Friday, January 19, 2018

Michael Tilson Thomas to Conduct the Met Orchestra

I received a letter in the mail Wednesday informing me that Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony, will make his first appearance with the Met Orchestra on Tuesday, June 5, 2018, during the orchestra's annual end-of-season series at Carnegie Hall to which I subscribe.  The program for that date will also change with Carl Ruggles's Evocations taking the place of the previously scheduled world premiere of Charles Wuorinen's Eros and Nemesis.  The remainder of the program - consisting of Mozart's Exsultate, jubilate, featuring soprano Pretty Yende as soloist, and Mahler's Symphony No. 4 - remanins unchanged.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Budapest Festival Orchestra Performs Bach, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff

On Sunday afternoon I walked down to David Geffen Hall to hear the first concert on my Great Performers subscription.  The matinee performance featured Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra performing major works by Bach, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff.

The program opened with Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067 (1738-1739).  There are several points to be made in any discussion of Bach's Orchestral Suites.  The first pertains to the date of composition.  That shown above, 1738-1739, is derived from the autographs of flute and viola parts the composer wrote out during his residence in Leipzig.  It's likely, however, that the works were composed much earlier, most likely circa 1720 when Bach was Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold in Köthen.  The second question concerns the size of the orchestra for which Bach composed his suites.  Recent scholarship has proposed that Bach intended that only one instrument perform each part, an arrangement that would obviously limit the ensemble to a small chamber orchestra, and that was exactly how it was performed on Sunday afternoon with only the conductor and seven musicians using period instruments present onstage.  The third question concerns the grouping of the works.  There's no indication that Bach ever intended the four suites as a single set.  Rather they were most likely composed singly at different times and then revised by the composer as he saw fit over the course of years.  The numbering of the suites is then purely arbitrary.  Answers to the above questions are complicated by the fact that the works were not published until 1853, more than one hundred years after the death of the composer.

Orchestral suites were extremely popular during the Baroque period - Telemann is thought to have written hundreds of which 135 have survived - so that it's a testament to Bach's seriousness of purpose that he composed only four of these lighthearted works.  In general, they follow French models, particularly those of Lully, as can readily be determined by the titles of the dance movements contained within them.  Bach, however, also highly respected the work of Italian composers, chief among them Vivaldi, and those Italian influences can be heard in the present piece's Sarabande.

The next work was Beethoven's majestic Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37 (1800) with guest artist Dénes Várjon as soloist.  Although 1800 is routinely given as the work's date of composition, it obviously wasn't completed in its final form at that time.  Beethoven most probably composed it to be performed at his first Vienna concert in April 1800 but at the last moment substituted another of his early concertos in its place.  Even at the Op. 37's premiere three years later in 1803 the piece still lacked a written piano part with Beethoven playing it from memory.  This is not mere quibbling over dates as Beethoven in 1803 had already entered his middle period and was a far different composer than he had been in 1800 when still deeply under the influence of Classical masters Haydn and Mozart.  The concerto as finally premiered had to have had a different character than that which Beethoven had originally conceived.

Beethoven had modeled the Op. 37 on Mozart's Concerto in C minor, K 491, but it's important to note that Beethoven only used Mozart's work as a stepping off point.  Though in the same key, Beethoven's concerto differs in many respects from its predecessor.  This is most evident in the slow movement largo in the distant key of E major, early evidence of the composer's predilection for sudden jumps to remote keys.  In this case, the audience must have been startled by the unexpected move.

Pianist Dénes Várjon, of whom I have to admit I had never previously heard, did a superb job as soloist.  A student of György Kurtág, he has won numerous awards in Europe but has not yet received the recognition he deserves here in the US.  He played the Beethoven with a sure but light touch that won him a standing ovation.  He then returned to perform an encore that may have been a selection from Bartók's For Children.

