Thursday, July 27, 2017, 7:00 PM

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Danse Sacrée et Profane (1904)
Danse sacrée
Danse profane
Clara Bellegarde, harp / Cho-Liang Lin, violin / Karsten Windt, violin
Naoko Shimizu, viola / Matt Haimovitz, cello

Gonzalo Grau (b. 1972)
Duo for Violin and Bass (2017)
Veronika Eberle, violin / Edicson Ruiz, bass

György Kurtág (b. 1926)
Message-Consolation á Christian Sutter
from Signs, Games and Messages for Solo Bass (1999-2000)
Edicson Ruiz, bass

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Terzetto in C Major for Two Violins and Viola (1887)
Introduzione: Allegro mař no troppo
Scherzo : Vivace ; Trio Poco meno mosso
Tema con Variazioni
Veronika Eberle, violin / Stephanie Jeong, violin
Naoko Shimizu, viola


Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36 (1864-5)
Allegro non troppo
Scherzo: Allegro non troppo; Presto giocoso
Poco Allegro
Cho-Liang Lin, violin / Stephanie Jeong, violin
Naoko Shimizu, viola / Ellen Ruth Rose, viola
Matt Haimovitz, cello / Angela Lee, cello




Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918)
Danses sacrée et profane, L. 113 (1903)

During the first few decades of his career, Claude Debussy struggled enormously to gain acceptance from the conservative French musical establishment. By the turn of the 20th century, however, Debussy finally gained recognition as one of the leading composers in Paris. A number of important compositions were completed during the first decade of that century. His opera Pelléas et Melissande, premiered in 1902, was such a success that it was staged repeatedly around the world , and in the following two years Debussy composed a number of major works, including his great symphonic work La Mer and the virtuosic piano piece L’isle joyeuse .

The Danses sacrée et profane were composed in early 1903, Debussy’s first work after the completion of Pelléas . The piece was commissioned by the instrument maker Pleyel and Wolff, which had begun producing a fully chromatic harp hoping to address the need for instruments more amenable to the highly chromatic music of the time. The Danses were intended to function as a test piece for a new curriculum in this instrument at the Brussels Conservatoire. However, Debussy shrewdly composed the work so as to allow it to be played on the standard pedal harp as well as Pleyel’s chromatic instrument, which soon proved to be a passing fad.

The solo harp is accompanied by a string orchestra, and the work is set as a single movement, without pause, that is divided into two clear sections: the aforementioned Danse sacrée , and Danse profane . In approaching the piece, one ought not dwell too much on the English connotations of “sacred” and “profane.” Instead, consider the spirit of the first part as one of ancient nobility and mysticism, while the second as earthy and more of its time. In this two-part tableau, Debussy presents a portrayal of opposites: the ancient, hallowed cathedral on the one hand, and the earthly, urbane street café on the other.


Gonzalo Grau (b. 1972)
Duo for Violin and Bass (2017) world premiere

from the composer:

After years of questioning myself for being involved in such a variety of music styles and instruments, and not focusing in just "one thing," I realized that everything merges naturally in my writing... I write music because I play music , and have lived it on every stage I have been on. From "salsa" to "Stravinsky;" from a "Flamenco group" to a "Symphonic Orchestra;" everything resides inside of my head , and runs through my blood... and I embrace and enjoy it all.

What kind of "composer" am I?

The only kind I can be... a mix of a lot of things, and my cultural heritage is definitely my biggest asset. All my compositions have a little piece of my roots, a little of my country, my family, and my friends. I like to think that I sit comfortably in between both classical and popular worlds ... at least that is where I naturally sit.

My first commission for full-orchestra was an orchestration of a "flamenco guitar" piece called "Farruca" (by guitarist Chuscales), commissioned by the National Institute of Flamenco in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Later, I began collaborating with Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov, orchestrating and writing sections of "La Pasión" and his opera "Ainadamar". Thanks to this collaboration and friendship, I was commissioned by the Atlanta Symphony and conductor Robert Spano to write an overture titled "Pregunta y Respuesta", premiered in 2008. A year later, I was commissioned by the composer series "Music Now" of the Chicago Symphony, to write a piece for small-ensemble titled "Café con Pan".

