Sunday, November 15, 2015

Takacs Quartet performs Haydn, Dvorak, and Andres (premier) at Shriver Hall at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD

Sunday, November 15, 2015, the Takacs Quartet gave a chamber recital in the Shriver Hall Concert Series on the Johns Hopkins University Campus in Baltimore, MD in early evening, at 5:30 PM. The violinists are Edward Dusinberre and Karoly Schranz; the violist is Geraldine Walter, and the cellist is Andras Fejer.

The opening work was the String Quartet #57 in C Major, Op. 74, #1.   The first movement starts with the theme “C-D-F-E” that also opens the finale of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony (#41).  Here the initial effect is more cerebral, almost as if this were an early Beethoven quartet.  But the movement remains monothematic and tends to become mechanical.  The second movement (marked Andantino Grazioso) in G sounds like a minuet, rather than a slow movement, but has more themes.  Perhaps there is foreshadowing of the writing of the famous “Allegretto” of Beethoven’s Seventh.  The third movement is a formal Minuet and Trio, and the Finale has the typical Haydn humor.

The second work was a world premiere of the String Quartet #2 in C, called “Strong Language”, by Timo Andres, who just celebrated his 30th birthday.  The 23-minute work has three movements, titled “Middens”, “Origin Story”, and “Gentle Cycling”.  I wonder if the first movement title refers in part to his cat (or maybe Gabriel Kahane’s feline), at least seen in some of either artist’s social media.  The last movement title seems to refer to Timo’s love of cycling around New York City, at least in outer boroughs, not competitively.   (No, I don’t think he biked to Baltimore; maybe Amtrak.) The music is built in cycles that mimic physical design patterns, on rather simple thematic elements, lending to ground-bass effects like a passacaglia, well known in the music of Glass, but also Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer, and in a recent work by his friend Chris Cerrone (reviewed Nov. 9).  The music is more lush than a lot of Andres’s other music.  Sometimes it reminds one of Bartok’s quartets (the "arch" structure), and there is even a hint of late Sibelius in spots, or maybe even the palindrome that quietly concludes the Hindemith Horn Concerto. The ending is quiet, as is common in Andres’s works, as if getting off a ride in Orlando.  The work was commissioned by Shriver Hall Concert Series  and by Carnegie Hall.

Timo's own link describing the piece is here.  His official music publisher's site (Project Schott New York) is here.  I don't see this piece here yet but I suspect it will be there soon.  The site does allow the visitor to look at sample sheet music pages (much as Amazon does).  I was surprised to see that he uses key signatures more often than I had thought. (See posting about Schott Nov. 2, 2011.)
After a rather crowded intermission (there were a lot of college music students, some carrying cases, maybe some from Peabody) the concert concluded with Antonin Dvorak’s String Quartet #14 in A-flat Major, Op. 105.  This is an odd key for a string work (and not common in cyclic works, though look at Elgar’s first symphony).  The first movement is supposed to reflect a longing for home, and the second movement, in F minor, is a famous scherzo and most familiar portion of the work.  The slow movement in F is a gentle hymn, and the Finale is idiomatic Dvorak, running away from itself with the jovial end.

Before the concert, Timo did a QA lecture with a music professor from Johns Hopkins.  Timo made many interesting points.  Kids today are not as likely to grow up learning classical music as they did even 20 years ago, but still come to using professional techniques in composition.  He talked about the use of ground-bass (the chaconne or passacaglia) as the basis of most popular music and even disco (other than perhaps hip-hop), and some composers bridge these popular idioms with more formal compositions.  I can add that the songs of artists that I have reviewed elsewhere on these blogs (especially the movies blog) like Reid Ewing and Timo Descamps provide some examples.  The use of repeated figures to build effect is counter to the original thrust toward atonality and non-repetition in early 20th Century music, especially expressionism.  He did describe the process of working with Sibelius (AVID software)  and composing under commissions.  It appears that performing as a pianist serves the purposes of composition, even though he performs many other composer’s works (especially Schumann, and more recently Glass).  There were questions, and I asked about the Schumann Fantasy.  He said that some of the March in that work is viewed as almost unplayable. He also mentioned the pressure that was put on women composers – not to – until modern times.  Not many people know that Alma Mahler composed.  Now Clara Schumann’s piano concerto is not a lot, but try Amy Beach’s in C# Minor.

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