The Vancouver Playhouse
Tuesday Jan 13, 2015 at 8.00 pm.
The Pacifica Quartet
Simin Ganatra, violin I
Sibbi Bernhardsson, violin II
Masumi Per Rostad, viola
Brandon Vamos, cello
Recognized for its virtuosity, exuberant performance style, and often-daring repertory choices, over the past two decades the Pacifica Quartet has gained international stature as one of the finest chamber ensembles performing today. The Pacifica tours extensively throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia, performing regularly in the world’s major concert halls. Named the quartet-in-residence at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music in March 2012, the Pacifica was also the quartet-in residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009 – 2012) – a position that has otherwise been held only by the Guarneri String Quartet – and received the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance.
Formed in 1994, the Pacifica Quartet quickly won chamber music’s top competitions, including the 1998 Naumburg Chamber Music Award. In 2002 the ensemble was honored with Chamber Music America’s Cleveland Quartet Award and the appointment to Lincoln Center’s CMS Two, and in 2006 was awarded a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, becoming only the second chamber ensemble so honored in the Grant’s long history. And in 2009, the Quartet was named “Ensemble of the Year” by Musical America.
The members of the Pacifica Quartet live in Bloomington, IN, where they serve as quartet-in-residence and full-time faculty members at the Jacobs School of Music. Prior to their appointment, the Quartet was on the faculty of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana from 2003 to 2012. The Pacifica Quartet also serves as resident performing artist at the University of Chicago. The Pacifica Quartet is endorsed by D’Addario and proudly uses their strings. They play on an outstanding selection of instruments listed below.
Simin Ganatra: G.B. Ceruti, Cremona, 1810
Sibbi Bernhardsson: Carlo Antonio Testore, 1764
Masumi Per Rostad: Joseph Hill, London, 1770
Brandon Vamos: Gasparo da Salo, Brescia, c.1580
Quartet in B-flat Major, Opus 76, No. 4 “The Sunrise” Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Allegro con spirito
Finale (Allegro ma non troppo)
The six quartets opus 76 are the last but three of Haydn’s eighty-three string quartets. They were composed after Haydn’s second visit to England between 1797 and 1799 and dedicated to Count Joseph Erdody, who had commissioned them. With these masterpieces Haydn’s creative life reached its fulfillment. These compositions, which exhibited greater boldness and self-assurance than his previous works, reflected his realisation that he was now widely regarded as the greatest living composer. Everything was brought to fruition – both the creative power of a genius and the mastery of the means of expression. In these works Haydn used more profound and emotional slow movements and minuets that resembled scherzos, being faster and lighter in mood than his previous more dignified style.
The opening of opus 76, No. 4 is a fine example of Haydn’s mature handling of both instruments and thematic material. The lovely ascent of the first violin from the softly held chord on the lower strings sounds almost improvisatory in its spontaneity. Likened to the rising of the sun, this motif led to the nickname “The Sunrise” for this quartet. The ascending passage is balanced by its answering sentence, and the whole paragraph grows outwards from the rhythm and line of the melody with wonderful flexibility. Instead of a second subject, there is a mirror-image of the first, with the cello curving downwards against a held chord in violins and viola. There are free expansions and variations of both versions in the recapitulation.
The Adagio, one of the slowest and morose of all Haydn’s Adagios, is a rapt meditation on its five-note opening theme, which wells up from the deepest springs of Haydn’s being. Towards the end it breaks off short, and the theme returns in overlapping entries between the instruments, bringing a sudden intensification of utterance.
The charming minuet, which is driven along by the rhythmic thrust of its initial phrase, is a pleasant respite. The peasant dance atmosphere of the trio is rarefied, in its second part, by subtle nuances of scoring.
The main tune of the Finale has the vernal freshness of an English song, and its part- writing is correspondingly vocal. The design of the movement is an apparently straightforward A-B-A, major-minor-major pattern that, however, instead of ending after the repetition of the first section, suddenly gathers speed for a thrilling conclusion.
String Quartet No. 9 in E flat major, Opus 117 Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Moderato con moto
Shostakovich’s Ninth String Quartet, completed in 1964, and was preceded by the Twelfth and Thirteenth Symphonies. In these works, Shostakovich was concerned with thematic integration using an underlying basic idea as a means to provide unity. Thus, the five linked movements of the Ninth Quartet were conceived as a single process. The underlying thematic material that links the movements is established at the start of the work in the accompanying second violin part which can be heard playing a series of oscillating seconds and then little upward and downward extensions of seconds. The idea of extended second forms the main impulse of the second movement. At the end of this movement the rhythm is redefined to spark off the succeeding Allegretto. Similarly, the fourth movement (Adagio) is based on the same underlying thematic motifs. These rhythmic elements are tersely contracted to propel the final Allegro. The final Allegro is by far the longest movement. The main thematic material is evolved in the fourth movement and there are many references to what has been heard in the earlier sections.
The work’s emotional character is more varied than this description of its lifeline suggests. The opening has an air of bemused composure, its chromatic tensions being offset by the tranquil motion and stable tonality that are a familiar vein in Shostakovich’s later music. The further the work proceeds, the deeper the sense of suppressed tension which at last finds release in the hard-driven finale.
Quartet in E Minor, Opus 59, No. 2 (1806) Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Count Rasumovsky, Russian ambassador to Vienna, who was a noted amateur violinist, commissioned the three quartets of Opus 59 in late 1805. They were to have had their premiere in a lavish palace he was building, but the quartets were finished by July 5, 1806 before the completion of the palace. At the premiere in February 1807 the quartet received a harsh reaction but Beethoven was not perturbed by this criticism as he was convinced that his creative genius would flourish. When Beethoven was asked “Surely you do not consider this music?, he replied “No, not for you but for a later age”.
The Allegro, in traditional sonata form, is tense and agitated. It opens dramatically with two fortissimo chords followed by three short related themes, separated from each other by a bar of silence. A short melodic phrase twice ends abruptly after which the foreboding ends as a series of phrases, little more than melodic fragments, pull the music forward in an extended melodic line. Further bars of silence introduce both the development, which contrasts syncopation with unisons, and the coda, which climaxes in a unison statement of the opening motif and then fades to a quiet ending.
The Adagio is sublimely eloquent and majestically calm. After a chorale-like opening, the individual sections are moulded together so unobtrusively that they give the impression of one extended glorious song. According to Carl Czerny, a friend of the composer, the Adagio occurred to Beethoven while he was contemplating a starry sky and thinking of the music of the spheres.
The Allegretto, a scherzo, opens quietly in dotted seconds giving the movement a novel rhythmic interest. A Russian theme, taken from Ivan Pratch’s collection of folk songs and included to fulfill the terms of Beethoven’s commission, appears in the Trio. It is first played by solo instruments over a contrapuntal accompaniment, after which it becomes the basis for a fugal section.
The brilliant Finale combines elements of rondo and sonata form. It opens with a high-spirited gypsy tune that is followed by a second lyrical theme presented by the first violin while the others echo the melody. After developing the themes further, the coda, with a sudden increase in tempo, leads to a spectacular dash to the final chords that bring this magnificent quartet to a close.