Shaw and Brahms

John MacFarlane, violin

Anthony Devroye, viola

Kenneth Olsen, cello

Victor Asuncion, piano

July 20, 2021

Rush Hour Concerts

Kristina Lynn, pre-concert talk host


Caroline Shaw – Thousandth Orange (11′)

Johannes Brahms – Piano Quartet No. 3, Op. 60, “Werther” (35′)

I. Allegro non troppo

II. Scherzo. Allegro

III. Andante

IV. Finale. Allegro comodo

Violinist John Macfarlane is currently Assistant Principal Second Violin of the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra, concertmaster of Bach Week, and violinist for the Rembrandt Chamber Musicians. 

MacFarlane has performed and toured with some of America’s most prestigious orchestras including The Cleveland Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He has extensive concertmaster experience including leading the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra, Owensboro Symphony Orchestra, Breckenridge Music Festival, Spoleto Festival Orchestra, National Repertory Orchestra, and as guest concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony.

Increasingly sought after as a conductor, MacFarlane recently returned from the Tanglewood Music Center conducting seminar. His conducting has been featured on multiple live radio broadcasts on Chicago’s WFMT for the Rush Hour Concerts Series. He has conducted multiple concerts with the Strings Music Festival in Steamboat Colorado and has served as Assistant Conductor of the National Repertory Orchestra in Breckenridge and the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre in Iowa. MacFarlane received a Bachelor of Music and Certificate in Music Theatre from Northwestern University and a Master of Music from the University of Maryland.

Anthony Devroye has been violist of the Avalon String Quartet since 2004. Mr. Devroye is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied with Michael Tree and Roberto Diaz; and holds a B.A. in Biological Science from Columbia University, where he pursued concurrent viola studies at The Juilliard School under Toby Appel, Heidi Castleman and Misha Amory. Prior to joining the quartet, he held a two-year fellowship with the New World Symphony.

In addition to his numerous performances with the Avalon Quartet, Mr. Devroye is an occasional guest with the Chicago Symphony (with whom he has toured the United States, Europe and Mexico under Riccardo Muti), Chicago Chamber Musicians, and Grant Park Music Festival. His recitals, chamber music performances and commentary have been regularly featured on WFMT radio, and he has appeared as concerto soloist with the Illinois Philharmonic and Kishwaukee Symphony. Mr. Devroye is an Associate Professor in the School of Music at Northern Illinois University.

Kenneth Olsen joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as Assistant Principal Cello in 2005. He is a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music and a winner of the school’s prestigious concerto competition. His other awards include first prize in the Nakamichi Cello Competition at the Aspen Music Festival and second prize at the 2002 Holland-America Music Society Competition. His teachers have included Richard Aaron at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Joel Krosnick at The Juilliard School of Music and Luis Garcia-Renart at Bard College. He also has been a participant at the Steans Institute for Young Artists (the Ravinia Festival’s professional studies program for young musicians) and at Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute.

A native of New York, Kenneth Olsen is a founding member of the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, a conductorless string orchestra comprised of young musicians from orchestras and ensembles all over the country.

Hailed by The Washington Post for his “poised and imaginative playing,” Filipino-American pianist Victor Santiago Asuncion has appeared in concert halls in Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, Spain, Turkey and the USA, as a recitalist and concerto soloist.  He played his orchestral debut at the age of 18 with the Manila Chamber Orchestra, and his New York recital debut in Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall in 1999. In addition, he has worked with conductors including Sergio Esmilla, Enrique Batiz, Mei Ann Chen, Zeev Dorman, Arthur Weisberg, Corrick Brown, David Loebel, Leon Fleisher, Michael Stern, Jordan Tang, and Bobby McFerrin.

A chamber music enthusiast, he has performed with artists such as Lynn Harrell, Zuill Bailey, Andres Diaz, James Dunham, Antonio Meneses, Joshua Roman, Cho-Liang Lin, Giora Schmidt, the Dover, Emerson, Serafin, Sao Paulo, and Vega String Quartets. He was on the chamber music faculty of the Aspen Music Festival, and the Garth Newel Summer Music Festival.  He was also the pianist for the Garth Newel Piano Quartet for three seasons. Festival appearances include the Amelia Island, Highland-Cashiers, Music in the Vineyards, and Santa Fe.

His recordings include the complete Sonatas of L. van Beethoven with cellist Tobias Werner, Sonatas by Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff with cellist Joseph Johnson, the Rachmaninoff Sonata with the cellist Evan Drachman, and the Chopin and Grieg Sonatas, also with cellist Evan Drachman. He is featured in the award winning recording “Songs My Father Taught Me” with Lynn Harrell, produced by Louise Frank and WFMT-Chicago.  Mr. Asuncion is the Founder, and Artistic and Board Director of FilAm Music Foundation, a non-profit foundation that is dedicated to promoting Filipino classical musicians through scholarship, and performance.

