October 2021

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String Circle

Leonora Duarte (1610—1678) | Sinfonias 3, 4 & 5

Kenji Bunch (b. 1973) | String Circle

 

W.A. Mozart (1756—1791) | String Quintet No. 6 in E-flat Major K.614

I. Larghetto - Allegro

II. Adagio

III. Menuetto. Allegretto - Trio

IV. Allegro

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Sasha Callahan and Megumi Stohs Lewis, violins

Alexander Vavilov and Stephanie Fong, violas

Leo Eguchi, cello​

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String Circle is a program about some of the many things that can happen when we gather together. We all need ways to enjoy, to process, to make sense of the world and our lives; and we often map things out by being together, engaging in activities—whether eating and drinking together, or sharing a spiritual practice, concert, or jam session. Now in 2021, we have collectively been through many things, without the time to process them in community as they happened. This program feels like a chance to have a shared experience; bringing together all the different things we are carrying that we’ve been through individually, and letting something we do communally impact that mixture inside of us.

 

Leonora Duarte was born into a Flemish family of Jewish conversos who fled to Antwerp from Portugal and Spain and converted to Catholicism. Her Sinfonias, written sometime between 1625-50, were written for viol consort, and were played by her and her 4 siblings in their home, where the family hosted lauded musical events attended by the artistic and diplomatic stars of their time, including Vermeer and the singer Anna de la Barre. (Leonora’s brother Diego was the owner of a Vermeer, and people have speculated that Leonora may have been the subject of some of Vermeer’s paintings.) When the Sinfonias were being written, baroque music was starting to shift to a more melody-and-accompaniment form, but Leonora continued writing in the more equally-voiced contrapuntal style that was well suited to the viol instrument and likely also to her ensemble of opinionated siblings. As Alex Ross notes about these Sinfonias, “You could also compare them to Vermeer’s paintings, small in scale and infinite in depth.” Her music celebrates the beauty that comes from a community drawn together by art and listening to all the voices in its midst. 

 

The opening of String Circle, Kenji Bunch’s viola quintet, conjures up mysterious and beckoning Smoky Mountain vistas. This is the Appalachian fiddling movement of the piece, which, like most of Kenji’s music, draws on many different American Folk traditions. The slow movement, Ballad, sets the song Wayfaring Stranger (of unknown origin, but once found etched into the notorious Civil War era Libby Prison) with a simple, yet heart-wrenching ascending line started by the violas. After the sorrow of the Ballad, a gentle return to community is a welcome relief, in Porch Picking, plucked throughout by the whole quintet, and reminiscent of a casual and friendly jam session when anyone can drop by. In the final movement, an homage to Bartok’s 4th quartet can be heard as folk music elements are joined together with intrepid skill in a complex, rhythmic, and visceral finale.

 

The final chamber music work Mozart wrote was this viola quintet in E-flat Major (1791). Written in the same year as his Magic Flute opera, you can hear many similar elements: hunting calls, intertwining bird calls, and of course the E-flat tonal center. Like his last quartets, there is a very virtuosic cello part, the first time in history the cello had been asked to do such crazy things! The third movement Musette brings in the droning sounds of the bagpipe instrument of the same name, which had its roots in the country, but became a very dressed-up favorite of the French court dances.

~ Megumi Stohs Lewis

Guest Artist
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Violist Stephanie Fong enjoys a versatile career as a chamber musician, music educator, and orchestral musician.  Stephanie has served on the chamber music faculty at the University of Michigan School of Music, the Innsbrook Institute Summer Music Academy, Center Stage Strings, and the Peaks to Plains Suzuki Institute in addition to regular appearances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony.  She is a member of the Boston-based chamber music group Mistral, and has performed extensively with the Alianza String Quartet, the Phoenix String Quartet, and Kailas String Quartet.  Stephanie has also performed at the Rockport Festival, Monadnock Festival, Skaneateles Festival.  She holds degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where her principal teachers were Martha Strongin Katz and Ian Swensen.