After intermission, the program concluded with a performance of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27 (1906-1907).  This is a lush romantic piece whose music swirls about the audience in a heartfelt plea to the emotions.  As stated in Carnegie Hall's program notes to a concert I had previously attended:
"... the Second Symphony is an expansive summation of Rachmaninoff's early style.  The second subject of the finale and the main theme of the slow movement are two of the most extended tunes he ever wrote, and the soulful opening movement is a continual stream of brooding melody."
The work is also famous for being Rachmaninoff's second attempt at symphonic writing after the disastrous reception of his First Symphony in 1895.  Although he had by then composed his Second Piano Concerto, following a long period of psychoanalysis and hypnosis, Rachmaninoff still needed seclusion in which to work out his ideas and so resigned as conductor of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow and moved with his family to Dresden.  The Symphony No. 2 proved a great success and still remains one of the composer's most popular works.  It was actually through this symphony that I first came to appreciate the greatness of Rachmaninoff's music.

To my mind, the Budapest Festival Orchestra is one of the world's finest ensembles and their music director Iván Fischer a superb leader at a time when there is a scarcity of top notch conductors. Anyone who has ever seen this combination perform Bartók's music, as I have, knows that there are no more authoritive interpreters of that composer's works than these musicians.  On Sunday they demonstrated that they are equally at home with the wider European repertoire. Their performance of Rachmaninoff's Second was simply the best I've heard. Conductor and orchestra well deserved the standing ovation they received from the sold out house at its conclusion. Anyone who has an opportunity to hear this orchestra in performance should not hesitate to take it.  They certainly give the audience its money's worth - Sunday's concert lasted a full two hours and forty minutes.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Met Opera: Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci

On Saturday afternoon I went to the Met Opera for the first time this year to hear that famous verismo double bill, Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, both conducted by Nicola Luisotti, music director of the San Francisco Opera.

Cconsidering the circumstances in which they were composed, it's remarkable that these short pieces have gained such a permanent place in the repertoire that they are performed as regularly as works by Verdi and Puccini.  Both operas were first attempts by their respective composers, Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo, who afterwards went on to long careers but never again were able to duplicate their initial successes.  Beyond that, the genre verismo itself was a fairly short lived phenomenon that produced no other true masterpieces. And finally, one-act operas themselves, with the possible exception of Puccini's Il Trittico, have rarely captured the imagination of the public.

What the two operas share are compact storylines.  It's their very brevity that gives them their power.  Each lasts only about an hour and a quarter, but in that short time lurid tales of jealousy and betrayal that end in death have more than enough time to unfold.  In Cavalleria Rusticana, with libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci, the villager Turridu who has started an affair with a married woman (his former fiancée Lola) after having first seduced the innocent virgin Santuzza is slain by the cuckolded husband Alfio.  In Pagliacci, with libretto by the composer Leoncavallo, Canio the clown, egged on by Tonio, slays his wife Nedda and her lover Silvio in front of the circus audience after having discovered her plans to elope with Silvio.

This is not to suggest that there are not major differences between Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci.  The former can hardly be termed a tragedy since the slain seducer Turridu is actually the guilty party who, for no other reason than hurt pride, has set in motion the violent events that culminate in his death.  It's much different in Pagliacci where Nedda can hardly be blamed for wanting to escape so abusive a husband as Canio.  This lends to her death at the clown's hands the tragic element missing from Cavalleria and so allows the audience to sympathize much more fully with her plight.  Moreover, the death of Nedda in front of the circus audience - and by extension the opera audience watching alongside - cannot help but have much greater emotional impact than the death of Turridu that occurs offstage.

For the above reasons, I've always considered Pagliacci the better of the two operas.  The fact that it had only one librettist - and Leoncallvo was considered next to Boito to be the finest in Italy - results in a more coherent story.  And the device of having a performance within a performance makes the opera audience feel it is part of the action.  In contrast, especially considering this is verismo, Cavalleria is almost entirely lacking in dramatic action except for the moment Alfio challenges Turiddu.  Even more strangely, the fight to the death, which should have been the opera's climactic moment, takes place offstage. This lack of action is only emphasized by the current minimalist production that takes place on a practically bare stage.  One feels at times one is watching an oratorio in concert rather than a fully staged opera.  In the end, Cavalleria seems to serve more as a prelude to the catharsis the audience experiences at the end of Pagliacci than as a work in its own right.

