Joy Curtain and Genevieve Smelser, violins
Benjamin Wagner, viola
Najette Abouelhadi, cello
March 17, 2021
Dame Myra Hess
David Schwan, host
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges – String Quartet No. 5 in G minor, Op. 1 (8’)
Rebecca Clarke – Poem for String Quartet (8’)
Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel – String Quartet in E-flat major (20’)
I. Adagio ma non troppo
IV. Allegro molto vivace
Civic Orchestra of Chicago —
Ken-David Masur, Principal Conductor
Founded in 1919 by Frederick Stock, second music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), the Civic Orchestra of Chicago prepares emerging professional musicians for lives in music. Civic members participate in rigorous orchestral training, September through June each season, with Principal Conductor Ken-David Masur, musicians of the CSO, and some of today’s most luminary conductors including CSO Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti.
From 2010 to 2019, Yo-Yo Ma was a leading mentor to Civic musicians and staff in his role as CSO Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant, and the programs and initiatives he established are integral to the Civic Orchestra curriculum today. Civic Orchestra musicians develop as exceptional orchestral players and engaged artists, cultivating their ability to succeed in the rapidly evolving world of music in the twenty-first century.
The importance of the Civic Orchestra’s role in Greater Chicago is underscored by its commitment to present concerts of the highest quality at no charge to the public. In addition to the critically acclaimed live concerts at Symphony Center, Civic Orchestra performances can be heard locally on WFMT (98.7 FM).
Civic musicians also expand their creative, professional, and artistic boundaries and reach diverse audiences through educational performances at Chicago Public Schools and a series of chamber concerts at various locations throughout the city including Chicago Park District field houses and the National Museum of Mexican Art.
To further expand its musician training, the Civic Orchestra launched the Civic Fellowship program in the 2013–14 season. Each year ten to fifteen Civic members are designated as Civic Fellows and participate in intensive leadership training that is designed to build and diversity their creative and professional skills.
The Civic Orchestra’s long history of presenting full orchestra performances free to the public includes annual concerts at the South Shore Cultural Center (in partnership with the South Shore Advisory Council) as well as numerous Chicago Public Schools. The Civic Orchestra is a signature program of the Negaunee Music Institute at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which offers a wide range of education and community programs that engage more than 200,000 people of diverse ages, incomes, and backgrounds each year, in Chicago and around the world.
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George
String Quartet No. 5 in G minor, Op. 1 (1773)
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George was born to a wealthy planter and the planter’s African slave in Guadeloupe. At the age of seven Saint-George was sent to Paris to earn a high society education, and at the age of 22 graduated from the Académie royale polytechnique des armes et de ‘l’équitation and earned the title of Chevalier (knight) and Gendarme du roi (officer of the king’s bodyguard) of the Court of King Louis XV. Multitalented, Saint-George led an exceptional life as a musician, boxer, runner and was named one of the best fencers in Europe. He was also involved in the French Revolution and the Abolition movement, creating an all-black regiment which fought fiercely at the battle of Lille.
In Paris, Saint-George rose through the ranks rapidly as violinist, soloist and orchestra leader. In the 1770s he wrote 14 violin concertos, 8 concertantes, and 12 string quartets. The first movement Allegro starts with an uptempo but haunting minor melody which quickly takes a turn to a lighter side, before repeating back to the opening. The development stays in the same lighter mood before ending in the opening emotively minor melody. The second and last movement Rondeau’s exposition sits in the minor key throughout with a melody that feels like a question mark. We then get to the second section which couldn’t be more different, a positively delightful dance melody you feel like you’ve always known. In true classical fashion, we end the way we started with the questioning melody, concluding the work with as many questions as when we started.
Read more about the fascinating life of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George here.
Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979)
Poem for String Quartet (1926)
British born Rebecca Clarke was born to a German mother and an American father. She would move to New York City at the age of 30 in 1916. Clarke was both an accomplished viola player, composer and trailblazer in many respects, paving the way for future women in classical music. In her twenties, while still in London, she studied and performed with artists such as our very own Dame Myra Hess. As a composer, she wrote primarily chamber music and songs, written to be played by herself and her friends.
Virtually throughout her whole life she worked in the string quartet genre as either performer, teacher, or composer. Poem heard today, is from Clarke’s Two Movements for String Quartet, her only known work for string quartet alone. Much like the previously heard Saint-George, Poem starts with a sense of wonder and mystery. This feeling persists throughout the work, with glimpses of light, excitement and adventure. We end with a feeling of ethereal stillness but not before she throws in a minor third, leaving the feeling up to interpretation.
Read more about Rebecca Clarke here.
Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847)
String Quartet in E-flat major (1834)
Most notoriously known for her relation to her younger brother Felix, Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel was herself encouraged by her family to be both a performer and composer from a young age, but like most women of her time, as she grew up her father bluntly shifted, telling her that she would do best to prepare for life as a wife and mother. Felix, while not always encouraging Fanny to pursue the life of a composer, would publish many of her songs and works under his name. He did this to get her works out, not to take credit for himself. In a private audience with Queen Victoria, the Queen asked Felix to sing his favorite song, and he sang one of his sister’s and then told the Queen that it belonged to Fanny.
Rebecca Clarke and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s careers parallel in many ways, most notably in that they both composed heavily but only a small portion of their catalog was heard in their lifetimes and both are relatively hard to access or lost. Only after years and decades of scholarship and research resulting from women’s and social movements have the works of these two and many others been discovered and premiered, much to the benefit of classical music as a whole.
In keeping with the Saint-George and Clarke heard today, the opening Adagio ma non troppo also starts with a serious, even dark tone, establishing a sense of quiet distress. Much of the opening movement is firmly in C minor until finally reaching the home key of the work E-flat Major at the end of the movement. The following scherzo movement titled Allegretto houses your standard A-B-A format with the opening section repeating at the end. Despite it’s light upbeat nature, the A section is still clearly in the C minor mode. We leave this briefly in the B section before returning to the opening section. The lamenting third movement Romanze, is the longest movement in the quartet, full of grief, longing and conflict. While it starts in G minor, it travels to many distant keys, much like the late works of Beethoven, pushing the boundaries of what is ‘correct’. We finally start in the home key of E-flat Major in the concluding Allegro molto vivace. In complete juxtaposition with the previous movements, we are largely in the major key with sections, hinting back to the distress portrayed in the previous movements. The movement never seems to stop being a race to the end between all players, ending as briskly as it started.