He received his Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in 2007 from the University of Maryland at College Park under the tutelage of Rita Sloan. Victor Santiago Asuncion is a Steinway artist.

Caroline Shaw (1805-1847)

Thousandth Orange (2018) (11′)

Caroline Shaw is a New York-based musician—vocalist, violinist, composer, and producer—who performs in solo and collaborative projects. She was the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013 for Partita for 8 Voices, written for the Grammy-winning Roomful of Teeth, of which she is a member. Recent commissions include new works for Renée Fleming with Inon Barnatan, Dawn Upshaw with Sō Percussion and Gil Kalish, Seattle Symphony, Anne Sofie von Otter with Philharmonia Baroque, the LA Philharmonic, Juilliard 415, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s with John Lithgow, the Dover Quartet, TENET, The Crossing, the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, the Calidore Quartet, Brooklyn Rider, the Baltimore Symphony, and Roomful of Teeth with A Far Cry. Caroline has studied at Rice, Yale, and Princeton, currently teaches at NYU, and is a Creative Associate at The Juilliard School. Caroline loves the color yellow, otters, Beethoven opus 74, Mozart opera, Kinhaven, the smell of rosemary, and the sound of a janky mandolin.

Program Notes from the Composer:

Thousandth Orange begins with a very simple 4-chord progression. Nothing fancy. Nothing extravagant. Just something quite beautiful and everyday, that is enjoyed and loved and consumed and forgotten. Something you’ve probably heard before, in a pop song or a music theory class. While considering my love of Brahms’ piano quartets and my memory of playing them—and more generally how our memories of beloved music evolve over time—I began thinking about the history of still-life paintings. Those bowls of fruit we see framed in museums—sort of lovely and banal, at first glance, but then richer when considered in the long story of humans painting things that they see, over and over and over again. There’s a reason that Van Gogh painted those vases of sunflowers again and again, or Caravaggio his fruit. Maybe after the tenth, or the hundredth, or the thousandth time one paints, or looks at, or eats, an orange (or plays a simple cadential figure), it is just as beautiful as the first time. There is still more to see and to hear and to love. More angles reveal themselves—more perspectives and corners and stories, more understanding—more appreciation of something that most would consider unremarkable. Thousandth Orange is about these tiny oblique revelations that time’s filter can open up in a musical memory. The title also suggests a thousand different shades of the color orange, or the image of a thousand oranges, or perhaps a thousand ways of looking at an orange. 

—Caroline Shaw, 2020


Fast Facts:

  • Was the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013 for Partita for 8 Voices, written for the Grammy-winning Roomful of Teeth, of which she is a member
  • Has produced for Kanye West (The Life of Pablo; Ye) and Nas (NASIR), and has contributed to records by The National, and by Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry
  • Loves the color yellow, otters, Beethoven opus 74, Mozart opera, Kinhaven, the smell of rosemary, and the sound of a janky mandolin

Fast Facts:

  • At the meeting of Brahms and Liszt, Liszt would sight read Brahms Scherzo, Op. 4 and Brahms would supposedly fall asleep during the performance of one of Liszt’s works. 
  • So intimidated by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Brahms would work on his 1st symphony (sometimes nicknamed Beethoven’s tenth) for 21 years, finally completing it in 1876 at the age of 43.
  • Like many of us, Brahms was never quite satisfied with his work, being deeply self-critical of his own compositions, he would revise and rework many of his pieces, sometimes decades later.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Piano Quartet No. 3, Op. 60, “Werther” (1875) (35′)

Like many of us, Brahms was never quite satisfied with his work, being deeply self-critical of his own compositions, he would revise and rework many of his pieces, sometimes decades later. The Piano Quartet No. 3, Op. 60 published in 1873 is one of these examples. The young Brahms started work on this Quartet in his early 20’s before his other two quartets, while he was very much smitten with and around the Schumanns, specifically, Clara Schumann. He would then set it aside for two decades. 


Researchers derived that the original finale was reworked into a second movement Scherzo and an entirely new Finale and Andante movements were composed. The first version was written in the key of C-sharp minor but was revised to the key of C minor for the final version, a key which must have been on his mind given it’s prominent in his long-awaited First Symphony premiered the next year in 1876 and his 1st string quartet premiered a few years earlier in 1873. 

When submitting the score to his longtime publisher, Brahms noted that the cover should contain a picture of a man holding a gun to his head, an illustration that is linked to Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther, where the title character takes his own life because of the love he holds for for the wife of his friend. It is hard to not read into this as his relationship with the Schumann’s. Regardless, this led to the quartet’s nickname ‘Werther’, a piece overflowing with passionate declarations, emotional turmoil, and frustrated complicated love.

Program Notes by Ashley Ertz


Originally published in 1774, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther has had many book covers/illustrations over the years. The etching below by Tony Johannot is from 1844, so it’s likely that Brahms was aware and inspired by this image which is now commonly reprinted.

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 Ars Musica Chicago, next week on

Rush Hour Concerts!

Tuesday July 27, 5:45pm

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