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The Hagen Quartet is one of today's most distinguished ensembles, praised by The Los Angeles Times as "the ideal string quartet." Opening with Dvořák's tenderhearted Cypresses, they are joined by the astonishing composer and world-class clarinetist Jörg Widmann for the premiere of his own quintet and Mozart's glorious clarinet quintet.

Please note that it is expected that this concert will take place at Shriver Hall. Learn more here.

"It's hard to know what to admire most in the Quartet's playing." —The New York Times

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    Hagen Quartet

    Lukas Hagen, violin 
    Rainer Schmidt, violin 
    Veronika Hagen, viola 
    Clemens Hagen, cello

    The Hagen Quartet has attained an unparalleled position among the finest ensembles of our time, having been declared “the pinnacle of musicality” (Die Presse). For nearly four decades, the Quartet has performed throughout the world and amassed a storied discography of nearly fifty recordings. Based in Salzburg, the ensemble was formed in in 1981.

    In the 2018-19 season, the Hagen Quartet’s performance schedule takes it to Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and London’s Wigmore Hall, the Salzburg Festival and Hohenems’ Schubertiade in Austria, plus Brussels, Hamburg, Cologne, and Berlin, among other cities. In Asia, the ensemble tours Tokyo, Fukushima, China, Macao, and Taiwan. In the U.S., the Quartet performs at New York’s Carnegie Hall, and in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia.

    The Hagen Quartet’s most recent recording, featuring Mozart’s quartets K. 387 and K. 458, was award the Diapason d’Or, Choc de Classica, and the coveted ECHO Klassik prize. In 2011, the ensemble celebrated its 30th anniversary with two recordings released on Myrios Classics featuring works by Mozart, Webern, Beethoven, and Grieg, as well as the Brahms Clarinet Quintet with Jörg Widmann. The same year, the Quartet received the prestigious ECHO Klassik award for Ensemble of the Year; in 2012, the Quartet was named an honorary member of Vienna’s Konzerthaus. Soon after its founding, the Quartet signed an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon that produced nearly 45 albums over the next 20 years featuring a wide array of repertoire, a project that has resulted in some of the iconic quartet recordings.

    Lukas, Veronika, and Clemens Hagen are siblings, and have performed together nearly their whole lives; Rainer Schmidt joined the group in 1987. The Quartet has collaborated regularly with celebrated artists including György Kurtág, Maurizio Pollini, Mitsuko Uchida, Sabine Meyer, Krystian Zimerman, Heinrich Schiff, Jörg Widmann, and the late Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

    The group’s concert repertoire and discography feature attractive and intelligently arranged programs that embrace the entire history of the string quartet from its pre-Haydn beginnings through to Kurtág. The Hagen Quartet also work closely with composers of its own generation, whether by reviving existing works or by commissioning and premiering new pieces.

    As teachers and mentors at the Salzburg Mozarteum and the Hochschule in Basel, as well as in international masterclasses, the Quartet’s members take great pride in passing their wealth of experience and craftsmanship to younger colleagues.

    "The players phrase melodies as though finishing each other's thoughts. And yet in solo lines, there is a sense of distinctiveness, each musician bringing something special to an argument yet moving that argument to a higher purpose." —The Los Angeles Times

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    Jörg Widmann

    Clarinetist, composer, and conductor Jörg Widmann is one of the most versatile and intriguing artists of his generation. The 2018-19 season sees him appear as soloist with orchestras such as the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks with Susanna Mälkki, Taiwan’s National Symphony Orchestra with Shao-Chia Lu, NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover with Andrew Manze, and Kammerorchester Basel with Heinz Holliger.

    Widmann is artist-in-residence at Taiwan’s National Symphony Orchestra, appearing as clarinetist in a performance of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, as conductor and soloist, as well as composer and lecturer. Further residencies include the Orchestre de Paris, where his works feature in various concerts.

    Chamber music performances in the 2018-19 season include concerts with the Hagen Quartet with concerts in Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, New York’s Carnegie Hall, Freiburg, and Baltimore, and trio recitals with violist Tabea Zimmermann and pianist Dénes Várjon in Munich and Budapest. In February he gives the premiere of Peter Eötvös’ Joyce for Clarinet Solo, written for him and commissioned by the Centro Nacional de Difusión Musical in Madrid.

    Continuing his intensive activities as a conductor, Widmann performs this season with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, Boulez Ensemble Berlin, and Kammerakademie Potsdam, and he tours Germany with the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie. As principal conductor, he leads the Irish Chamber Orchestra in concerts in Ireland and Europe, and embarks on a tour to South America with concerts in Buenos Aires, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro.

