Dancing on the Edges of Time
Mykola Lysenko (1842—1912) | Trio in A Major for two violins and viola
I. Andante—Allegro animato
Reena Esmail (b. 1983) | String Quartet (Ragamala)
I. Fantasie (Bihag)
II. Scherzo (Malkauns)
III. Recitative (Basant)
IV. Rondo (Jōg)
W.A. Mozart (1756—1791) | String Quartet No. 23 in F major, K.590
I. Allegro moderato, in F major
II. Andante, in C major
III. Menuetto: Allegretto
IV. Allegro, in F major
Sasha Callahan, violin
Zenas Hsu, violin
Alexander Vavilov, viola
Leo Eguchi, cello
“Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf.” - Rabindranath Tagore
The magic of life slowly but surely rebounding after the desolation of Winter has long captivated humanity, and this year we are giving Her Majesty Spring an offering - a program of music specially designed for the occasion! Just like the imperceptible turn of the seasons triggers the seed in the freshly thawed earth to rupture and spurt forth new growth, so did the elusive yet inevitable forces of inspiration move Lysenko, Esmail, and Mozart to invent or reinvent their language at different points in their lives.
Young Mykola Lysenko was finishing his studies at Leipzig when he wrote his String Trio in A-minor as a graduation piece. Today Lysenko deservedly occupies a lofty throne as the seminal Ukrainian composer and founder of the Ukrainian national compositional school, but when he wrote this trio, all of Lysenko’s major accomplishments were still ahead of him. Yet this early creation shows command over detail, form, and expression characteristic of an established master of the “Old German School”. Schumannesque moments that turn on a dime and complex Romantic harmonies somehow exist in parallel with clearly recognizable Ukrainian folk inspirations, clearly foreshadowing his future style and legacy.
Much like Lysenko, modern day Indian-American composer Reena Esmail found her voice by looking towards her homeland. Through combining traditional Indian compositional and improvisational techniques with Western forms and instrumentation, she achieves a truly mesmerizing effect, clearly on display in her 2013 string quartet Ragamala. When writing about the origins of this quartet, she recalls a moving scene she witnessed again and again at concerts in India: as soon as an artist announces the raag (melodic mode for improvisation), many in the audience quietly start to hum little tunes in that raag, anticipating the performance and creating an immediate bond with the musicians. She writes about the quartet:
After the opening phrases, each movement diverges into its own distinct character. The first movement is a Fantasie inspired by the beautiful raag Bihag which layers phrases over one another to create large shapes separated by the silence of pure drones. The second movement is a vivacious and rhythmic setting of a Malkauns taan, which to the western ear, always seems to be pulling to a dominant rather than a tonic. The third movement is in the contemplative Basant – a raag that signifies the season of spring in Hindustani music. And the fourth movement is in the complex and multi-faceted Jog, a single raag which seems to contain western notions of both ‘major’ and ‘minor’ within it.
While most composers had to consciously create their voice, Mozart seems to have had an intuitive vision for his own musical language when he began composing at the age of 5. However, many music historians have observed a change in Mozart’s writing style in his final years. He made a concerted effort to simplify, which revolutionized his writing and could be clearly observed in his last few piano concerti, his last symphony, his final opera The Magic Flute, and his last several chamber music compositions. Many mourned the absence of the delightful irregular phrases, textural complexity, and unusual rhythms in this new language of his. The gains were less obvious to spot, but were profound nevertheless. Shedding these perceived excesses provided Mozart with direct access to the most serene and sacred corners of the human soul even he was unable to fully explore before. In this particular quartet, written in 1790 for the cello-playing king of Prussia, the highly melodic cello part transforms the texture, flipping the voicing upside-down. The resulting sonority, combined with the transparently ascetic writing, creates a unique equilibrium of voices – a stunning effect, which lasts long past the double bar. This is particularly true of the evasively transcendent second movement, while the fiddling runs and bag-pipe drones in the finale remind us that youthful shenanigans remained as dear to Mozart as the sublime.
~ Alexander Vavilov
With a sound palette ranging from a ‘commanding tone’ to ‘delicate sentiment’ (Calgary Herald), Taiwanese-American violinist Zenas Hsu leads a vibrant career filled with chamber music, orchestral leadership, and education. He is a member of A Far Cry, a Grammy nominated ensemble in Boston. Zenas serves as concertmaster of Phoenix, an orchestra based in Boston focused on approachable concert experiences, and serves as principal second violin with the Boston Ballet.
Zenas is a frequent guest artist of Bard Music West and the Wellesley Chamber Players and has served as guest concertmaster of ensembles and orchestras all over the world, including the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. World and national premiere performances include works by Robert Honstein, Philip Glass, Matthew Aucoin, Jessie Montgomery, Lembit Beecher, and others. He is a founding member of Chamber Music by the Bay, a California-based interactive music series that reaches over 2,000 people annually.
A native of California, Zenas received his early training in the preparatory division of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He was accepted at age sixteen to the Curtis Institute of Music for his Bachelor of Music degree, and received his Master of Music and Graduate Diploma degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music. His teachers include Donald Weilerstein, Nicholas Kitchen, Ida Kavafian, and Wei He.