Attacca Quartet

Chamber Concert
Pollard Auditorium

There will be a dinner following the concert. Tickets are $50 per person before Nov. 10, $55 after. Food is by Birdwell Catering. Call the office to reserve a place (856) 483-5569

First prize winners in the 7th Osaka International Chamber Music Competition in 2011, top prize winners and Listeners’ Choice award recipients in the 2011 Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition, and winners of the Alice Coleman Grand Prize in the 60th annual Coleman Chamber Ensemble Competition in 2006, the internationally acclaimed Attacca Quartet has become one of America’s premier young performing ensembles. Praised by The Strad for possessing “maturity beyond its members’ years,” they were formed at the Juilliard School in 2003 and made their professional debut in 2007 as part of the Artists International Winners Series in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall. From 2011-2013 they served as the Juilliard Graduate Resident String Quartet, and for the 2014-2015 season they were selected as the Quartet in Residence by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The quartet, comprised of violinists Amy Schroeder and Keiko Tokunaga, violist Nathan Schram, and cellist Andrew Yee, will perform music by Caroline Shaw, Felix Mendelssohn, and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Program notes:

Felix Mendelssohn - Born February 3, 1809 – Hamburg, Germany  Died way too early on November 4, 1847 – Leipzig, Germany

Felix Mendelssohn’s huge talent saw no road blocks. He had more advantages than you could shake a baton at. Up close and personal was a musically gifted family who encouraged a broad appreciation for everything cultural.  Away from home, he outdistanced his teachers in talent and opportunities. His diverse skills took him everywhere musicians thrive. He was a child prodigy and a teen sensation.  His Overture to Midsummer Night’s Dream may be the greatest single musical work ever written by a teen.  As an adult administrator and conductor, he hit the mark many times over. Furthermore, if he had accomplished nothing else, he would still be a hero for bringing to light lost jewels, including Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and B-minor Mass.  Leipzig Conservatory was his discovery too, and it became “the most prestigious musical institution of his in all of Europe.”

The chronology of Mendelssohn’s late quartets is confusing, but simply put, Opus 13 was composed in1827, before Opus 12, but published later.  Mendelssohn was only a teen when his idol Beethoven died, but by a piece of luck, the last (and best) of Beethoven’s quartets were published about the same time. That was like mana from  heaven for Mendelssohn, who had already turned a deaf ear to the rumble of criticism coming from his peers about Beethoven’s new style – “ indecipherable uncorrected horrors” said one, “pushing classical form to the extreme” said another.  But Mendelssohn said bring them on and studied them religiously.

String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Opus 13

Now here is a quartet we can throw our arms around.  It is about the 18-year-old composer falling in love with a 16-year old neighbor.  For her he set to music a love poem he had written earlier.  That poem translated to music begins with a three--note motto ”ist es wahr” (is it true?).  The signature question with varied treatments permeates the whole composition.  You can always recognize it by the rhythmic pattern LONG/SHORT/LONG.  The full lyricssung” by the players asks “Is it true you always wait for me there in the leafy path by the grape arbor, and ask the moonlight and the little stars about me?  Is it true? What I feel can only be understood by someone who feels it with me, and who will stay forever true to me.” If truth be told, every time we hear that question, we will most likely experience some kind of delicious yearning pain.

After an introspective prologue in A major, the Allegro picks up wind and slaps sixteenth notes all over the movement until the viola enters with the principal theme. Note that the second subject, played by the cellist, is in that instrument’s higher range. Shades of Beethoven can be detected throughout this marvelously constructed movement.  Newer techniques combine to affect dissonance and  counterpoint feats.  An easy-on-the-ears major-key prelude announces the second movement, but after that, the feel is dark and emotional. The fugato’s leader is seven beats long and it just sits there until the next voice enters in precisely on the seventh beat.  By the time the fugue makes its rounds, we are guaranteed some note bullying and exciting color contrasts – always fascinating if not pretty.

Intermezzo is a breath of fresh Mendelssohn.  The first violin plays a folkish tune while the others provide a soft pizzicato accompaniment. The middle section whispers faster, faster until the Scherzo sparkles in shades of Midsummer’s Night. The big surprise and prize is when everybody plays tremolo except the first violin, which plays an agitated recitative based on the fugato theme.  Like adding leftovers to a big pot of soup, all that has gone before is now mixed for a final tasting, leaving us with a pleasing aftertaste of Mendelssohn’s song with words.