    In August 2018 Widmann conducted the premiere of his Violin Concerto No. 2, performed by Carolin Widmann with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. This season sees performances of the piece with the Orchestre de Paris, hr-Sinfonieorchester, and Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra.

    Widmann studied clarinet with Gerd Starke in Munich and Charles Neidich at The Juilliard School in New York. He performs regularly with renowned orchestras, such as Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Orchestre National de France, Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Washington D.C.’s National Symphony, Vienna Philharmonic, Netherlands Philharmonic, and Toronto Symphony. He collaborates with conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Christoph Eschenbach, and Christoph von Dohnányi.

    Widmann gave the world premiere of Mark Andre’s Clarinet Concerto über at the Donauerschinger Musiktage 2015. Other clarinet concerti dedicated to and written for him include Wolfgang Rihm’s Musik für Klarinette und Orchester (1999) and Aribert Reimann’s Cantus (2006).

    Widmann is a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin and a full member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts and, since 2007, Hamburg’s Free Academy of Arts, the Germany Academy of Performing Arts, and Mainz’s Academy of Sciences and Literature. He is professor for composition at the Barenboim-Said Academy, Berlin.

    Widmann’s website is joergwidmann.com.

    "What makes [Jörg  Widmann] so irresistable as a composer and performer alike is…the pleasure of vital, vesceral musicality."—The Guardian

Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904)

Selections from "Cypresses"

View Notes

A comparatively late bloomer, Dvořák was in his early 30s when he first made his mark as a composer in his native Bohemia. Until then, his reputation had barely penetrated beyond the city limits of Prague, where he earned a modest living as a piano teacher and church organist. A few of his songs and chamber works had been performed locally, and his Slavic-flavored comic opera King and Charcoal Burner had been well received at the city’s Czech opera house. But it wasn’t until 1875, when the imperial Austrian government awarded him a stipend, that Dvořák’s career finally took off. The prestigious prize brought him to the attention of Brahms, who commended the young Czech composer to his own publisher in Berlin as “a very talented man.” Brahms’ endorsement worked like a charm: with his works issued under the respected Simrock imprint, Dvořák became an international celebrity virtually overnight, and by the mid-1880s major publishers were bidding for the privilege of advertising his newest works in their catalogues. 

Dvořák’s habitual eagerness to oblige led him occasionally to promise more than he could deliver. Yet the constant pressure to produce didn’t deter him from taking time to write pieces for which there was no immediate prospect of publication. In the spring of 1887, for example, shortly before he began work on his great A-major Piano Quintet, Op. 81, he devoted the better part of a month to a work for string quartet based on a song cycle he had composed more than two decades earlier. Cypresses, a set of 18 bittersweet lyrical reflections on love, nature, and death, was inspired by the 24-year-old composer’s unrequited passion for his teenage piano pupil Josefina Čermáková (whose younger sister, Anna, would eventually become his wife). Dvořák acknowledged the imperfections of these early songs, which he called “my prematurely born offspring,” and never attempted to publish them in their original form. But the fact that he lovingly preserved the manuscript, and repeatedly mined the score as a source of material for other compositions in later years, suggests that Cypresses held a special place in his affections. 

The dozen songs that Dvořák arranged for string quartet run the gamut of moods and emotions, from the quickening ardor of No. 1 (set to a text that begins “I know that in sweet hope you I may indeed love”), in warm D-flat major, to the heartbroken D-minor intensity of No. 12 (“You ask why my songs rage with a sound despairing”). In changing the sequence of the pieces and dispensing with their poetic texts, Dvořák preserved and in some cases heightened the vivid dramatic and tonal contrasts that characterized the original song cycle. For example, the restless urgency of No. 2 (“So many a heart is as though dead”), in F minor, gives way to the radiant G major of No. 3 (“In that sweet power of your eyes”), and the stern majesty of No. 10 (“There stands an old crag”) is juxtaposed with the more benign nature imagery of No. 11 (“Over the countryside reigns a light sleep”), with its evocation of fluttering leaves and murmuring brooks.

