Hear the award-winning Jasper String Quartet play two works by the Japanese composer Akira Nishimura: Pulse of Lights, which was premiered in Tokyo in 1992, and Spring, which received its world premiere at this concert and is inspired by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
Jasper String Quartet
J Freivogel, violin
Karen Kim, violin
Sam Quintal, viola
Rachel Henderson Freivogel, cello
Recorded in concert at the Freer Gallery of Art on April 4, 2019, as part of the 26th season of the Bill and Mary Meyer Concert Series.
|String Quartet in E-flat Major, op. 64, no. 6 (1790)||0:00-16:30|
|“Spring” for String Quartet (2018)||16:38-25:20|
Commissioned by the Jasper String Quartet, with support from the Freer and Sackler Galleries
|String Quartet no. 2, “Pulse of the Lights” (1992)||15:20-41:50|
|String Quartet in D Major, op. 44, no. 1 (1838)||41:55-1:10:15|
Molto Allegro vivace
String Quartet in E-flat Major, op. 64, no. 6
Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)
By 1790 Joseph Haydn had achieved international renown. He composed steadily during the summer and autumn of that year to meet the demand of amateur and professional performers throughout Europe and England who clamored for his music. Haydn concentrated his primary efforts on a splendid series of six quartets that were published as his opus 64 the following year. These quartets were dedicated to Johann Tost, principal second violinist in Haydn’s orchestra at Esterháza from 1783 to 1788.
Tost went to Paris in 1789 to present himself as a soloist. Haydn entrusted him to negotiate a deal with the publisher Sieber for engraving two of his recent symphonies (nos. 88 and 89). The sly Tost, however, sold Sieber not two but three symphonies. The third piece was by Adalbert Gyrowetz, which Tost passed off as having been composed by Haydn. (Gyrowetz later had enormous difficulty persuading French musicians that this was indeed his work. When Sieber complained about this shady deal to Haydn, the composer, who had been victimized by unscrupulous publishers throughout his career, replied without sympathy, “Thus Herr Tost has swindled you; you can claim your damages in Vienna.”)
The opus 64 quartets have long been among the most popular of Haydn’s chamber works. He presented them with great success on several occasions during his first visit to London in 1791-92, and he oversaw their English publication there before he returned to Vienna. The last number of the set, which is played here, takes a short, amiable violin melody as its principal subject. A cursory tour through the developmental possibilities of this theme occupies several measures before the first violin posits a nimble triplet figure for the transition to the second theme, which proves, as so often occurs in the works of Haydn’s full maturity, to be the main theme wrapped in a new key. The development section carries on with the motivic working-out previewed earlier before a recapitulation of the exposition’s materials, often given in surprisingly lean textures, rounds out the movement.
The three-part Andante juxtaposes two sharply contrasted expressive states: beatific and lyrical in the outer sections; dramatic and agitated in the central one. The Menuet, despite being rooted in eighteenth-century dance traditions, hints of the stronger stuff of encroaching Romanticism with its sudden accents, quirky harmonizations, and whistling violin notes in the central trio. The finale is a dashing rondo whose second episode is an intense, tightly contrapuntal development of the movement’s main theme.
- Richard Rodda, PhD
“Spring” for String Quartet
Akira Nishimura (b. 1953)
Commissioned by the Jasper String Quartet, with support from the Freer and Sackler Galleries
While the repertoires for orchestra, ballet, piano, and even the oratorio have their Four Seasons, a comparable work for chamber ensembles has been missing – at least until the Jasper String Quartet launched its Four Seasons for String Quartet Commission Project in 2018. For this innovative project, the Quartet collaborated with four composers who have different backgrounds. As violist Sam Quintal explained, the composers “are from places that are magical in the season they are writing about: Akira Nishimura (Japan) – cherry blossoms in Spring; Joan Tower (Hudson Valley) – Summer; Christopher Theofanidis (New England) – beautiful colors in Autumn; and Lera Auerbach (Moscow) – Winter.” Each piece takes about eight minutes to perform and may be played separately or as part of the Four Seasons cycle. “Spring” was heard for the first time at this concert on April 4, 2019, thanks to the support of the Freer and Sackler Galleries.
