Deborah Sobol Memorial

Chen String Quartet

Robert Chen and Laura Park Chen, violins

Beatrice Chen, viola

Noah Chen, cello


Kuang-Hao Huang, piano

June 8, 2021

Rush Hour Concerts

Kristina Lynn, pre-concert talk host


Bongani Ndodana-Breen – Safika: Three Tales of African Migration (12′)

Safika I

Safika II

Safika III

Robert Schumann – Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44 (30′)

I. Allegro brillante

II. In Modo d’una Marcia. Un poco largamente.

III. Scherzo. Molto vivace – Trio I – Trio II

IV. Allegro ma non troppo

This concert is generously sponsored by Dr. Rowland Chang, Cynthia and Norm Goldring and Friends of Deborah Sobol.

The Chen String Quartet was founded in 2014 and is comprised of violinists Laura and Robert Chen, violist Beatrice Chen, and cellist Noah Chen. They have performed on WFMT, Constellations Chamber Concerts in Washington DC, From the Top’s virtual concert series, and on the International Music Foundation’s Rush Hour Concert Series. Their most recent project includes a presentation of the Beethoven Op. 18 string quartets in partnership with the Music Institute of Chicago.

The quartet is committed to community outreach, having played at various retirement homes, churches, and other venues regularly throughout the Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and D.C. areas. And during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Chen Quartet has produced more than 100 concerts on virtual platforms.

Robert Chen has been concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 1999. Laura Park Chen is a former member of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra. Beatrice Chen is a student of Hsin Yun Huang and Misha Amory at the Curtis Institute of Music. Noah Chen will be a student of Dr. Clara Minhye Kim and Joel Krosnick at The Juilliard School.


Commended for his “perceptive pianism” (Audiophile) and “playing that is sensitive and wonderfully warm” (American Record Guide), Chicagoan Kuang-Hao Huang is a highly sought-after collaborative pianist whose performances have taken him throughout North America, Europe and Asia.  He has performed at the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall, Lincoln Center, Merkin Hall, and at every major venue in the Chicago area. Huang has recorded for Aucourant, Cedille, Innova and Naxos, including a CD of flute fantasies with flutist Mathieu Dufour and a premiere recording of early songs by Alban Berg with mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley.

A strong advocate of new music, Huang is a core member of Fulcrum Point New Music Project and Picosa.  He has premiered numerous works by major composers including Louis Andriessen and Chen Yi at Weill Hall as part of Carnegie Hall’s Millennium Piano Book Project. He has also appeared on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNOW series.

In addition to serving on the faculties of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and Concordia University-Chicago, Huang is Artistic Director for Make Music Chicago. He also founded IMF’s Pianos in the Parks program, which partners with the Chicago Park District to give all Chicagoans access to outdoor pianos and free lessons.


Fast Facts:

  • Dr. Ndodana-Breen holds a PhD in Composition from Rhodes University.
  • He was awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 1998 and was one of the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans of 2011.
  • Dr. Ndodana-Breen has received commissions from Wigmore Hall, Vancouver Recital Society, Madam Walker Legacy Center Indianapolis, SAMRO, University of South Africa, Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival, Cape Town Opera, the Emancipation Festival of Trinidad & Tobago, Hong Kong Arts Festival, Luminato Festival  Toronto, Haydn Festspiele Eisenstadt (Haydn 200th anniversary) and the 2013 Johannesburg International Mozart Festival.


Bongani Ndodana-Breen (b. 1975)

Safika: Three Tales of African Migration (2012) (12′) 

Bongani Ndodana-Breen, is a South African-born composer, musician, academic and cultural activist. According to The New York Times his “delicately made music – airy, spacious, terribly complex but never convoluted – has a lot to teach the Western wizards of metric modulation and layered rhythms about grace and balance.” His opera Winnie, The Opera based on the life of Winnie Mandela and Harmonia Ubuntu were commissioned for and performed by the Minnesota Orchestra.

