Avalon String Quartet

Blaise Magniére and Marie Wang, violin

Anthony Devroye, viola

Cheng Hou-Lee, cello

September 8, 2020

Rush Hour Concerts

Robbie Ellis, host


Gabriela Lena Frank – Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout

I. Toyos

II. Tarqueada

III. Himno de Zampoñas

IV. Chasqui

V. Canto de Velorio

VI. Coqueteos

Antonín Dvořák – String Quartet No. 12, Op. 96 ‘American’

I. Allegro ma non troppo

II. Lento

III. Molto vivace – Trio

IV. Finale. Vivace ma non troppo

This concert is dedicated to the memory of Jayne Alofs

Described by the Chicago Tribune as “an ensemble that invites you — ears, mind, and spirit — into its music,” the Avalon String Quartet has established itself as one of the country’s leading chamber music ensembles.

The Avalon 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 performs an annual concert series in historic Fullerton Hall at the Art Institute of Chicago, where it has presented the complete quartet cycles of Beethoven, Bartok, and Brahms in recent seasons.

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.

In 2015, the quartet released “Illuminations”, its first recording for Cedille Records. It was met with praise from NY Times, WQXR radio and Chicago Tribune. This recording follows a critically acclaimed CD of contemporary American works on the Albany label in 2010. The Avalon String Quartet’s debut CD, Dawn to Dusk, featuring quartets by Ravel and Janacek, was honored with the 2002 Chamber Music America/WQXR Record Award for best chamber music recording.

The quartet’s live performances and conversations are frequently featured on Chicago fine arts radio station WFMT. They have also been heard on New York’s WQXR and WNYC, National Public Radio’s Performance Today, Canada’s CBC, Australia’s ABC, the ARD of Germany, and France Musique.

The Avalon captured the top prize at the ARD Competition in Munich (2000) and First Prize at the Concert Artists Guild Competition in New York City (1999). In its early years, the ensemble trained intensively with the Juilliard Quartet at The Juilliard School, the Emerson Quartet at the Hartt School of Music, and the Vermeer Quartet at Northern Illinois University.

Gabriela Lena Frank (b. 1972)

Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout (2001) 

Currently serving as Composer-in-Residence with the storied Philadelphia Orchestra and included in the Washington Post’s list of the 35 most significant women composers in history (August, 2017), identity has always been at the center of composer/pianist Gabriela Lena Frank’s music. Born in Berkeley, California (September, 1972), to a mother of mixed Peruvian/Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish descent, Gabriela explores her multicultural heritage through her compositions. Inspired by the works of Bela Bartók and Alberto Ginastera, Gabriela has traveled extensively throughout South America in creative exploration.  Her music often reflects not only her own personal experience as a multi-racial Latina, but also refract her studies of Latin American cultures, incorporating poetry, mythology, and native musical styles into a western classical framework that is uniquely her own.

– Gabriela Lena Frank

Program Notes:

Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout for string quartet draws inspiration from the idea of mestizaje as envisioned by the Peruvian writer José María Arguedas, where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other. As such, this piece mixes elements from the western classical and Andean folk music traditions. 

“Toyos” depicts one of the most recognizable instruments of the Andes, the panpipe. One of the largest kinds is the breathy toyo which requires great stamina and lung power, and is often played in parallel fourths or fifths. 

“Tarqueada” is a forceful and fast number featuring the tarka, a heavy wooden duct flute that is blown harshly in order to split the tone. Tarka ensembles typically also play in fourths and fifths. 

“Himno de Zampoñas” features a particular type of panpipe ensemble that divides up melodies through a technique known as hocketing. The characteristic sound of the zampoña panpipe is that of a fundamental tone blown flatly so that overtones ring out on top, hence the unusual scoring of double stops in this movement.

“Chasqui” depicts a legendary figure from the Inca period, the chasqui runner, who sprinted great distances to deliver messages between towns separated from one another by the Andean peaks. The chasqui needed to travel light. Hence, I take artistic license to imagine his choice of instruments to be the charango, a high-pitched cousin of the guitar, and the lightweight bamboo quena flute, both of which are featured in this movement. 

“Canto de Velorio” portrays another well-known Andean personality, a professional crying woman known as the llorona. Hired to render funeral rituals even sadder, the llorona is accompanied here by a second llorona and an additional chorus of mourning women (coro de mujeres). The chant Dies Irae is quoted as a reflection of the comfortable mix of Quechua Indian religious rites with those from Catholicism. 

