A Brand New Day
Germaine Tailleferre (1892—1983) | String Quartet
III. Finale. Vif
Robert Schumann (1810—1856) | String Quartet No. 2 in F major, Op. 41 No. 2
I. Allegro vivace
II. Andante quasi variazioni
III. Scherzo. Presto - Trio
IV. Finale. Allegro molto vivace
Kevin Day (b. 1996) | String Quartet (World Premiere)
Sasha Callahan and Megumi Stohs Lewis, violins
Alexander Vavilov, viola
Leo Eguchi, cello
The world premiere of a new string quartet by the enormously talented Kevin Day marks the official beginning of our exciting five year commissioning project. Kevin has emerged as one of today’s most exciting young voices, with recent performances and commissions by the Boston, Houston, New Jersey, and Indianapolis Symphonies, members of the New York Philharmonic, and acclaimed soloists and chamber groups. Supporting the creation of these new works further enriches the incredible chamber music tradition and expands it to better reflect the world we live in today. It is a great honor to spotlight Kevin’s unique voice and perspective, and to share it with you first.
But what do you pair with a piece that doesn’t yet exist? Kevin’s vibrant, lyrical voice inspired us to choose two works that demonstrate the intimacy and power of the string quartet. Germaine Tailleferre’s String Quartet and Robert Schumann’s String Quartet in F Major are distinctly of their time and place, yet also manage to look both forward and backward.
Born outside Paris in 1892, Germaine Tailleferre was a gifted pianist and composer best known as the sole woman in Les Six, a circle of friends and composers encouraged by Jean Cocteau to create a new, avant-garde style of French music to correspond with cubist and surrealist artists like Picasso and André Breton. Her affiliation with the influential artists of Les Six illustrates Tailleferre’s reputation and excellence, but while she had a long career, she faced many challenges and hardships throughout her life. The optimism of the early years when, for a brief time, she was regarded as an equal to her male peers, quickly passed.
Tailleferre’s String Quartet was written in 1919, at the end of the Spanish Flu pandemic and WWI, and expresses a sense of hope after this turbulent time, as well as hints of its horrors… Her voice is expressive and confident, and this work is a beautiful example of her style. The first movement opens with a poetic, almost perfumey texture. To me it evokes the Impressionist ideal of capturing the light of a specific moment, rather than developing and manipulating material. The surprising end of the first movement hints at the playful lilt of the second, and Tailleferre utilizes the colors of the ensemble with great ease and fluency. The third movement takes a sharp turn from the first two — this mercurial tarantella evokes a chaotic sense of darkness and struggle, even a militaristic feel at times. Together, the three short movements serve as a snapshot of a fascinating musical mind at a troubled time.
Robert Schumann’s second string quartet reflects his deep study of the string quartets of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, but he too puts his own stamp on the genre, including the temperamental vacillations between sunlight and darkness that permeate so much of his writing. At first glance, this quartet seems lyrical, but underneath that veneer is a sense of unrest. Written in 1842, during Schumann’s “year of chamber music,” this quartet leans poetic, eschewing some of the formal conventions associated with the string quartet genre, particularly the extensive development of thematic material found in Beethoven’s string quartets. Tenderness and quiet longing permeate the work, seemingly a love letter to his beloved Clara. As is so often the case with Schumann, the incredible beauty of this music belies his deep suffering—he was struggling with his physical and mental health as he wrote these gorgeous notes, turning to counterpoint exercises and quartet study to fight his descents into deep depression.
~ Sasha Callahan