Akira Nishimura, composer and conductor, was born in Osaka, Japan, and studied composition and music theory at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. He has also studied traditional Asian music, religion, aesthetics, and cosmology, all of which have exerted an impact on his creative work. Nishimura has been on the faculty of the Tokyo College of Music since 2000 and holds the position of music director of the Izumi Sinfonietta Osaka as well as Kusatsu International Summer Music Academy and Festival in Tokyo. In addition, he has served as a commentator and host for music programs on NHK radio and television. Nishimura has composed works for leading Japanese orchestras and ensembles, and for international organizations, such as the Ultima Contemporary Music Festival Oslo, Octobre en Normandie, Arditti and Kronos quartets, Elision Ensemble, and Hannover Society of Contemporary Music. Among his many distinctions are the Queen Elizabeth International Competition Award (Brussels), Luigi Dallapiccola Composition Award, Otaka Prize, Kyoto Music Award, Contemporary Art Foundation Award, Suntory Music Award, and a Medal of Honor from the Government of Japan.
String Quartet no. 2, “Pulse of the Lights”
Akira Nishimura (b. 1953)
Nishimura composed String Quartet no. 2 for the Arditti Quartet. They premiered the work in Tokyo on May 21, 1992. Fifteen minutes long, the work is in two complementary parts that are played without pause. Part I has four continuous sections: Section 1 opens with a tiny, hammered motto that ricochets through the instruments, falls silent, moves onto slithering figurations, and then abuts those two elements. The hammered motto returns and leads to angry, slashing notes high in the violins, which are cut off by the motto. The music holds its breath in a passage of sustained notes made uneasy by a twittering background and leads to Section 2. Based on a long, keening, disjunct melody marked “Religioso,” the second section is shared by the instruments before settling into the cello. The ricochet motto reignites the aggressive music of the opening (Section 3) before Part I closes (Section 4) with a passage that is almost motionless and often nearly inaudible.
Part II may have given the composition its sobriquet “Pulse of the Lights.” It starts with strange, firefly flickers of sound, perhaps an aural analogue to the lights of a distant city seen pulsing through the atmosphere. An entire estuary of insect-like sounds follows, some intense enough to suggest a pond filled with frogs on mating night. The music eventually resolves into a remarkable, frenetic dance, the sort of thing Béla Bartók might well have encountered on his research trips among the peasants in the eastern European hinterlands. The Quartet comes round full circle with the return of the ricochet motto and the slithering notes of the opening.
- Notes on works by Akira Nishimura provided by the Jasper String Quartet.
String Quartet in D Major, op. 44, no. 1
Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847)
One of the most professionally successful musicians of the nineteenth century was the German composer Felix Mendelssohn. His career showed none of the reverses, disappointments, and delays that plagued other great Romantic composers. Even so, overwork and exhaustion led to his untimely death at the age of thirty-eight.
His appointment as the administrator, music director, and conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus concerts in 1835 ushered in the most intensely busy time of his life. In very short order, he raised the quality of music in Leipzig to equal that of any city in Europe, and in 1842 he founded a local conservatory to maintain his standards of excellence. He toured, conducted, and composed incessantly, and on March 28, 1837, he took on the additional responsibilities of husband when he married Cécile Jeanrenaud.
Their first child, Carl Wolfgang Paul, was born on February 7, 1838, a day after Mendelssohn completed the E-flat Quartet, op. 44, no. 3. The composer spent the summer in Berlin, where he wrote his setting of Psalm 95, the B-flat Cello Sonata, and the Andante and Presto agitato for Piano. The completed score of the D Major Quartet, op. 44, no. 1 is dated July 24. A week later he wrote to Ferdinand David, a close friend and the recently appointed concertmaster of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, “I have just finished my Quartet in D Major, and I like it very much. I hope it may please you as well. I rather think it will, since it is more spirited and seems to me likely to be more grateful to the players than the others.” (The third quartet comprising the opus 44 set was finished in June 1837.) The three quartets of 1837–38 were published as opus 44 and dedicated to the Crown Prince of Sweden.
The brilliant, virtuosic, and nearly orchestral opening movement of the D Major Quartet is energized by a lusty impetuosity and rhythmic verve that seem about to burst the classical simplicity of its sonata form. The first violin introduces the movement’s main theme, a bounding melody begun with a quickly ascending phrase that in earlier decades would have been called a “rocket motive.” The movement’s vigor slackens only briefly for the presentation of the complementary theme, a hymnal melody in a slightly sad minor tonality. The development section, based on the main theme, makes prominent use of the “rocket motive.” With only a brief respite to allow for the recall of the second theme, the high level of energy carries through the recapitulation to the end of the movement.
