The Ubiquitous String Quartet
With the arrival of September, the resumption of UPenn and coaching chamber music over Zoom (oy…)
This summer features a wide range of music spanning 236 years with music from France, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Russia, Estonia, and ... Gloucester, MA. Please note that we are adding a concert so the main concerts will now be Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday instead of Thursday/Saturday.
Since Newburyport can’t ever seem to get enough of Shostakovich, we continue exploring the cycle of his quartets on the first concert, Wednesday, with his sixth quartet. If you are expecting the usual bleak fare you’ll be in for a disappointment; this is a playful work, even happy, with gentle humor and a lack of irony that shows an optimism we don’t usually associate with the depressed Russian master (…or does it?). This concert also has Mozart’s string quartet in D Minor, K. 421, a personal favorite, and is unrelentingly dramatic from the first moment to the last. Written two years before his opera Don Giovanni (about an unrepentant lothario dragged screaming into the pits of hell), this dark work is one of Mozart’s only quartets written in a minor key. Lastly, written in 1976, Henri Dutilleux’s “Ainsi la nuit” (Thus the Night) is a beautiful, profound work and a meditation, of sorts, on the meaning of night.
I’ve titled the Friday concert “Nachtmusik” because it consists of music one might hear while sleepwalking barefoot through the forest alone at two in the morning: the chittering of insects;the anguished cry of a small animal in distress;the distant laughter of elves; the vast resonance of the cosmos. In addition to individual movements culled from the other programs there is also music of Bach and Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. This intimate concert will be held in the Brown Chapel at the cemetery and is approximately an hour long. Some of the music will be played in complete darkness.
The final concert, Sunday, includes the Ravel Duo, a virtuosic dialogue between two siblings, one smaller and higher, the other deep and sonorous. Sometimes in harmony, sometimes in competition, the piece is alternatingly suave, playful, jazzy, and contemplative, yet always somehow so French. Contrasting with the urbane sophistication of Ravel, Bartók’s fourth string quartet seems to spring directly from the rough soil of the Hungarian countryside: rocks, roots, bugs, and all. The five movements are written in mirror image with the quartet anchored at the core by the enigmatic middle movement that came to define what we call “Night Music.” This concert also features the much-anticipated world premiere of Robert Bradshaw’s string quartet “A Day in the Life of Newburyport.” This has been a collaborative effort and includes paintings by members of the Newburyport Art Association along with new poems by Rhina P. Espaillat and Alfred Nicol. Sections of the piece correspond to iconic locations throughout Newburyport.
Our successful collaboration with Theater in the Open continues in 2019 featuring storytelling, music, and puppetry with “Rumpilstilskin” and “Little Red Riding Hood” in addition to “The Princess and the Man with a Pure Heart,” a magical story from Indonesia. The summer begins with a lecture called “A Guided Tour of Bela Bartók’s String Quartet #4:” an introduction to the oft-maligned Hungarian master, placing the composer's music into historical context and walking the audience through this masterpiece movement by movement. We’ll also have our family concert on Inn Street and three Hausmusiks. Tickets for the Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday concerts, as well as the Hausmusiks, are on sale now.
In a future post, I will include YouTube links to all the repertoire mentioned above for anyone who would like to get it in their ears beforehand.
David Yang, Artistic Director
On selected nights of the festival, I asked past artists of NCMF to choose a surprise Youtube performance as a treat for our audience. Each selection will be preceded by short video introduction to the link. On this, the festival’s final night, I am including two links to send everyone home.