As for the performance itself, it's always exciting when a scheduled lead singer is unable to perform and an unknown newcomer must take her place.  This was especially the case on Saturday as the performance was broadcast via the web to a worldwide audicence.  In Pagliacci, Danielle Pastin appeared on short notice in place of an ailing Aleksandra Kurzak in the role of Nedda while in the minor role of Silvio, Alexey Lavrov replaced Alessio Arduini who was also ill.  I can't honestly say that either one triumphed in their respective roles, but they were both talented singers and certainly held their own.

Roberto Alagna, who did double duty as both Turridu and Canio, and George Gagnidze, who played both Alfio and Tonio, each turned in strong performances.  Ekaterina Semenchuk (whom I had heard sing last month in Verdi's Requiem) as Santuzza was extremely affecting in the difficult part of a woman who first betrays her lover and then is heartbroken by his death.  It's a pivotal role on which the success of the opera depends, and Ms. Semenchuk was able to fully capture the sympathy of the audience.

As mentioned above, the David McVicar production of Cavalleria was a bare bones affair, a strategy I did not think right for this opera.  According to the Met's Program Notes, McVicar had updated the setting to circa 1900; but there were too few props, mostly chairs and candles, to enable the audience to place the opera in any specific time or place.  On the other hand, the production of Pagliacci was definitely one of the best I've seen at the Met in recent years.  It evoked perfectly the thrill of a traveling carnival making a stop at a small town.  This was one of the few times updating, here to the late 1940's, worked well.  The production was extremely handsome without ever being ostentatious.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Juilliard ChamberFest: Schoenberg and Schumann

On Wednesday evening, after having heard that same afternoon an excellent chamber performance at Alice Tully, I went to Paul Hall to hear the final ChamberFest performance I'll be attending this season.  I rarely attend two performances on the same day, but in this case I made an exception as the evening program featured an infrequently performed work by Schoenberg followed by a chamber piece by Schumann that's a standard of the repertoire..

The program opened with Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 (1912), the full (and unwieldly) title of which is Dreimal sieben Gedichte aus Albert Girauds "Pierrot lunaire."  More than in other works by Schoenberg it's necessary to understand the cultural context in which Pierrot was created.  Vienna at the time was not only the city of Mahler and Freud but also of such Expressionist artists as Egon Schiele and Richard Gerstl, the latter of whom was to play such a pivotal role in Schoenberg's marital life.  The composer himself was an accomplished painter and was as deeply interested in the visual arts as any of his fellow Viennese.  It's not surprising then that he should have attempted to incorporate Expressionist elements in his music. To accomplish this, he turned to sprechstimme, a vocal technique midway between speech and song, when given a commission by cabaret artist Albertine Zehme to set to music twenty-one poems by Albert Giraud as translated into German by Otto Erich Hartleben.  The composer had already experimented with sprechstimme two years earlier when orchestrating the final section, Des Sommerwindes wilde Jagd, of the revised Gurre-Lieder, a cantata originally steeped in fin de siècle Romanticism, a style repudiated by Schoenberg only a year later after he had already moved on to atonal music; so disenchanted was he with the work that at its work's premiere he refused to turn to acknowledge the audience applauding him.  By the time he composed Pierrot lunaire the composer had fully embraced atonalism even though he had not yet formulated the twelve-tone system that was to be the hallmark of the Second Viennese School.  Schoenberg himself referred to the poems he had set as "melodramas" rather than songs.  However he called them, he was probably as surprised as anyone at the success they enjoyed at the work's premiere that featured the singer Zehme appropriately dressed as Columbine.

It's probably worth mentioning here Schoenberg's obsessive interest in numerology.  (He suffered all his life from triskaidekaphobia, i.e., fear of the number 13.)  It was this interest in numerology that determined the grouping of the melodramas into three groups of seven each.