As a foil to the powerful opening Allegro, Mendelssohn inserted a gentle Menuetto rather than the expected vivacious scherzo. The outer sections of the movement are lilting and graceful, while the central trio is marked by flowing ribbons of eighth notes. Tender sentiments are heard in the bittersweet Andante. The music is disposed in sonatina form (sonata-allegro without a development section): the lyrical main theme is given by the violin above a discreet pizzicato accompaniment in the lower strings. The second theme, again initiated by the violin, employs a sustained note in the cello and an undulating counterpoint in the inner voices as background. The spirited finale was inspired by the tarantella, the fiery Italian dance that also served as the model for the closing movement of Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony, completed in 1834, and revised just the year before this quartet was written.
- Richard Rodda, PhD
The Jasper String Quartet, winner of the prestigious CMA Cleveland Quartet Award, is the professional quartet-in-residence at Temple University’s Center for Gifted Young Musicians. In 2016 they launched their inaugural season of Jasper Chamber Concerts.
The Quartet completed a tour of its commissioned work, Aaron Jay Kernis’ Third String Quartet “River,” at London’s Wigmore Hall. The group’s album on Sono Luminus, which features Kernis’s Quartet no. 3 and the Debussy Quartet, completes the Kernis quartet cycle and adds to its recordings of Beethoven’s op. 59, no. 3; Beethoven’s op. 131; and Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. The 2017 album Unbound features the first recordings of quartets by Donnacha Dennehy, Annie Gosfield, Judd Greenstein, Ted Hearne, David Lang, Missy Mazzoli, and Caroline Shaw.
Due to its commitment to performing hundreds of outreach programs in schools, the Quartet received its third Picasso Project Grant from Public Citizens for Children and Youth in 2019. In addition, Fischoff National Chamber Music Association recognized the Quartet's “outstanding and imaginative programming for children and youth” with an Educator Award in 2016. Eight years earlier, in 2008, the Jaspers took the Grand Prize and the Audience Prize in the Plowman Chamber Music Competition, the Grand Prize at the Coleman Competition, and First Prize at Chamber Music Yellow Springs, as well as the Silver Medal at the 2008 and 2009 Fischoff Chamber Music Competitions. In 2010 the musicians joined the roster of Astral Artists after winning the national auditions. The Quartet was also the first ensemble honored with Yale School of Music’s Horatio Parker Memorial Prize.
The Quartet was the 2010–12 ensemble-in-residence at Oberlin Conservatory and, in conjunction with Astral Artists, was awarded a 2012 Chamber Music America grant. From 2009 to 2011, the Jaspers were the Ernst C. Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence at the Caramoor Center for Music and Arts in Katonah, New York, and were the first ensemble invited for a second year.
This concert was presented as part of the 26th season of the Bill and Mary Meyer Concert Series, established in memory of Dr. Eugene Meyer III and Mary Adelaide Bradley Meyer. It is generously supported by Elizabeth E. Meyer, E. Bradley Meyer, the New York Community Trust – The Island Fund, the Bill and Mary Meyer Concert Series Endowment, and numerous private donors.
The podcast was coordinated by Michael Wilpers, manager of performing arts. Audio recording and editing by SuMo Productions. Web design by Ryan King, with additional web production by Torie Castiello Ketcham and Gio Camozzi. Copy editing by Nancy Eickel. Special thanks to the artists for granting permission to share their performance at the Freer Gallery.
The Meyer Family and the Freer Gallery
Early in 1915, Charles Lang Freer met Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer at a New York exhibition of Chinese art. Their shared interest in the arts of China led to a relationship with the museum that has spanned three generations of the Meyer family. In the last years of his life, Freer helped the Meyers assemble an exceptional collection of Chinese art. Agnes Meyer later bequeathed many of those objects to the Freer Gallery of Art, where they are often on view. Katharine Graham, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Meyer and the publisher of the Washington Post, provided a substantial gift when the auditorium was renovated in 1993 and renamed in her parents’ honor. A second renovation, completed in 2017, was supported by the Philip L. Graham Fund. The grandchildren of Agnes and Eugene Meyer established a concert series in 1993 in memory of their parents, Bill and Mary Meyer, to feature the Musicians from Marlboro and other virtuoso performers.