In 2009, French pianists Katia and Marielle Labeque commissioned a suite version of Golijov's "La Pasión" titled "Nazareno", for full-orchestra, two pianos and percussion, premiered by the Orchestre de Paris in 2010.

A year later, the "Bach Academy International" and his director Helmuth Rilling, commissioned an oratorio for choir, full-orchestra and soloists titled "Aqua", premiered in Caracas, Venezuela by the Schola Cantorum de Venezuela and the National Youth Orchestras of Germany and Venezuela. This oratorio received the "European Composer Award 2011", as part of the Young Euro Classic Festival, in Germany.

Comments on the piece will be given by the performers.


György Kurtág (b. 1926)

Message-consolation á Christian Sutter

from Signs, Games and Messages for Solo Bass (1999-2000)

Born in 1926, Hungarian composer György Kurtág came of age during the rise of the Iron Curtain in the years immediately following the Second World War. Following the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, Kurtág spent two years in Paris. While in Paris, Kurtág suffered from severe depression, and underwent an existential crisis. However, thanks to the help of psychotherapy, he emerged out of this period with a new creative direction, deeply informed by the high modernism of artists such as Anton Webern and Jean-Paul Sartre. Since then, Kurtág has become one of the preeminent modernist composers of the last half century. His works are performed around the world, and have received numerous awards and accolades, most notably the 2006 Grawemeyer Prize for …concertante…, Op. 42 for violin, viola and orchestra.

The short piece featured on this concert, Message-consolation á Christian Sutter, is the first of six pieces for double bass published in 2006. These pieces are among the more recent entries in an ever-expanding catalogue of works for solo instruments collectively titled Signs, Games and Messages. According to Kurtág’s publisher, “Signs, Games and Messages are compositions of differing length, written for different occasions: musical letters, tributes, playful games with instrumental technique.” Message-Consolation has a dark, meditative quality, dwelling on a limited set of musical intervals and gestures to form a satisfying and striking whole.


Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

Terzetto for Two Violins and Viola, Op. 74 (1887)

Antonín Dvořák’s rise to international fame and broad recognition is one of the more unlikely biographies in the history of music. The eldest son of a butcher and innkeeper, Dvořák was born in 1841 in the Czech town of Nelahozeves. His father had modest musical gifts, and Anton took to the violin as a young child. Though groomed from his early teenage years to inherit his father’s business, Dvořák spent nearly every spare moment playing violin. At thirteen, Dvořák was sent to the nearby town of Zlonice to apprentice (in the family business, not in music) with his uncle. This larger town offered greater opportunities for musical study, most notably with the local school’s German master, Antonín Liehmann. Though neither a professional, nor a particularly thoughtful pedagogue, Liehmann gave Dvořák considerable encouragement and helped convince his father to allow the young man to train for a career as a musician.

Upon finishing his formal music studies, Dvořák tread the path of many a young musician. His twenties and early thirties were spent scraping by on a meager income from various church music positions, the teaching of private lessons, and playing viola in pick-up bands and semi-professional opera orchestras. Meanwhile, Dvořák continued to compose prodigiously, with impressive self-discernment but little public success.

Meanwhile, nationalist movements were sprouting up across the eastern front of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Popular uprisings led to a loosening of the imperial yolk, and provincial theaters as well as cultural institutions were established to strengthen and promote Bohemian music and culture. Dvořák channeled these nationalistic impulses. He absorbed the essence of Bohemian folk music, and synthesized it with traditional European musical forms in his own idiosyncratic way.

In the mid-1870’s, Dvořák’s music came to the attention of Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick and composer Johannes Brahms. The two men were greatly impressed by Dvořák’s talent, and helped to swiftly bring about broader awareness of his music beyond Prague and Bohemia. Brahms recommended Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, Op. 46 to his publisher, and the work became a bestseller. After years of obscurity and poverty, Dvořák’s musical reputation and accompanying fortunes ascended swiftly.