One of the great things about ChamberFest is that one often hears works by the same composer performed virtually back to back. I had just heard on Tuesday afternoon the composer's String Quartet No. 2 that had anticipated Pierrot by including a part for voice.  Hearing these relatively early works performed so closely together allowed me to better understand the  manner in which Schoenberg combined voice with chamber ensemble to dramatic effect.

The work was performed by what has since come to be known as a "Pierrot Ensemble" consisting of Marie Engle, voice, Giorgio Consolati, flute, Noemi Sallai, clarinet, Sooyeon Kim, violin, Sophia Sun, viola, Thapelo Masita, cello, and Nathan Ben-Yehuda, piano; they were coached by Lucy Shelton and Sylvia Rosenberg.  While all the performances at ChamberFest this season have been excellent, that of Pierrot stood out for its fine ensemble playing on an exceptionally challenging work.  Marie Engle was outstanding on what has to be one of the most demanding vocal parts in the repertoire.

The second and final work on the program was Schumann's Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44 (1842).  Several seasons ago I heard Schumann's Quintet in recital a day after having heard his Piano Quartet, written the same year and in the same key of E-flat major.  1842 was the year of chamber music for Schumann whose approach to composing was to devote himself entirely to one genre until  he had exhausted its possibilities.  Thus 1840 had been "the year of the song" while in 1841 Schumann had written two of his four symphonies.  It could be argued that of all these cycles the most successful was that devoted to chamber music.  As the critic Richard Aldrich noted as far back as 1929:
"Schumann’s chamber music of 1842 is in many ways among the most perfect of all the products of his genius; the purest and most powerful in its beauty, the strongest in its form, best balanced in its substance, and best adapted in its technical means and processes to the expression of the composer’s thought."
When I had heard the Quartet and Quintet played in such close proximity to one another, I had thought in general the Quintet had a bigger sound suitable for a concert hall while the Quartet was the more intimate work. The Quintet's opening movement, marked allegro brillante, was clearly meant to impress the listener while the funeral march was not only a Romantic staple but at the same time a glance backward toward Beethoven.  To conclude the Quintet, Schumann wrote a vibrant finale that remains among the finest accomplishments.  Most importantly, in the Quintet he created an entirely new genre insofar as he was the first well known composer to pair the piano with string quartet, an arrangement largely made possible by technical advances in the construction of the fortepiano that finally allowed its sound to be heard over that of the strings. Although Mendelssohn, filling in for an ailing Clara Schumann at the work's private premiere, made suggestions that led Schumann to revise the work before its public premiere at the Lepzig Gewandhaus (at which Clara did play), that should in no way detract from Schumann's accomplishment.

Before the performance began, violist Sergio Leiva described to the audience Schumann's recurring use of a "Clara" motif within the work.  I found this highly interesting as I had heard earlier in the week Brahms's Op. 60 that had incorporated that composer's own Clara theme.

The musicians were Yujhie He and Yue Qian, violins, Sergio Leiva, viola, Marza Wilks, cello, and Jie Fang, who gave a notable performance on the piano part; their coaches were Joseph Kalichstein and Lara Lev.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Juilliard ChamberFest: Stravinsky and Enescu

The third of the ChamberFest recitals I attended this season was a Wednesdays at One matinee at Alice Tully Hall that lasted only an hour but featured two intriguing works that, though notable, are not often heard, one by Stravinsky and the other by George Enescu.

