Alexander String Quartet with
Robert Greenberg, host and lecturer
Zakarias Grafilo, violin
Frederick Lifsitz, violin
Paul Yarbrough, viola
Sandy Wilson, cello
The String Quartet at a Time of War:
Benjamin Britten and His Contemporaries
December 7, 14 & 21, 2013
January 11, 2014
St. John’s Presbyterian Church, Berkeley
DvoŘÁK: Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 8— IV. Finale
Program 1: December 7 "The Gathering Storm"
BRITTEN: Three Divertimenti for String Quartet
HAAS: Quartet No. 3
Program 2: December 14 "Their Finest Hour"
BARTÓK: Quartet No. 6
BRITTEN: Quartet No. 1
Program 3: December 21 "The Hinge of Fate"
BRITTEN: Quartet No. 2
WALTON: Quartet in A minor
Program 4: January 11 "Triumph and Tragedy"
SHOSTAKOVICH: Quartet No. 8
BRITTEN: Quartet No. 3
About This Performance
For two decades these five musicians, scholars and friends have brought together a devoted crowd of chamber music enthusiasts on Saturday mornings that are part concert, part lecture, part humor and all entertainment. Followers on both sides of the Bay indulge in deep exploration of composers, their works, times and impacts in one of SF Performances most popular and enduring series. These enlightening two-hour sessions, designed and written by Robert Greenberg, open with Mr. Greenberg’s musical and historical insights about the composers and their work, liberally peppered with his incisive wit and expansive insights, and conclude with complete performances of the repertoire by the ASQ.
World War II (1939-1945) was the single most harrowing and devastating event of the twentieth century. Framed by the string quartets of Benjamin Britten, whose centennial will be celebrated in 2013, this series will explore works that reflect the broader European experience of the War years, as well as the period immediately before (Program 1) and after (Program 4). Aside from Britten’s superb quartets, the series will feature some of the most important string quartets composed during the twentieth century, including quartets by Pavel Haas (who perished in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944), Béla Bartók, William Walton and Dmitri Shostakovich.
The Alexander String Quartet has performed in the major music capitals of five continents, securing its standing among the world’s premier ensembles over nearly three decades. Widely admired for its interpretations of Beethoven, Mozart and Shostakovich, the quartet has also established itself as an important advocate of new music through over twenty-five commissions and numerous premiere performances. The Alexander String Quartet is a major artistic presence in its home base of San Francisco, serving there as directors of the Morrison Chamber Music Center at the School of Music and Dance in the College of Arts and Humanities at San Francisco State University and Ensemble in Residence of San Francisco Performances.
The Alexander Quartet’s annual calendar of concerts includes engagements at major halls throughout North America and Europe. The quartet has appeared at Lincoln Center, the 92nd Street Y and the Metropolitan Museum in New York City; Jordan Hall in Boston; the Library of Congress and Dumbarton Oaks in Washington; and chamber music societies and universities across the North American continent. Recent overseas tours have brought them to the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, France, Greece, the Republic of Georgia, Argentina and the Philippines. The many distinguished artists to collaborate with the Alexander String Quartet include pianists Menahem Pressler, Gary Graffman, Roger Woodward, Jeremy Menuhin and Joyce Yang; clarinetists Eli Eban, Charles Neidich, Joan Enric Lluna and Richard Stoltzman; cellists Lynn Harrell, Sadao Harada and David Requiro; violist Toby Appel; and soprano Elly Ameling. Among the quartet’s more unusual collaborations have been numerous performances of Eddie Sauter’s seminal Third Stream work, Focus, in collaboration with Branford Marsalis, David Sánchez and Andrew Speight.
A particular highlight of the season was a celebratory concert presented by SF Performances in February 2012 marking the quartet’s thirtieth anniversary. For the occasion, San Francisco Performances commissioned a new work by Jake Heggie, Camille Claudel: Into the Fire, a work for string quartet and mezzo-soprano; the Alexander was joined in the world premiere by Joyce DiDonato. Other highlights of the 2011–2012 season included two multiple concert series for San Francisco Performances, one presenting the complete quartets of Bartók and Kodály and the other music of Schubert; a Dvořák series for Mondavi Center; and a continuing annual series at Baruch College in New York City, this season featuring the Bartók cycle. Other important series include Concerts International in Memphis, the Tuesday Evening Concert Series in Charlottesville, the Asheville Chamber Music Series, and the inaugural concert of a new chamber music series at the Capitol Theatre for Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida. They also continue their annual residencies at Allegheny College and St. Lawrence University, this year in collaboration with the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam.
The Alexander Quartet’s twenty-fifth anniversary as well as the twentieth anniversary of its association with New York City’s Baruch College as Ensemble in Residence was celebrated through a performance by the ensemble of the Shostakovich string quartet cycle. Of these performances at the Baruch Performing Art Center Engelman Recital Hall, The New York Times wrote, “The intimacy of the music came through with enhanced power and poignancy in the Alexander Quartet’s vibrant, probing, assured and aptly volatile performances….Seldom have these anguished, playful, ironic and masterly works seemed so profoundly personal.” The Alexander was also awarded Presidential Medals in honor of their longstanding commitment to the Arts and Education and in celebration of their two decades of service to Baruch College.