“These three movements for piano quintet are personal reflections on the narrative of dispossession, migration and translocation. The title Safika means ‘when we arrived’ and can be interpreted in two ways. The first is literal, the traveller arriving at their destination carrying with them memories of a distant home and loved ones. The second one is more metaphorical. With 2013 being the centenary of the Land Act, we had arrived at a place where we could reflect on the legacy of the distressing socio-political consequences of the migrant labour system.

Representing the three basic forms of how people were uprooted from the land, the three pieces showcase first, the long (train) journey from the rural village to become cheap urban labour,,  and second, the apartheid’s forced removals and displacement of black families from areas designated as white,. Specifically, people were bundledrounded up by the authorities and transported to a tribal reservation or “homeland” to which they had some a tenuous connection. Third, the journeys of those who defied apartheid’s unjust laws through moving into exile immediately beyond our borders to Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia and those who moved further and beyond.

These are the common threads that touched most black families in South Africa, affecting immediate or extended families through one or all three of these aspects. The unifying factor in all those who were touched by these journeys is memory. By quoting and paraphrasing aspects of African music and dance, the pieces allude to memories of lives left behind, the people, the songs, the dances and the connection to the land. Time might wear away the detail and new experiences splinter entire memories to fragments but nothing is completely erased. A certain rhythmic pattern, a flash of timbre, a fragment of melody, a lyric, a turn of musical phrase or even a few dance steps remain within as faint echoes. Through repeated sequences sometimes layered over each other, stuttering, staggering or sometimes as clear lyrical songs and dances, vibrant as the day first experienced, Safika becomes an allegorical musical platform of these journeys of reflection, affirmation and restoration.”

– Bongani Ndodana-Breen

Robert Schumann (b. 1975)

Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44 (1842) (30′) 

Born in Germany, Robert Schumann would grow to be one of the most influential composers of the Romantic era and also someone who was dealt more than his share of anguish. At the age of sixteen, Robert’s father died, followed in the same month by his sister committing suicide. He also suffered from bipolar disorder, though his manic episodes would lead to his most productive writing periods of both music and novels. Another positive in his life would be Clara Wieck, the virtuoso pianist and composer who would become his wife. Despite his loving wife’s presence, he was still troubled by his bipolar disorder–one of his low points bringing him to try to commit suicide by throwing himself in the Rhein River. He was rescued, but would never be the same, being put in an asylum for the remaining two years of his life.

Written in 1842, one of his productive years, The Piano Quintet was essentially a new ensemble Schumann was creating, one which many composers would follow suit, including Brahms, Dvořák and Shostakovich. This work was dedicated to the pianist who premiered it, none other than his wife, Clara Schumann. Knowing who would be premiering the work, Robert held nothing back, writing a wickedly virtuosic piano part. This colossal work consists of four movements, starting with a large sonata-form first movement, a bleak funeral march, an exuberant scherzo and an indomitable finale. Listen for the bold opening theme of the first movement to return in the finale, combined with a countermelody unique to the finale, creating a masterful fugue that would make J.S. Bach proud.

Program Notes by Ashley Ertz


Fast Facts:

  • Dreamed of becoming a piano virtuoso but had to let it go due to one of his fingers being numb from either a splint contraption to strengthen his hand muscles, or from mercury poisoning from a syphilis treatment.
  • Was not a fan of contemporary composers such as Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner
  • The year after Robert married Clara he was so happy and in love that he couldn’t help but compose new songs, amounting to 140 lieders that year.

Deborah Sobol, Founder and Artistic Director of Rush Hour Concerts worked tirelessly to connect people individually and collectively through music. This concert is dedicated to her memory.

The Clare is the exclusive media sponsor for Rush Hour Concerts.

The Rush Hour Concerts series is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council Agency. Rush Hour Concerts are produced in partnership with St. James Cathedral and WFMT.

Don’t miss the MingHuan Xu, Alexander Hersh and Winston Choi next week on

Rush Hour Concerts!

Tuesday June 15, 5:45pm

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