The program opened with Stravinsky's Octet (1923) for winds. Few composers influenced the course of twentieth century music more profoundly than Stravinsky.  While not many would argue this, most would point to Le sacre du printemps, forever immortalized in musical history by the riot that accompanied its premiere in Paris in 1913, as confirmation.  While the ballet was undeniably revolutionary in its radical exploration of dissonance and rhythm, Stravinsky's subsequent move to neo-Classicism could be considered to have had even greater repercussions.  Neo-Classicism was rooted in the aversion to German culture, most especially the Romanticism that infused Wagner's music, during and after World War I.  To replace German Romanticism and the programmatic music that characterized it, Stravinsky looked back to the Classical and Baroque periods.  Already in 1920 he had accepted a commission from the Ballets Russes to rewrite in modernist form music then attributed to Pergolesi for Pulcinella.  In exploring older musical forms Stravinsky also reverted to the cold precision that underlay such devices as fugue and counterpoint.  This even extended to the choice of instrumentation to be employed in scoring a work.  That Stravinsky did this deliberately was explicitly stated a 1924 article in The Arts in which he wrote of the Octet:
"Wind instruments seem to me to be more apt to render a certain rigidity of the form I had in mind than other instruments... which are less cold and more vague...  My Octuor is not an 'emotive' work but a musical composition based on objective elements which are sufficient in themselves."
If then the Octet strikes the listener as cold and lacking in emotional appeal, this was not accidental but carefully calculated on the part of the composer.  In this he influenced any number of composers who came after him.

The musicians on this piece were Viola Chan, flute, Kamalia Freyling, clarinet, Steven Palacio and Emmali Ouderkirk, bassoons, Lasse Bjerknaes-Jacobsen and Kevin Quill, trumpets, and Ricardo Pedrares-Patino and Aaron Albert, trombones; their coach was Raymond Mase.

The second piece on yesterday's program could not have been more dissimilar from the first.  Although Enescu's work contained the same number of instruments as did Stravinsky's, this time the ensemble was comprised entirely of strings rather than winds.  In the Octet in C major, Op. 7 (1900) two full string quartets played side by side, a combination previously employed most famously by Mendelssohn in his own youthful Op. 20.  But this was hardly the biggest difference between the two present pieces.  The Op. 7, composed roughly a quarter century before Stravinsky's Octet, was in striking contrast to the latter in its passionate emotionalism.  One could say it was precisely the type of work Stravinsky set himself against in his neo-Classical period.  Here was lush fin de siècle Romanticism made only more ardent by the youth of the composer at the time he wrote it.  This could be heard most clearly in the slow third movement marked lentement.  The use of French markings was also an indication that his sources of inspiration were more French than German - the Octet is dedicated to André Gedalge, Eenescu's teacher at the Paris Conservatory - even if the second movement was cast in the form of fugue. The Romantic roots of the piece were emphasized by Enescu himself when, in a 1950 preface to a new edition of the score, he described the entire piece as a single movement in sonata-allegro form, a concept that had previously been explored by Liszt and other prominent Romantic composers. 

The work was performed by Harriet Langley, Emma Frucht, George Meyer, and Amelia Dietrich, violins, Jasper Snow and Emily Liu, violas, Edvard Pogossian and Clare Bradford, cellos; they were coached by Don Weilerstein and David Finckel.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Juilliard ChamberFest: Schoenberg and Schubert

Yesterday afternoon I went to hear my second installment of Juilliard's ChamberFest series.  This particular recital was the one I'd been most looking forward to hearing since its program featured two works for strings that I've always held in the highest esteem and numbered among their respective composers' greatest works.

The program opened with Schoenberg's String Quartet No. 2 in F sharp minor, Op. 10 (1908). The Op. 10 is one of the most unusual string quartets in the repertoire - the last two movements set to music poems by Stefan George and call for their texts to be sung by soprano to the accompaniment of the strings.  The quartet proved to be a turning point in Schoenberg's career, what he himself termed "the transition to my second period."  In researching the history of the quartet, I came across an informative article by Bryan R. Simms that traced the personal crises that led the composer to so complete change in direction.  According to Simms, there were two situations in Schoenberg's life that together had a shattering impact on his psyche and caused him to seek a new path.  The first of these was the almost universal rejection his most recent music had received when first introduced in Vienna.  By his own admission, Schoenberg, who had always harbored an inflated estimate of his own worth, had expected his First Quartet, Op. 7, and his Chamber Symphony, Op. 9, to be the keys to his long awaited acceptance as a great composer.  In a 1937 lecture he recollected:
"After having finished the composition of the Kammersymphonie it was not only the expectation of success which filled me with joy. It was another and a more important matter. I believed I had now found my own personal style of composing and that all problems which had previously troubled a young composer had been solved... It was as lovely a dream as it was a disappointing illusion."
The reality proved far different than the composer had imagined.  In regard to the First Quartet, the critic Heinrich Schenker, invited to its premiere by the composer himself, wrote: "If there are criminals in the world of art, this composer - whether by birth or by his own making - would have to be counted among them."  As if this weren't enough, the Chamber Symphony fared even worse on its first hearing.  Describing the work's Musikverein premiere, only three days after that of the First Quartet, attendee Egon Wellesz wrote: "Never before or after has a concert in Vienna ended in such tumult."

