Alexander String Quartet
Robert GreenbergHost • Lecturer
About This Performance
The esteemed and popular Alexander String Quartet has enlivened SF Performances seasons for more than three decades, joined by Music Historian-in-Residence Robert Greenberg. Together they explore in music and words some of chamber music’s most intriguing and important composers, their works, lives, and times. Looking back to the early years of the last century, the Quartet and Greenberg will explore the rich history of bright innovation and creation during often dark times.
Music as a Mirror of Our World:
The String Quartet from 1905 to 1946
Program 6: United Kingdom
BRITTEN: String Quartet No. 2 in C Major, Op. 36 (1945)
WALTON: String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor (1946)
The Alexander String Quartet has performed in the major music capitals of five continents, securing its standing among the world’s premiere ensembles. Widely admired for its interpretations of Beethoven, Mozart, and Shostakovich, the quartet's recordings of the Beethoven cycle (twice), and the Bartók and Shostakovich cycles have all won international critical acclaim. The quartet has also established itself as an important advocate of new music through over 25 commissions from such composers as Jake Heggie, Cindy Cox, Augusta Read Thomas, Robert Greenberg, Martin Bresnick, César Cano, and Pulitzer Prize-winner, Wayne Peterson. A new work by Tarik O'Reagan commissioned for the Alexander by the Boise Chamber Music Series, will have its premiere in 2016.
The Alexander String Quartet is a major artistic presence in its home base of San Francisco, serving since 1989 as Ensemble-in-Residence for San Francisco Performances and Directors of the Instructional Program of the Morrison Chamber Music Center in the College of Liberal and Creative Arts at San Francisco State University.
The Alexander String 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 U.K., the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, France, Greece, the Republic of Georgia, Argentina, Panamá, and the Philippines. They returned to Poland for their debut performances at the Beethoven Easter Festival in 2015. Among the fine musicians with whom the Alexander String Quartet has collaborated are pianists Joyce Yang, Roger Woodward, Anne-Marie McDermott, Jon Nakamatsu, Menahem Pressler, and Jeremy Menuhin; clarinetists Joan Enric Lluna, David Shifrin, Richard Stolzman, and Eli Eban; soprano Elly Ameling; mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato; cellists Lynn Harrell, Sadao Harada, and David Requiro; violist Toby Appel; and jazz greats, Branford Marsalis, David Sánchez, and Andrew Speight. The quartet has worked with many composers including Aaron Copland, George Crumb, and Elliott Carter and has long enjoyed a close relationship with composer-lecturer Robert Greenberg, performing numerous lecture-concerts with him annually.
The Alexander String Quartet added considerably to its distinguished and wide-ranging discography over the past decade, now recording exclusively for the FoghornClassics label. There were three major releases in the 2013–2014 season: The combined string quartet cycles of Bartók and Kodály, recorded on the renowned Ellen M. Egger Quartet of matched instruments built by San Francisco luthier, Francis Kuttner (“If ever an album had ‘Grammy nominee’ written on its front cover, this is it.” —Audiophile Audition); The String Quintets & Sextets of Brahms with Toby Appel and David Requiro (“a uniquely detailed, transparent warmth” —Strings Magazine); and the Brahms & Schumann Piano Quintets with Joyce Yang (“passionate, soulful readings of two pinnacles of the chamber repertory” —The New York Times). Their recording of music of Gershwin and Kern was released in the summer of 2012, following the Spring 2012 recording of the clarinet quintet of Brahms and a new quintet from César Cano (in Friendship), in collaboration with Joan Enric Lluna, as well as a disc in collaboration with the San Francisco Choral Artists (with Strings Attached). Next to be released will be an album of works by Cindy Cox.
The Alexander's 2009 release of the complete Beethoven Cycle was described by Music Web International as performances “uncompromising in 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. FoghornClassics released a six-CD album (Fragments Volume 1 & Volume 2) 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 (Retrospections), 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 Alexander String Quartet was formed in New York City in 1981 and captured international attention as the first American quartet to win the London International String Quartet Competition in 1985. The quartet has received honorary degrees from Allegheny College and St. Lawrence University, and presidential medals from Baruch College (CUNY).
Robert Greenberg was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1954, and has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1978. Greenberg received a BA in music, magna cum laude, from Princeton University in 1976. His principal teachers at Princeton were Edward Cone, Daniel Werts, and Carlton Gamer in composition, Claudio Spies and Paul Lansky in analysis, and Jerry Kuderna in piano. In 1984, Greenberg received a Ph.D. in music composition, With Distinction, from the University of California, Berkeley, where his principal teachers were Andrew Imbrie and Olly Wilson in composition and Richard Felciano in analysis.
Greenberg has composed over fifty 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 being designated an official “Steinway Artist,” three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and three Meet-The-Composer Grants. Notable commissions have been received from the Koussevitzky Foundation in the Library of Congress, the Alexander String Quartet, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, 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 has been published by Fallen Leaf Press and CPP/Belwin, and 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. He has served on the faculties of the University of California at 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 the Director of the Adult Extension Division from 1991–1996. 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 for the Symphony’s nationally acclaimed “Discovery Series”), the Chautauqua Institute (where he was the Everett Scholar-in-Residence during the 2006 season), the Ravinia Festival, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Villa Montalvo, Music @ Menlo, and the University of British Columbia (where he was the Dal Grauer Lecturer in September of 2006). In addition, Greenberg is a sought after lecturer for businesses and business schools. For many years a member of the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania/Wharton School’s Advanced Management Program, he has 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, Kaiser-Permanente, the Strategos Institute, Quintiles Transnational, the Young Presidents’ Organization, the World Presidents’ Organization, and the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco. Greenberg has been profiled in the Wall Street Journal, INC. Magazine, the Times of London, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, the University of California Alumni Magazine, Princeton Alumni Weekly, and Diablo Magazine. For fifteen years Greenberg was the resident composer and music historian to National Public Radio’s Weekend All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, Sunday with Liane Hansen.
In February 2003, The Bangor Daily News (Maine) referred to Greenberg as the “Elvis of music history and appreciation”, an appraisal that has given 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 of Chantilly, Virginia. (This course was named in the January, 1996 edition of Inc. Magazine as one of “The Nine Leadership Classics You’ve Never Read”.) The Great Courses is the preeminent producer of college level courses-on-media in the United States. Twenty-Five further courses, including “Concert Masterworks”, “Bach and the High Baroque”, “The Symphonies of Beethoven”, “How to Listen to and Understand Opera”, “Great Masters”, “The Operas of Mozart”, “The Life and Operas of Verdi”, “The Symphony”, “The Chamber Music of Mozart”, “The Piano Sonatas of Beethoven”, “The Concerto”, “The Fundamentals of Music”, “The String Quartets of Beethoven”, “The Music of Richard Wagner”, and “The Thirty Greatest Orchestral Works” have been recorded since, totaling over 550 lectures. The courses are available on both CD and DVD formats and in book form.
Dr. Greenberg’s book, How to Listen to Great Music, was published by Plume, a division of Penguin Books, in April, 2011.
Greenberg lives with his children Lillian and Daniel, wife Nanci, and a very cool Maine coon (cat) named Teddy in the hills of Oakland, California.
Robert Greenberg is an official Steinway Artist.