The Avalon String Quartet
Blaise Magnière, violin
Marie Wang, violin
Anthony Devroye, viola
Cheng-Hou Lee, cello
August 10, 2021
Rush Hour Concerts
Robbie Ellis, pre-concert talk host
Blaise Magnière – Bagatelle No. 5 (5′)
Ludwig van Beethoven – String Quartet in A major, Op. 18 No. 5 (28′)
II. Minuet – Trio
III. Andante cantabile con variazioni
Leo Sowerby – Serenade in G major (9′)
This concert is generously sponsored by the Zell Family Foundation
The Avalon String Quartet has performed in major venues including Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, the 92nd St Y, Merkin Hall, and Bargemusic in New York; the Library of Congress and National Gallery of Art in Washington DC; Wigmore Hall in London; and Herculessaal in Munich. Other performances include appearances at the Bath International Music Festival, Aldeburgh Festival, Caramoor, La Jolla Chamber Music Society, NPR’s St. Paul Sunday, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Dame Myra Hess Concerts, Los Angeles Music Guild, and the Ravinia Festival. The quartet is performing the complete Beethoven Cycle for Beethoven’s 250th Anniversary Celebration at its concert series in historic Ganz Hall at Roosevelt University. In recent seasons, the Avalon presented the complete quartet cycles of Beethoven, Bartok, and Brahms at Fullerton Hall at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Avalon is quartet-in-residence at the Northern Illinois University School of Music, a position formerly held by the Vermeer Quartet. Additional teaching activities have included the Icicle Creek Chamber Music Institute, Interlochen Advanced Quartet Program, Madeline Island Music Camp, and the Britten-Pears School in England, as well as masterclasses at universities and conservatories throughout the United States. Additionally, they have given numerous performances and presentations to young audiences in under-resourced schools and communities.
Blaise Magnière (b. 1972)
Bagatelle No. 5 (2020) (5′)
This reflection on Beethoven’s Fifth string quartet was written at the start of the COVID pandemic, and the composition process was a comforting way to stay creative. The main source of inspiration came from the first theme of the quartet’s last movement. At first the outline of the theme is shown using only the main rhythmic and intervallic elements, followed by a playful elaboration of the main motive in the cello. It then evolves into new harmonic territory that uses elements of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge. The music evokes the voices of major 20th Century composers who followed Beethoven’s footsteps such as Bartok, Dutilleux and Shostakovich. The structure follows an arch shape rising to an intense climax, and then descending gradually into a more wistful mood. I am grateful to my colleagues of the Avalon String Quartet for performing the piece and helping me through the composition process.
Notes by Blaise Magnière
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
String Quartet in A major, Op. 18 No. 5 (1799) (28′)
Beethoven’s earliest set of String Quartets, his Opus 18 set, was completed in 1800, an instrumentation genre he would compose for again and again, often marking significant points in his career. This first set especially was a major undertaking for him, treating them as experiments or exercises in writing for the medium and continuing to rework them years after their official completion. In 1801 Beethoven wrote to a friend whom he had given a copy to asking him to “not lend your quartet to anybody, for I have greatly changed it, having only now learned to write quartets properly, as you will see when you get them.”
This fifth quartet and particularly the opening movement are quite playful and light in spirit. The Minuet is a combination of composure and whimsy, while the third movement is a set of variations on a plaintive, evocative melody. The finale is a playful game, with the light themes being passed around the ensemble, concluding with a gentle sigh.
Notes by Ashley Ertz
Catch the Avalon String Quartet performing Sowerby’s Serenade and more on Cedille Records upcoming August 13, 2021 release of ‘Leo Sowerby: The Paul Whiteman Commissions & Other Early Works’.
Leo Sowerby (1895-1968)
Serenade in G major (1917) (9′)
Leo Sowerby was a Pulitzer-Prize winning composer, organist and choirmaster at our very own St. James Cathedral where this program is being performed tonight. Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Sowerby started composing at a young age and earned early recognition, having his violin concerto premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he was 18 years old in 1913. He would then be the first composer to win the Rome Prize in 1921 and then the Pulitzer-Prize in 1946 for his cantata, The Canticle of the Sun. He would retain the position of organist-choirmaster at our own St. James Cathedral from 1927 until his retirement in 1962, six years before his death.
At the age of fourteen, young Sowerby moved to Chicago where he would study piano with Calvin Lampert and Percy Grainger, the latter also leaving an immense influence on Sowerby’s compositional language. Grainger helped Sowerby to diversify his preferred literature from his preference to the German Literature by engaging him to perform solo piano works of Graingers own. At this engagement, Sowerby would perform for and connect with Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge at her Berkshire Music Festival, leading to a commission which provided him the funds to purchase and build a summer cabin in Palisades Park, Michigan. It was at this place that he wrote this Serenade, dedicating the work “To my friend, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge – A Birthday Gift for 1917.” Complete with folk music elements and a jovial spirit, the New York Times review called it “interesting and novel…spirited and songlike theme” and critic James Huneker said that Sowerby “shows a feeling for the type of melody most readily accepted by Americans…the young composer displayed good taste…”.
Notes by Ashley Ertz
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 members of the Grant Park Music Festival orchestra next week on
Rush Hour Concerts Season Finale!
Tuesday August 17, 5:45pm