It was in reaction to these criticisms that Schoenberg, still in search of acceptance if not outright fame, began work on the Second Quartet.  Originally he had planned to take a step back with this work and to make his music more readily accessible, once again dividing the piece into conventional movements.  After having sketched the first two movements, however, he was dealt a further blow, this one even more personal.  He was abandoned by his wife Mathilde who had run off with the painter Richard Gerstl.  To an egotist such as Schoenberg it had to have been devastating to have received two such rebuffs in so short a time.  It was in near despair then that he turned to the two poems by Stefan George as a means to express his unhappiness. Ironically, it was the inclusion of the Litanei and Entrückung in the third and fourth movements that finally led the composer to the discovery of a new style from which he would shortly thereafter develop the twelve-tone technique.

The quartet was performed by Jessica Niles, voice, Leerone Hakami and Jieming Tang, violins, Lauren Siess, viola, and Chloe Hong, cello; they were coached by Fred Sherry and Sanford Sylvan.

After a brief intermission, the recital concluded with what is undeniably Schubert's greatest chamber work, the String Quintet in C major, D. 956 (1828), the last the composer completed before his untimely death.  The one feature that's most often remarked upon when discussing this work is its use of an additional cello.  In this the composer broke new ground.  While his models Mozart and Beethoven had both written string quintets in the key of C major, they had opted for an additional viola rather than a cello.  Only Boccherini had made use of an additional cello in his own quintets but to much different effect.  Still, there was a precedent of sorts in Schubert's own oeuvre in the Piano Quintet in A major in which the composer, rather than scoring the work for piano with string quartet, had dispensed with a second violin and instead added a double bass.  Though this had not been done as a matter of choice - Schubert had been commissioned to write a work using the same instrumentation as had Hummel in his rearranged Septet - the obvious result in both the string quintet and the piano quintet was an increased sonority in the lower registers.  Though one might think that this was done to achieve a more darkened mood - one immediately calls to mind the elegiac character of Arensky's String Quartet No. 2, Op. 35 - this was certainly not the case in the piano quintet, the "Trout," which is overall as joyous a work as one could imagine.  Rather the use of an additional cello enabled Schubert to express his vision with greater breadth than could be achieved with either a standard string quartet or a viola quintet.  And indeed the string quintet possesses a truly symphonic character.  In other words, the use of an additional cello fundamentally altered the character of the work from a straightforward chamber piece to a larger vehicle in which Schubert could express his ideas nearly as fully as in an orchestral work.

The five musicians were Ariel Seunghyun Lee and Elaine Qianru He, violins, Ao Peng, viola, and Andrew Cone and Shangwen Liao, cellos; their coach was Joel Smirnoff.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Juilliard ChamberFest: Corigliano, Bax and Brahms

One of the events I most look forward to each season is Juilliard's ChamberFest program.  Every year, a select group of students give up a week of their mid-term vacation to take part in a series of intensive chamber music workshops, the products of which are duly presented during the second week of January.  The lucky audiences have an opportunity to hear masterworks by noted composers, many of which are not performed as often as one would wish.

The first recital I attended was held yesterday afternoon at Paul Hall and featured works by John Corigliano, Arnold Bax and Brahms.  The Corigliano was of special interest since this is only the second time I can remember a work for only two instruments having been included in a ChamberFest program, the first having been Messiaen's Visions de l’Amen in 2016.