The Alexander String Quartet has added considerably to its distinguished and wide-ranging discography over the past decade. Recording exclusively for the FoghornClassics label, the Alexander’s most recent release (June 2009) of the complete Beethoven cycle was described by Music Web International performances “uncompromising in their power, intensity and spiritual depth,” while Strings Magazine described the set as “a landmark journey through the greatest of all quartet cycles.” The FoghornClassics label released a three-CD set (Homage) of the Mozart quartets dedicated to Haydn in 2004. Foghorn released the six-CD album (Fragments) of the complete Shostakovich quartets in 2006 and 2007, and a recording of the complete quartets of Pulitzer prize-winning San Francisco composer, Wayne Peterson, was released in the spring of 2008. BMG Classics released the quartet’s first recording of Beethoven cycle on its Arte Nova label to tremendous critical acclaim in 1999. The ASQ’s three newest releases on FoghornClassics in the spring of 2012 include works by Brahms, Gershwin, Kern, Beethoven and new commissions from Paul Chihara, Veronika Krausas and Michael Gandolfi. A forthcoming Bartók/Kodály cycle recorded on the renowned Ellen M. Egger matched quartet of instruments built by San Francisco luthier, Francis Kuttner will be released in the fall.
Recent Alexander premieres include Rise Chanting by Augusta Read Thomas, commissioned for the Alexander by the Krannert Center and premiered there and simulcast by WFMT radio in Chicago. The quartet has also premiered String Quartets Nos. 2 and 3 by Wayne Peterson and works by Ross Bauer (commissioned by Stanford University), Richard Festinger, David Sheinfeld, Hi Kyung Kim, and a Koussevitzky commission by Robert Greenberg.
The Alexander String Quartet was formed in New York City in 1981 and the following year became the first string quartet to win the Concert Artists Guild Competition. In 1985, the quartet captured international attention as the first American quartet to win the London International String Quartet Competition, receiving both the jury’s highest award and the Audience Prize. In May of 1995, Allegheny College awarded Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees to the members of the quartet in recognition of their unique contribution to the arts. Honorary degrees were conferred on the ensemble by St. Lawrence University in May 2000.
Robert Greenberg was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1954, and has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1978. He received a BA in music from Princeton University in 1976 and, in 1984, a Ph.D. in music from University of California at Berkeley, where his principal teachers were Andrew Imbrie and Olly Wilson in composition and Richard Felciano in analysis.
Greenberg has composed more than forty-five works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles. Recent performances of his works have taken place in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy and The Netherlands, where his Child’s Play for String Quartet was performed at the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam.
Greenberg has received numerous honors, including three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and three Meet-The-Composer Grants. Recent commissions include the Koussevitzky Foundation in the Library of Congress, the Alexander String Quartet, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the Strata Ensemble, San Francisco Performances and the XTET ensemble. Greenberg is a board member and an artistic director of Composers, Inc., a composers’ collective/production organization based in San Francisco. His music is published by Fallen Leaf Press and CPP/Belwin, and is recorded on the Innova label.
Greenberg has performed, taught and lectured extensively across North America and Europe. He is currently music historian-in-residence with San Francisco Performances, where he has lectured and performed since 1994, and is a faculty member of the Advanced Management Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. He has served on the faculties of UC Berkeley, California State University East Bay and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he chaired the Department of Music History and Literature from 1989–2001 and served as director of the Adult Extension Division from 1991–96.
Greenberg has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony (where for ten years he was host and lecturer of the nationally acclaimed “Discovery Series”), the Chautauqua Institute, the Ravinia Festival, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, Villa Montalvo, Music @ Menlo and the University of British Columbia.
In addition, Greenberg is a sought-after lecturer and has recently spoken for such diverse organizations as S.C. Johnson, Canadian Pacific, Deutsches Bank, the University of California/Haas School of Business Executive Seminar, the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, Harvard Business School Publishing and Kaiser-Permanente. He has been profiled in the Wall Street Journal, the Times of London, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle, the University of California Alumni Magazine and Princeton Alumni Weekly. Greenberg is the resident composer and music historian to National Public Radio’s Weekend All Things Considered.
In February 2003, the Bangor Daily News in Maine referred to Greenberg as the “Elvis” of music history and appreciation,” an appraisal that has given him more pleasure than any other.
In May 1993, Greenberg recorded a forty-eight-lecture course entitled “How to Listen to and Understand Great Music” for the Teaching Company/Great Courses Program. Twelve further courses, including “Concert Masterworks,” “Bach and the High Baroque,” “The Symphonies of Beethoven,” “How to Listen to and Understand Opera” and “The Fundamentals of Music” have been recorded since, totaling more than five hundred lectures. His book, How to Listen to Great Music, was published by Penguin Books in early 2011.
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