Note by Harry Haskell, © 2018

Jörg Widmann (b. 1973)

Quintet for Clarinet and Strings (Baltimore premiere)

View Notes

The euphonious combination of clarinet and string quartet has attracted many composers since the late 18th century. Mozart blazed a path as early as 1789 with his ever-popular Clarinet Quintet, K. 581, the second of three seminal works featuring the woodwind instrument that he produced in the last five years of his life. Before long the clarinet quintet repertoire had been enriched by the likes of Weber, Meyerbeer, Reicha, and Spohr. They in turn paved the way for dozens of followers, ranging from Brahms, Reger, and Hindemith to Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, and Jennifer Higdon. Just as the historically-minded Brahms consciously echoed Mozart’s masterpiece in his tenderly yearning slow movement, so Jörg Widmann pays homage to Mozart in his Clarinet Quintet, which had its world premiere in Madrid on April 24, 2017 and its North American premiere at Carnegie Hall on March 22, 2019. The 45-year-old clarinetist-composer is well known for his ability to evoke the past in a contemporary idiom; he once said that “the most important thing in my artistic career has been to combine tradition and innovation.” 

A virtuoso clarinetist, Widmann maintains a busy solo career while serving simultaneously as professor of composition at the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin and principal conductor of the Irish Chamber Orchestra. In 2009 he donned all three hats simultaneously when the Opéra Bastille in Paris presented the world premiere of Am Anfang (In the Beginning), a combined musical theater piece and art installation that he created in collaboration with the avant-garde artist Anselm Kiefer. His oratorio ARCHE (the Greek word for “beginning”), an equally ambitious project involving some 300 musicians and texts ranging from St. Francis of Assisi to Friedrich Schiller, was unveiled at the opening of Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie concert hall in 2017. Widmann’s stylistic versatility and chameleon-like musical persona make him virtually impossible to pigeonhole. “I wouldn’t say there is a Widmann language,” he says. “There are many languages.” 

Born in Munich in 1973, on the cusp of the postmodernist era, Widmann grew up with the musical past at his fingertips, and much of his music is characterized by a creative engagement with historical forms, genres, and styles. Con Brio for orchestra and the Third String Quartet, for instance, take their cues from Beethoven, while Eleven Humoresques and Zirkustänze (Circus Dances) are steeped in the idiom of Schumann’s character pieces for piano. Widmann’s polyvalent allusions and borrowings range from a straightforward arrangement of the slow movement of Mendelssohn’s Clarinet Sonata for clarinet and string orchestra to Idyll and Abyss, subtitled “Six Schubert Reminiscences for Piano,” to Sonatina facile, a take-off on Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C major, K. 545. In writing his Clarinet Quintet, Widmann was keenly aware of the challenge he faced in following in Mozart’s footsteps, to say nothing of Weber’s, Brahms’, and Reger’s. “As a clarinetist, these masterpieces have been my life-long companions,” he says. “In their profundity, melancholy, and masterly workmanship, they are an inexhaustible source of joy and knowledge.” 

Widmann’s first attempt at a clarinet quintet, in 2009, foundered when he realized that “music history, which as a rule stimulates my desire to build something new and different on its foundation, [had] suddenly become a burden.” Upon picking the project up again a few years later, however, he “understood immediately that the delay had paid off: the music poured out of me.” In contrast to Mozart’s four-movement layout, Widmann’s Clarinet Quintet took the form of “a single Adagio lasting some 40 minutes. The first tempo marking, Lento assai, can be said to set the tone for the whole piece. Apart from a few outbursts, the entire work takes place in a middleground between stasis and flux that is as fascinating as it is dangerous. Again and again the music almost completely disappears, only to sing and soar in even deeper and higher spheres. At least, this is what I would wish for. Song, soaring, love: in hardly any other piece have I given myself over to these topoi as unreservedly as in my Clarinet Quintet.” 

The parallels between Widmann’s and Mozart’s quintets are significant, if largely subliminal. For example, the beginnings of both works feature the sighing motif of a falling fifth, bridged, in Mozart’s case, by two intermediate notes. Not until measure 35 does Widmann’s second violin complete the allusion by filling in the missing notes. In response, the clarinet introduces a new three-note figure (one step up, two steps down) that is also derived from Mozart’s first-movement theme. Widmann ruminates obsessively on these and other ideas, taking them apart, analyzing them, and reconstituting them with almost clinical precision. Elsewhere, he invokes historical precedent more obliquely, as in the clarinet’s chromatically inflected passagework and frequently low tessitura, or in the languid “Viennese” waltz that echoes Mozart’s minuet from a respectful distance. Throughout the Clarinet Quintet, Widmann employs multiphonics, string harmonics, echo effects, and other special techniques to conjure a soundscape that is at once vaguely familiar and hauntingly disorienting. Toward the end, the clarinet breaks into a dramatic cadenza-like passage that plunges more than three octaves, accompanied by loud, harshly grating tremolos in the strings. Abruptly dropping to an almost inaudible quadruple piano, the musical lines slowly climb higher and higher until the strings drop out, leaving the solo clarinet to rhapsodize on the scattered fragments of Mozart’s immortal creation. 