It was in fact with Corigliano's Chiaroscuro for two pianos (1997) that the program opened.  The piece is often cited as an example of quarter tone music in which twelve equivalent intervals of the chromatic scale are split into twenty-four equivalent microtonal intervals. As pianist Anna Han explained before beginning the performance, the composer, who had been commissioned to write the piece for a two-piano competition, had felt it would be repetitive to have two pianos limited to the same eighty-eight keys and so had required that one piano be tuned a quarter tone lower than the other, thus providing the musicians with a total of one hundred seventy-six keys.

As a photographer, I was intrigued by the work's title.  "Chiaroscuro," defined in Wikipedia as a "technique, developed during the Renaissance, that uses strong tonal contrasts between light and dark to model three-dimensional forms, often to dramatic effect," is an important tool in photographic lighting.  Corigliano also obviously had photography on his mind since he named the three movements "Light," "Shadows" and "Strobe."  And indeed there were strong tonal contrasts throughout the length of the work.  

The two extremely talented pianists were Anna Han and Yijia Wang.  They were coached by John Corigliano himself who then appeared onstage to take a bow at the end of the performance.

The next piece was Bax's Piano Quintet in G minor (1915).  Although idiosyncratic in its composition, the fairly long piece was highly accessible, perhaps because much of it displayed strong Romantic influences.  The most interesting movement of this work though, at least to anyone of Irish descent, was the middle that was easily recognizable as a Celtic melody.

The work was performed by Sophia Steger and Sein An, violins, Isabella Bignasca, viola, Jenny Bahk, cello, and Siyumeng Wang, piano; they were coached by Jonathan Feldman.

After intermission, the recital ended with the only well known piece on the progrram, Brahms's Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60 (1875), nicknamed the "Werther."  As a composer, Brahms was ever the perfectionist - he is reputed to have destroyed some twenty string quartets before finally allowing publication of the two that made up the Op. 51 - but there is something more at work in the length of time, almost a full twenty years, that elapsed before he completed work on the present piece.  He began drafting it in 1855 at roughly the same time he commenced work on his first two piano quartets, the Opp. 25 and 26, but while those were published shortly thereafter Brahms did not publish the final version of the Op. 60 until 1875 after having made extensive revisions including the change of home key from C sharp minor to C minor.  Other and more significant changes included the composition of a new finale, the old having been recast as the scherzo, and a new slow movement.

If one wonders why Brahms was so conflicted over this particular work, the answer may lie in its thoroughly Romantic "Werther" nickname.  It was the composer himself who first connected the work to Goethe's doomed sturm und drang protagonist when he wrote to his close friend Theodor Billroth that "the quartet has communicated itself to me only in the strangest ways...For instance, the illustration to the last chapter of the man in the blue frock and yellow waistcoat."  Brahms then expanded on the analogy when he submitted the manuscript to his publisher Simrock, writing:
"On the cover you must have a picture, namely a head with a pistol to it. Now you can form some conception of the music! I’ll send you my photograph for the purpose."
Werther, of course, also shot himself in the head, driven to suicide by his love for a woman engaged to another man, and Brahms had found himself in an eerily similar situation in 1855 when staying with the Schumann household after Robert had been committed to an asylum.  Brahms, despite the Classical structure of his works, was nothing if not a Romantic and so identified with Werther's plight that he more or less declared his own strong feelings by transposing in the quartet's first movement Schumann's own Clara motif into one created by himself.  In this regard, there is an interesting article by Eric Sams entitled "Brahms and his Clara Themes."  It may be then that Brahms so procrastinated over the publication of the Op. 60 because he felt that in its original form it was simply too personal a work to be made public.  Even in the quartet's revised form, the first movement seems overwrought, especially for a composer as reserved as Brahms.  In a like manner, the beautiful slow movement can only be described as a hymn of ineffable longing.

The musicians for this last work were Byungchan Lee, violin, Elijah Spies, viola, Jonathan Lien, cello, and Chaeyoung Park, piano; their coaches were Lara Lev and Vivian Weilerstein.