannes Brahms
Sextet for strings in B flat major, Opus 18