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The Shirley and Michael K. Bach Memorial Concert

sponsored in part by

The Shirley and Michael K. Bach Memorial Concert

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Program Notes

Schisma (2018)

Schisma is a reference to the phrase “in the cleft of the rock,” which appears in many scriptures including the Song of Solomon and Isaiah. In the Book of Exodus (33:22), there is a beautiful line which reads: “I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.” It is essentially a promise of safety, of a makeshift refuge within a crack in something as hard and unforgiving as mountain rock, until the danger has passed. It is a kind of nest, a home.

I have always felt that Beethoven’s Heiliger Dankgesang (third movement of Opus 132) uses a nest-like architecture in a unique and profound way. The return of the dance-like Neue Kraft fühlend section always feels like a warm homecoming, a place of hope and shelter and deep comfort. The choice to title this piece with the modern Greek word schisma (a translation of the Hebrew ת ַר ְק ִנ, or “cleft”) is a reference to the islands in today’s Greece, which have become harsh refugee camps for Syrians seeking asylum from the war. It also points to the nature of war, of the break between peoples, and of the search for hope and new growth within the breaks and crevices.

– Caroline Shaw

Kanto Kechua No. 2

In my early thirties, after receiving a devastating diagnosis of a life-threatening autoimmune disease, I paradoxically entered the most uniquely creative period of my life. Looking back, I believe I might have been grasping at what was most life-affirming to me, terrified of impending surgeries, radiation, drugs, and pain. Over several months, I composed hours of chamber music, wrote bilingual poetry and a fantasy novel of time-travel back to my ancestral homeland of pre-Conquest Perú, knitted and sewed, mastered the tarot and intricate origami, dove into the alchemy of homemade soaps and face creams, interned in bee-keeping, cultivated sourdoughs and learned to make cheese.

This was quite the prelude, bright and desperate both, to several years of treatment when most of my creative endeavors were muted. Now, a number of years later, scarred but healthy and working actively as a composer, I still carry around melodies born from that time; and in 2017, fashioned a quartet from this oddly luminescent wellspring into the first movement of Walkabout: Concerto for Orchestra, somewhat simplified for its symphonic weight.

When I was approached by the brilliant string quartet Brooklyn Rider for a work on the theme of healing, I found my chance to hear these ideas for the nimbler string quartet, my original conception. The result is Kanto Kechua No. 2 (“Quechua Song” with Quechua being the dominant language of post-Inca Perú) now with all of its ornamental intricacies and string-crossing whirls under an achingly high, if brief, violin line. Throughout, motifs from native Andean folk music proliferate.

I’m exceedingly grateful to be able to, at long last, bring this music to life as I step now in wellness and creative abundance.

– Gabriela Lena Frank

Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132

Ludwig van Beethoven lived through a time of political and cultural upheaval. Born into a family of court musicians in Bonn, he became an influential and independent musician in the glittering cultural center of Vienna. He was 5 1/2 years old when the American Declaration of Independence was signed and 18 years old at the beginning of the French revolution. He transformed the Classical style of Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) into a more expansive style that reflected the power and heroism of the early 19th century.

By 1825, Beethoven was renowned for his masterpieces. Following the triumph of his ninth symphony in 1824, he turned his attention once again to chamber music. In this he was encouraged by Prince Nikolay Borisovich Golitsïn, an amateur cellist from an influential Russian family. Golitsïn commissioned Beethoven to write new string quartets: “Being as passionate an amateur as an admirer of your talent, I am taking the liberty of writing to you to ask you if you would be willing to compose one, two, or three new quartets. I shall be delighted to pay you for the trouble whatever amount you would deem adequate.” The String Quartet in A minor, Opus 132, was the second of the group of three that Beethoven wrote for this commission. He completed the piece in July of 1825. Violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh’s quartet gave the premiere on November 6, 1825, as part of a benefit concert for the quartet’s cellist, Joseph Linke.

The five-movement quartet begins with a short chordal introduction led by the cello, the instrument that also introduces the main theme of the Allegro. The sonata form of the first movement shows Beethoven at maturity transforming the musical motives into an elegant yet dramatic organic musical whole. The second movement, “Allegro ma non tanto,” combines the framework of minuet and trio form with the elegant feel of a Viennese waltz. Listen for a dialogue that pairs the second violin and cello in conversation with the first violin and viola.

Beethoven’s composition of the quartet was interrupted by a period of illness in April of 1825 that caused him to be bedridden for a month. Upon recovering, he composed the third movement, “Molto adagio; andante,” as a “hymn of thanksgiving to the divinity, from a convalescent, in the Lydian mode.” Lydian mode can be described as using the notes of the C major scale but beginning the scale on F (i.e., the F scale with a B-natural instead of a B-flat). The use of this mode recalls 16th-century church music, giving the movement a poignant and archaic feeling. The Lydian sections in common time contrast with the triple meter sections in D major that Beethoven labeled as “feeling new strength.” After two alternations of the convalescent and strength sections, the third Lydian section provides a satisfying resolution.

The fourth movement, “Alla marcia, assai vivace,” features a chipper march theme. You will hear a distinct change of character in the transitional section. A cadenza-like run in the first violin leads directly into the rondo finale, “Allegro appassionato.” The whirling dance eventually accelerates to presto for a good- natured conclusion to the piece.

For their Healing Modes project, Brooklyn Rider worked with five composers who each wrote pieces related to healing conflict, illness, or mental health inspired in some way by Beethoven’s quartet. Brooklyn Rider will perform several of these pieces between the movements of Beethoven’s quartet this evening.

© 2020 Karen M. Woodworth, Ph.D.