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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the May 16, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
American Quartet Plus 1
The analogy is imperfect. Still, the difference between
singles tennis and doubles tennis is like the difference between a
string quartet and a string quintet. The equipment is the same, but
it’s a different game, calling for new balances and strategies.
Princeton University Concerts explores chamber music beyond the string
quartet with an opening salvo by the American String Quartet on Thursday,
May 17, at 8 p.m., in Richardson Auditorium. Guest violist Arnold
Steinhardt joins violinists Peter Winograd and Laurie Carney, violist
Daniel Avshalomov, and cellist David Geber to play Mozart’s String
Quintet in G minor, K.516 and Brahms’ String Quintet, Op. 111. The
quartet opens the program with Haydn’s String Quartet in D major,
Op. 20, No. 4.
The program is the first of seven intended to bring to Richardson
all of Mozart’s quintets and all of Brahms’ quintets and sextets.
The project is slated for concerts in May and September, reaching
its completion in May, 2004. Included is music, not only for strings
alone, but also for strings and horn, strings and clarinet, and strings
and piano. To round out the programs, each begins with a Haydn String
To this potential listener, the project makes oxymorons float to the
top of my brain: weighty playfulness; focused diversity; intimate
grandeur; confined expansiveness. By limiting itself to the three
composers selected, the project highlights the first Viennese tradition
in western music, giving audiences a tour from its classical beginnings
with Papa Haydn to the culminating romanticism of Brahms. Leaving
out composers who flourished in the half century between Haydn’s death
in 1809 and Brahms’ general recognition in the 1850s brings into high
relief the contrast between Mozart and Haydn, on one hand, and Brahms,
on the other. The restraint and clarity of the earlier composers stands
in contrast to the intense emotionalism of Brahms, whose music, nevertheless,
roots itself in musical forms accepted a generation before his birth
The pieces selected for the survey are of recognized excellence. Some
commentators consider them finer than the string quartets, though
they are less frequently performed. Some compare them favorably to
symphonic works. Hans Keller writes, in "The Mozart Companion,"
about the K. 516 Quintet, "The G minor Quintet is as great as
the G minor Symphony, whence it is greater: the same wealth of feeling
must be expressed yet more economically in the chamber work."
"The quintets and sextets are great music that deserves to be
played. The original aspect of this set of programs is that we’re
doing a survey of that repertory. It gives audiences an opportunity
to hear that music in an organized way," says Nathan Randall,
manager of Princeton University Concerts. As a matter of fact, that
repertory is not only neglected as an organized body of work, but
often simply overlooked. "It’s easy to manage a quartet. When
quartets tour, there are only four artists. There’s one management
and the quartet comes as a unit. When you have to add players, you
have to coordinate availability and schedules," Randall explains.
Although an outline is in place for next year’s Mozart-Brahms
quintet-sextet programs, the most distant programs will not be made
final until artists’ schedules and availability can realistically
The choice of the additional player is made by the American Quartet
in consultation with Princeton University Concerts. "They select
the extra player, and we get to bless it," says Randall. "I
can’t imagine that we wouldn’t approve the quartet’s choice."
Their concurrence is well established. Indeed, the idea for the quintet-sextet
project grew from a post-concert conversation after the American’s
last Princeton appearance in 1999.
In existence for more than a quarter of a century, the American String
Quartet performed at Richardson during its 25th anniversary tour of
all 50 states. Since 1974 the American has been the resident quartet
at the Aspen Music Festival. It is also the quartet-in-residence at
New York’s Manhattan School of Music. Formerly faculty members at
Baltimore’s Peabody Institute, the group initiated Peabody’s program
of quartet studies.
Guest violist Steinhardt is the first violinist of the Guarneri String
Quartet of which he is a founding member. He has held academic appointments
at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute, Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of
the Arts, and the University of Maryland, where he is professor of
— Elaine Strauss
Richardson Auditorium, 609-258-5000. $19 to $29; students $2. Thursday,
May 17, 8 p.m.
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