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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

Quartet.

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

in 1833.

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

be determined.

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

music.

— Elaine Strauss

The American String Quartet, Princeton University Concerts,

Richardson Auditorium, 609-258-5000. $19 to $29; students $2. Thursday,

May 17, 8 p.m.


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