By the late 1880’s, Dvořák’s music was in high demand throughout Europe. He was in continual negotiations with his publisher, Nikolaus Simrock, about what to compose next. Dvořák was chiefly concerned with his own creative drive, while Simrock was rather more interested in what would sell. It was thus that Dvořák spent the first part of 1887 orchestrating his second set of Slavonic Dances, Op. 72. The effort proved energizing, and Dvořák’s creativity soon overflowed into a pair of more personal chamber pieces.

The Terzetto, Op. 74 is one such piece. Scored for two violins and viola, this somewhat uncommon instrumentation reflects the personal nature of the composition: Dvořák wrote it for himself, a violinist named Jan Pelikán—with whom he shared his lodgings—and one of Pelikán’s students, a chemistry student named Josef Kruis. Unfortunately, the Terzetto proved too difficult for the young Kruis, so Dvořák composed a set of Bagatelles—which eventually became the Romantic Pieces, Op. 75—for the trio instead.

However, the Terzetto’s humble origins as a piece for three friends’ enjoyment belies the work’s true artistic ambition. The piece is cast in four movements. The first movement, Introduzione, alternates between “not too fast” lyricism and episodes of brief restlessness. This introduction moves with only a brief pause into a gentle and delicate slow movement. The third movement is a furiant, a fiery and rhythmically charged Bohemian folk dance filled with striking shifts between major and minor mode. The final movement is a theme and variations. The theme is more motivic than melodic in shape, a characteristic that allows Dvořák to blend the ten variations that follow into a satisfying and unified whole.


Johannes Brahms (1833—1897)

String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36 (1865)

In the summer of 1864, Johannes Brahms visited the spa town of Lichtenthal where his dear friend Clara Schumann was residing. During his stay, Brahms met such luminaries as Anton Rubinstein, Johann Strauss, and Hermann Levi, the latter of whom was destined to become a close friend and champion of Brahms’ music. He also met and befriended the Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, and the two seem to have seriously discussed collaboration on an opera, though nothing ultimately came of this. Despite so many social engagements, these summers were essential for serious creative work. During that summer’s stay, Brahms completed the Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34, and made significant headway on the G Major String Sextet, Op. 36.

The sextet was completed the following year, alongside the Cello Sonata in E Minor, Op. 38. Habitually secretive about each new composition, it was not until three movements were complete that Brahms finally sent a copy of the Sextet to Clara Schumann for feedback. Her response was surely an encouragement, “I need hardly tell you how surprised and overjoyed I am at what you have sent me such a great work in hand, and nobody had any idea of its existence!"

While string quartets, quintets, trios, and etc. were all highly popular and exceedingly common in the mid 19th century, a string sextet remained a rarity. According to the musicologist Marie Sumner Lott, Brahms likely had in mind music of a more domestic nature, not unlike that of Louis Spohr or George Onslow. These composers—now long forgotten—were highly prolific and popular in their day. Brahms seems to have held Spohr is particularly high regard , and may very well have been familiar with his String Sextet in C Major, Op. 140, composed in 1850. As Lott writes,

“In 1859, just as he began composing his Sextet Op. 18, Brahms wrote a letter from Detmold to two of the members of the Hamburg Frauenchor, responding to the latest gossip from his home town. In the middle of an otherwise playful note, Brahms mentions some sad news he had recently received and his reaction to it:

‘Spohr is dead! He may well be the last one who still belonged to a more beautiful era of art than the one we are suffering through. In those days, one could eagerly keep a look out every week for what new and even more beautiful work had come from this or that person. Now it is different. In a month of Sundays I see hardly one volume of music that pleases me, but on the other hand many that even make me physically ill. Possibly at no other time has an art form been maltreated as badly as our dear music nowadays. I hope better things are quietly maturing, otherwise, in the history of art, our era will look like a trash heap.’”

While Brahms’ first string sextet indeed strikes a lighter, arguably more “domestic” tone, his second work in the genre takes a more serious turn. Five years separate the two sextets. During this time, Brahms tirelessly furthered his rigorous study of counterpoint, harmony, and Baroque dance forms. All these traits are on full display in the Second Sextet, a work that evinces that Brahms’ signature unity of technical mastery with expressive depth and timeless beauty.

© 2017 Joseph Stillwell