Maurice Ravel- String Quartet in F (1903)
In String Quartet in F, Ravel combines formal rigor with a unique approach to color and texture. Written ten years after Debussy’s own Quartet in G, it mirrors elements of that work: for instance the traditional movement forms, sequence of movements, and cyclical use of themes (melodies from Ravel’s first movement are recast throughout the piece). His use of unconventional voice leading, expressive non-chord tones, colorful bowing instructions (like sul tasto, i.e. bowing far from the bridge), modal scale patterns and other effects creates captivating atmospheric moments, at times hinting at the antique or exotic.
Though sometimes called an “impressionist,” Ravel was a perfectionist who valued proportionality and craftsmanship. He treated structure with an almost classical restraint. He considered Edgar Allan Poe one of his great influences next to Gabriel Faure, his mentor and the work’s dedicatee. Poe’s The Philosophy of Composition (1846) and stories like The Raven (1845) left their mark on Ravel: he identified with the writer’s philosophy of conceiving a work as a unified whole before starting to write. The quartet’s tight construction shows off Ravel’s compositional foresight, especially in his reuse and adaptation of themes.
The melodious opening movement is the source of several themes later in the work. After its recapitulation, the main themes return against subtly altered harmonies and the movement climbs to its transcendent close. Pulsing pizzicato sections in the second movement take their melodic contour from the previous movement’s second theme. These driving, fandango-like episodes bracket a muted, contemplative interlude. The Tres Lent begins haltingly. Perhaps the disconsolate recitatives are ruminations on the first few notes of the work’s opening theme? They transition to a nostalgic viola line accompanied in lilting counterpoint. Tranquil interludes in open intervals cast the original theme fragment in a serene light. The finale revisits familiar themes between energetic episodes, and the work concludes in a flurry.
Thomas Adès- Arcadiana (1994)
Arcadiana is a set of seven miniatures, each an evocation of paradise. The first movement opens in atmospheric, veiled tones. A gently rocking viola line backs up the spectral violin duet. Full of chiming harmonics, the next movement is operatic and jocular, a fleeting homage to Mozart. In the third, dripping pizzicato slides back up fog-shrouded bowed lines. A great cacophony begins to boil, and it snaps into focus at the end, setting up the next movement, the pointed “tango mortale.” Tightly wound and rhythmically tense, it flirts with fragmentary dance rhythms.
The fifth movement is muted and pastel. It takes inspiration from a painting by Watteau concerning Cythera, a mythical island of love for which pilgrims embark but never arrive. After taking an ominous turn, it finishes with a sparkling, kaleidoscopic variation of the opening. The next movement is a sonorous chorale reminiscent of Elgar. The hushed cello melody in the final movement coexists with distant wind chime-like notes in the violins and viola. A quiet array of unisons brings the reverie to a close.
Adès writes: “Each of the seven titles which comprise Arcadiana evokes an image associated with ideas of the idyll, vanishing, vanished or imaginary. The odd-numbered movements are all aquatic, and would be musically continuous if played consecutively. Movement III alludes to the eponymous Schubert Lied. The title of movement V derives from Watteau's painting The Embarkation from the Island of Cythera in the Louvre. Movement VII bears the name of the mythical River of Oblivion.
The second and sixth movements inhabit pastoral Arcadias, respectively Mozart's 'Kingdom of Night' and more local fields. At the dead centre is the fourth movement, bearing part of the Latin inscription on a tomb which Poussin depicts being discovered by shepherds: Even in Arcady am I.”
W.A. Mozart- String Quartet in F, K 590 (1790)
Mozart’s Quartet in F, K 590 was his final quartet, and the last of the three “Prussian” quartets. The set was presumably commissioned by the cello-playing King of Prussia. Mozart was comfortable writing in just about any musical medium of his day, but the elegance and balance of this work belies what Mozart called the “exhausting labor” of its conception.