This work was commissioned by Centro Nacional de Difusión Musical Madrid, Muziekgebouw Amsterdam, Strijkkwartet Biennale Amsterdam, LuganoMusica, Carnegie Hall, Cité de la Musique Paris, Stiftung Mozarteum Salzburg, Philharmonie Essen, and Wigmore Hall with the support of André Hoffmann, president of the Fondation Hoffmann, a Swiss grant-making foundation.

Note by Harry Haskell, © 2018

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A major, K. 581

View Notes

The feverish compositional activity that marked the last year or two of Mozart’s tragically foreshortened life was partly induced by the precarious state of his finances. In spite of his declining health, he staved off destitution by producing one masterpiece after another in a wide variety of dramatic and instrumental genres. Così fan tutte, the last of the three great comic operas that he wrote with the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, premiered at the court theater in Vienna in January 1790. The Magic Flute, in the more popular idiom of the Singspiel, made its debut in Vienna in September 1791, followed almost immediately by the “serious” historical opera La clemenza di Tito in Prague. As if this wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Mozart somehow found time to write his beloved Clarinet Quintet, three string quartets, two string quintets, several small-scale vocal works, and concertos for piano (his last) and clarinet. And, of course, there was also the great Requiem Mass that he was working on when he died on December 5, 1791.

Mozart was acclaimed in his lifetime both as a creative and as a re-creative artist: in addition to being a top-notch pianist, he was a highly accomplished violinist and violist. At age six he impressed his domineering father, Leopold, by teaching himself to play the violin, and within a mere seven years he had been appointed concertmaster of the court orchestra in his native Salzburg. Throughout his teenage years Mozart frequently appeared in public as a violin soloist in his own works; on one occasion he boasted of having “played as though I were the greatest fiddler in all of Europe.” Later in life, however, he concentrated on the keyboard and confined his string playing to private chamber music sessions. Among them was an informal reading of the Clarinet Quintet at a salon party in Vienna in 1790, a few months after the work’s public premiere at a benefit concert, sandwiched between the two halves of a cantata by an eminent but now long-forgotten composer from Mainz. 

Mozart meticulously dated the manuscript of the Clarinet Quintet September 29, 1789. Like his Trio for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano of 1786 and his Clarinet Concerto of 1791, K. 581 was inspired by the extraordinary artistry of the clarinetist Anton Stadler, a member of the court orchestra in Vienna. The two men met shortly after Mozart’s arrival in the imperial capital in 1781 and struck up a friendship that was cemented by their bond as fellow Masons. (Mozart’s love affair with the clarinet had been sparked by hearing the celebrated Mannheim court orchestra play in the late 1770s. He came home convinced that the Salzburg orchestra needed to upgrade its woodwind section. “Ah, if only we had clarinets too!” he wrote to his father. “You cannot imagine the glorious effect of a symphony with flutes, oboes, and clarinets.”) Both the Quintet and the Concerto showed off the clarinet’s low, or chalumeau, register to good advantage, having been conceived for Stadler’s newly invented basset clarinet, which had four more keys at the bottom than the standard model. Stadler’s velvety tone and nimble changes of register were widely admired. One contemporary critic was moved to declare: “My thanks to you, noble virtuoso! Never before have I heard such music drawn from this instrument. Never would I have imagined that a clarinet could imitate the human voice as perfectly as yours does. Your instrument has so soft and lovely a tone that no one with a heart can resist it . . . .”

The A-major Quintet—sometimes known as the “Stadler” Quintet—is notable for its sunny, upbeat mood (notwithstanding the fact it was written at a time of considerable stress and unhappiness in Mozart’s life) and for its broad palette of colorist effects. The concertante-style clarinet part is sufficiently soloistic to stand out above—and occasionally below—the four string instruments, but seldom calls attention to itself in an exhibitionistic fashion. In the words of Hermann Abert, Mozart’s indispensable biographer, “The clarinet always leads the way, and although the other instruments are never condemned to a rigid accompaniment, they invariably acknowledge the clarinet’s leadership.” The opening Allegro, which Abert likened to “a cloudless spring morning,” strikes a relaxed, conversational tone, with the thematic material shared more or less equally by clarinet and strings. In the richly luminous Larghetto, the clarinet and muted first violin take turns in the spotlight, while the two Trio sections of the graceful Menuetto feature them in music of a more vigorously athletic character. The jovial theme-and-variations finale gives all five players an opportunity to shine.

Note by Harry Haskell, © 2018

Program Subject to Change Without Notice