“Coqueteos” is a flirtatious love song sung by gallant men known as romanceros. As such, it is direct in its harmonic expression, bold, and festive. The romanceros sing in harmony with one another against a backdrop of guitars which I think of as a vendaval de guitarras (“storm of guitars”).

— Gabriela Lena Frank

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

String Quartet No. 12, Op. 96 ‘American’ (1893) 

Czech composer Antonín Dvořák would follow in the nationalist musical tradition of Smetana, bringing the folk music of Moravia and Bohemia to the western world. Antonín started his musical studies early in life, his first surviving work Forget-Me-Not Polka in C was written at the age of 14. He graduated from the organ school in Prague at the age of 19 and started playing viola in the Bohemian Provisional Theater Orchestra while also teaching piano lessons. In 1873, at the age of 32, Antonín would marry and leave the orchestra to be a church organist, which left him more time to compose. These compositions attracted the attention of Johannes Brahms, who helped promote Dvořák’s works.

After the premiere of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater in 1880, he visited the United Kingdom and received great acclaim. He then briefly conducted in Russia in 1890 and then started teaching at the Prague Conservatory in 1891. He stayed for only a year before moving to New York City to become director of the National Conservatory of Music of America.  He remained at this post for only three years, but still managed to leave his mark. Dvořák made a condition of his acceptance of the position being the admittance of all talented Native American and African-American students, who were unable to afford the school, given free tuition.

Fast Facts:

  • Married Anna Čermáková only after dating and being rejected by Anna’s sister, Josefina
  • Antonín and Anna would have nine children, though only six would survive past infancy
  • In 1877 Brahms’ would recommend Dvořák to the publisher named Simrock. They would commission Dvorak to write Slavonic Dances for piano duet, which would sell out in one day.

Program Notes:

It was during these years in America that he wrote some of his most iconic works including what we are hearing tonight, String Quartet No. 12, Op. 96 ‘American’. Written in the summer of 1893 after an exhaustive year of being director, composer and teacher, Dvořák accepted an invitation to Spillville, Iowa. Sillville was full of Czech immigrants including four of his children, making Dvořák feel right at home and inspired to set to work on a new string quartet.

The first movement, Allegro ma non troppo, begins with a bold melodic line given to the viola,  Dvořák’s primary instrument. We then receive a beautifully restrained second theme presented by the second violin, both themes based on the pentatonic scale, which is extremely common in folk songs. The Lento movement goes down as one of Dvořák’s most compelling and evocative slow movements. Played on top of an ostinato figure, the melancholic melody ebbs and flows gradually building to a passionate climax before coming back to a place of nostalgia with the cello taking over the melody. We’re then contrasted with a lively Scherzo, giving a much needed relief and said to be based stylistically on the Scarlet Tanager’s bird song Dvořák heard in Spillville. Right from the top of the Finale we have a memorable rhythmic pattern thought to originate from native Indian drumming songs. The first violin spins around the beat followed by other equally spirited and humorous melodies. We then hear a beautiful chorale we had to expect coming from our organist who performed church services while in Spillville. We then end the way we started with bold and beautifully joyful restatement of the themes.

Notes by Ashley Ertz

This concert is presented in loving memory of Jayne Alofs, a former Board member of IMF who recently passed away after a long illness with cancer.  In the aftermath of Rush Hour Concert founder Debbie Sobol’s passing in 2014, Jayne was eager to join the Board because she wanted to do her part to make sure that a music series she loved, endured.  Jayne, like Debbie, understood the power of live music to connect people.  For Jayne, music was a contact sport; it energized her, and at concerts she loved engaging with musicians, friends and strangers alike about the music they just experienced.  Jayne was an adventurer in so many things, including new music.  Composer Gabriela Lena Frank has said that Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout “draws inspiration from the idea of mestizaje as envisioned by Peruvian writer José María Arguedas, where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other.  As such, this piece mixes elements from the western classical and Andean folk music traditions.”  As an international traveler who embraced the world’s many, varied cultures, Jayne would have reveled in this piece for its robust and energetic celebration of diverse musical traditions, and although we do so with heavy heart, we revel in dedicating this piece to Jayne because she created a welcoming world around herself where people could equally and comfortably coexist.  Jayne will be remembered at IMF for her passion for people, her love of music, and her contribution to making music accessible to all of Chicago.

This concert is generously sponsored by Helen Zell.

The Rush Hour Concerts series is supported in part by Awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

Don’t miss Janet Sung, Calum Cook and

Kuang-Hao Huang

next week on

Rush Hour Concerts!

Tuesday September 15, 5:45pm

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