The opening unison figure segues to a melodious interweaving of voices. Operatic themes are punctuated by quips and commentary, and jarring harmonic digressions sometimes hijack the conversation. A simple theme runs through the slow movement. It is embellished and developed, and the movement ascends to its close. The Minuet’s capriciousness is countered at times by stern digressions and in the Trio, its grace note figure is playfully parodied. The Finale is peppered with unexpected stops, starts, and modulations. Voices get competitive with each other and trade virtuosic passages, and the conversation comes to an abrupt end.
THE CALDER QUARTET
Ben Jacobson and Andrew Bulbrook, violins
Jonathan Moerschel, viola
Eric Byers, cello
“The Calders—now an even more self-confident, polished powerhouse of a group than ever—produced a warm, beautiful amplified string tone...The foursome then found considerable subtly shaded expressive depth.”
--The Los Angeles Times
Inspired by the innovative American visual artist Alexander Calder, the Calder Quartet continues to expand the boundaries of chamber music by performing both traditional quartet repertoire as well as partnering with innovative modern composers and performing works by emerging young musicians. The juxtaposition of old and new serves to foster a broad understanding of chamber music and continues to excite and surprise the group’s fans. Praised for its “splendor and substance,” (Alan Rich, LA Weekly) the Calder Quartet embarks on their upcoming performance schedule “fully prepared for the world stage” (Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times).
The group began its 2007-08 season as the first quartet-in-residence and newest faculty members at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Downtown Los Angeles. The season is highlighted with numerous recordings including Christopher Rouse’s String Quartet No. 1, String Quartet No. 2, and Compline to be released on the Koch label, a recording of Terry Riley’s early string works, and the self-release of an album featuring the music of Thomas Adês, Mozart, and Ravel. In addition, the Calder continues its relationship with the Carlsbad Music Festival, an alternative classical music festival in Southern California, that the group co-founded with composer Matt McBane. In 2007, the festival featured the Calder performing with world-renowned clarinetist Evan Ziporyn and premiering a work for string quartet and boticello (a robotic instrument) called Honey Flyers by Christine Southworth, founder of Ensemble Robot and winner of the Calder’s commissioning competition.
This group’s upcoming performances include a solo concert at Zipper Hall in Los Angeles in December 2007 of music by Philip Glass, Schubert, and Terry Riley. The group is also slated to perform and be honored in early 2008 as part of the Chamber Music America awards banquet in New York City and then head off to perform at Chamber Music Sedona in Arizona, The Artist Series in Tallahasse, Florida, a solo concert at Merkin Hall in New York, and as part of the much-acclaimed Wordless Music Series in New York (about which Alex Ross of The New Yorker says, “At the moment, there is no more inventive music series in New York.”)
Recent milestones for the Quartet include receiving their Artist Diplomas from The Juilliard School after serving for two years as Graduate Resident Quartet, debuting at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, and performing the music of Terry Riley at the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Minimalist Jukebox festival in 2006. The Calders’ collaboration with Riley continues with their upcoming recording of his early works.
They have enjoyed debuts with the Washington Performing Arts Society’s Kreeger String Series at the Kennedy Center, the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, UCLA Live, San Francisco Performances, the Aspen Music Festival, and La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest and have recently been featured in the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Orange County Register, and San Diego Union Tribune. Radio appearances include performances and commentary on NPR’s Performance Today, WQXR and WNYC in New York, WGBH in Boston, and KUSC in Los Angeles.
Formed at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, the Calder Quartet also studied at the Colburn Conservatory of Music and was part of the institution’s first graduating class. The group has appeared with guest artists such as pianists Claude Frank, Menachem Pressler, and Anne-Marie McDermott, cellist and mentor Ronald Leonard, double-Grammy Award winning guitarist Sharon Isbin, flutist Ransom Wilson, harpist Nancy Allen, violinist Robert McDuffie, and mandolinist Mike Marshall.
DAVE MULLER, cover art
San Francisco, California, 1964
California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA, M.F.A., 1993
School of Visual Arts, Fine Arts Graduate Program, New York, 1990-1991
University of California, Davis, B.A.S., Chemistry & Art
Lives and works in Los Angeles, California
Armand Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX
Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
The Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA
Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, León, Spain
Museum of Modern Art, New York
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada
New School University, New York, NY
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
The Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, MO
Weatherspoon Art Gallery, Greensboro, NC
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY