Violist Daniel Avshalomov, The American String Quartet
By David Steinberg
Violist Daniel Avshalomov thinks the American String Quartet’s June 11 concert will be unusual.
In one sense, the programming is unusual because the works are linked, though at first blush the composers don’t seem to be.
The ensemble opens the with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Quartet in F minor, opus 95 (“Serioso”).
“Every time we perform the piece we’re actually breaking a promise to Beethoven,” Avshalomov said in a phone interview. “He said it was written for a group of classical music connoisseurs and should never be performed in public.”
“It’s a singular work in his output in a lot of ways. It is called a middle quartet because of when it was composed…As far as we can tell it was the first quartet he composed after he admitted his deafness. Deafness was not so much an infirmity so much as an embarrassment to him. Because Beethoven believed if people knew of his deafness, he would not be taken seriously as a composer. But that was not the case,” he added.
The piece, Avshalomov said, is only about 19 minutes long, the shortest of Beethoven’s mature quartets. Because of its brevity, the ensemble will be playing two other short pieces in the first half of the program.
One is George Tsontakis’s Quartet 7.5 (“Maverick”), commissioned last year by Maverick Concerts, a summer music festival in Woodstock, N.Y., for its 100th anniversary and for the American String Quartet’s 40th anniversary; the American premiered it.
Avshamolov described the Tsontakis work as “extremely atmospheric,” though he said the composer himself called it “distantly romantic. It’s more in its nature of peering through a veil or viewing intense feelings.”
Like Beethoven’s Opus 95 quartet, a source of inspiration for “Maverick,” it is the shortest of the Tsontakis’ quartets.
That piece is followed on the program with “American Pilgrimage” by Robert Sirota, another American composer. It is one of the first works Sirota wrote after he left the presidency of the Manhattan School of Music, where the American String Quartet has been in residence since 1984.
“American Pilgrimage is a four-movement work for string quartet. The movements are titled “Waldo County, Maine,” “Charleston, S.C.,” “High-Desert Santa Fe, N.M.” and “Manhattan.”
The final movement, Avshalomov said, quotes Antonin Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12 in F major (“American Quartet”), which is why American String Quartet is playing the Dvorak in the second half of the program.
“We found the connection to be important and hope the listeners go along with us,” he said.
Before coming to Albuquerque for the June 11 concert, the ensemble will be in the studio to record the Dvorak, which will be paired with the Sirota. A bonus track on the album is the famous Adagio movement from Samuel Barber’s string quartet.
The other three members of the American String Quartet are cellist Wolfram Koessel and violinists Peter Winograd and Laurie Carney. Carney is a founding member of the ensemble, formed in 1974. The American String Quartet is one of the premier string quartets in the world and is known for its innovative programs. The quartet will also play this summer at the Aspen Music Festival, where it has played since the ensemble’s formation.
The American String Quartet will be in concert for Chamber Music Albuquerque at 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 11, in the Simms Performing Arts Center, Albuquerque Academy, 6400 Wyoming NE. Tickets are $40 for premium seats, $30 reserved seats at www.holdmyticket.com or, if available, at the door. Students/children are $10 at the door. The June concert concludes Chamber Music Albuquerque’s 75th anniversary season.
—David Steinberg is a freelance writer and former arts editor for the Albuquerque Journal.