BONUS FACT – How revered was Mendelssohn?  Berlioz’s answer is good enough for me: There is but one God – Bach - and Mendelssohn is his Prophet.  Incidentally, Bach was a huge influence on both Mendelssohn and Beethoven.

Ludwig Beethoven - Born December 16, 1770 - Bonn, Germany

Died March 26, 1827 - Vienna, Austria

Well, Beethoven never had it as good as Mendelssohn, and some believe he blossomed because of his doomed existence and deafness. As for environment, Beethoven’s home life was at least a category four dysfunction. His bully alcoholic father used physical force to make him practice piano.  Aside from serious domestic issues, he watched traditions shatter during the French Revolution, while he himself was shaking loose from the restrictions of the classical form. No wonder he had behavior problems and impure thoughts.  Wagner called him a Titan “wrestling with the Gods” but despite all, Beethoven’s bumpy road became a freeway to fame. Composers of his time actually defined themselves in relation to Beethoven. That was true of Mendelssohn, and fifty years later of Brahms, who kept “hearing the tread of a giant behind him.”

String Quartet in A, Opus 132

Beethoven gives so much of himself in the late provocative quartets, including the Opus 132.  We might even think of it as a musical diary. Listeners up on their Beethoven will enjoy recalling elements from earlier compositions that now live comfortably in a newer form surrounded by Lydian harmonies.  It begins with a series of “imitations” of a four-note cello phrase.  That motif will hang around for the whole piece, so it might be good to get familiar with it:  two half-step intervals: G# to A, followed by F to E.   Meanwhile, a brilliant flurry of notes from the restless violin introduces the second subject played by the cellist in that instrument’s higher range. Expansions and new developments continue to fascinate as this free spirited eventful movement moves on to the pining two motifs of the second movement. The bagpipe you think you hear is actually the violin.

The beautiful third movement, written when Beethoven was dangerously sick, has the distinction of being the longest slow movement in the string quartet repertoire. It plays for a little over fifteen minutes and sometimes slows to a crawl with half note-progressions, but it is clearly worth staying awake for.  Reactions to it have been uniformly ecstatic. If Beethoven seems obsessed with the Lydian mode (The Ecclesiastical major F scale with no black notes), it might be because it figured so gloriously into his Missa Solemnis.  Over this score Beethoven wrote the words “Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity by a Convalescent in the Lydian mode.”  The sacred hymn conveys Beethoven’s deep appreciation for his returned health.

The music comes to us in five slow chorale-like lines, each preceded by a fast moving contrapuntal prelude. Now, the music is all about contrast: slow- fast; loud-soft; and poetic-clashing.  Over this score, Beethoven had inscribed “Feeling of new strength.”   When the music reaches its powerful propulsive climax, Beethoven returns to the Song of Thanksgiving, marking on the score: “to be played with the most intimate emotions.” Beethoven’s poetic heart achieves a peace and radiance here to applaud, and in the finale, Beethoven gives voice to dramatic recitatives performed by the instruments.  It recalls the Ninth Symphony’s strenuous demands on the performers, but it also whistles a happy tune for affirmative joy.  With its slow Adagio, Beethoven’s Ode to Good Health and Mystic Spirituality is a lifelong jewel.

BONUS FACT – Beethoven’s piano was enshrined in a museum, and no one was allowed to play it.  A groupie student couldn’t resist, and played four notes on it.  A museum guard scolded her.  She said, “doesn’t everyone want to play on this piano?”  The guard said, “not everyone.  Last week someone came in who refused to touch it because he was not worthy – his name was Paderewski.”


Caroline Shaw – Born in 1982 – Greenville, North Carolina

Caroline Shaw is a very interesting character, to say the least.  She is the youngest winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music.  She noted: "Up until now, the Pulitzer for Music has always been awarded to a composer, while I’m a musician who writes music.” She is an accomplished singer and violinist.  She was taught, she says, to “make music with colors, flavors, and scents.”  Her Partita (which won her the award) is an a cappella composition for 8 voices that “lucidly and creatively blends whispers, sighs, murmurs, melodies without words, and new vocal effects.”  Today’s piece, Entr’acte, was written in 2011 after hearing the Brentano Quartet play Haydn’s Opus 77, No. 2.  “It is structured like a minuet and trio,” she says, “riffing on that classical form but taking it a little further. I love the way some music (like the minuets of Opus 77) suddenly takes you to the other side of Alice’s looking glass, in a kind of absurd, subtle, technicolor transition.”  So let’s see where Entr’acte takes us.


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