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Following its victory at the 2016 Banff International Competition, the remarkable Rolston String Quartet is praised for having "both spirit and polish, plus a sophistication at odds with their baby faces" (The Philadelphia Inquirer). The group performs works by Haydn and fellow Canadian R. Murray Schafer, closing with Brahms' folk-danced infused quartet. 

"Just the right mix of delicate articulation, stormy passion, and tender stillness." — The Strad

Venue: Towson University’s Harold J. Kaplan Concert Hall

    Rolston String Quartet

    Luri Lee - Violin 
    Emily Kruspe - Violin
    Hezekiah Leung - Viola
    Jonathan Lo - Cello

    First Prize laureate of the 12th Banff International String Quartet Competition, the Rolston String Quartet was named among the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s 2016 “30 Hot Canadian Classical Musicians Under 30.” Recently, Musical Toronto said, “they performed with a maturity and cohesion rivaling the best string quartets in the world.” A winner of Astral’s 2016 National Auditions, the quartet was also the Grand Prize winner of the 31st Chamber Music Yellow Springs Competition, as well as prizewinners at the inaugural M-Prize competition (2016) and the 2016 Bordeaux International String Quartet Competition.

    On the heels of their Banff win, the Rolstons immediately embarked upon the Competition’s tour in the 2016-2017 season, taking them to Germany, Italy, Austria, Canada, and United States.  In the 2017-2018 season, they will perform throughout Canada, United States, Europe, and Israel. Highlights include appearances in such venues as the Smithsonian, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Koerner Hall at the Toronto Royal Conservatory of Music, and the Esterhazy Palace. 

    In the fall of 2017, the Rolston String Quartet begins as the Yale School of Music’s fellowship quartet-in-residence. They have also served as the graduate quartet-in-residence at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, and have participated in residencies and fellowships at the Académie musicale de Villecroze, Aspen Music Festival, Banff Centre, McGill International String Quartet Academy, Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, Robert Mann String Quartet Institute, St. Lawrence String Quartet Seminar, and the Yehudi Menuhin Chamber Music Festival.

    Notable collaborations for the Rolston String Quartet include performances with renowned artists Andrés Díaz, Gilbert Kalish, Mark Morris, Donald Palma, Jon Kimura Parker, and Miguel da Silva. Additionally, they have worked with composers John Luther Adams and Brian Current. Primary mentors include the Brentano Quartet, James Dunham, Norman Fischer, and Kenneth Goldsmith, and the quartet has received additional guidance from the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Barry Shiffman, Miguel da Silva, and Alastair Tait.

    The Rolston String Quartet, Luri Lee (violin), Jeffrey Dyrda (violin), Hezekiah Leung (viola) and Jonathan Lo (cello), was formed in the summer of 2013 at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity’s Chamber Music Residency. They take their name from Canadian violinist Thomas Rolston, founder and longtime director of the Music and Sound Programs at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

    Luri Lee plays a Carlo Tononi violin, generously on loan from Shauna Rolston Shaw. Rolston String Quartet is endorsed by Jargar Strings of Denmark.

    "They already belong to a generation of string players performing at a level difficult to imagine in generations past" —Toronto Star

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 76, No. 4, "Sunrise"

R. Murray Schafer (b. 1933)

String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, "Waves"

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

String Quartet in A minor, Op. 51, No. 2

View Notes

When asked why he was so slow to tackle the symphonic form, Johannes Brahms famously exclaimed, “You can’t have any idea what it’s like always to hear such a giant marching behind you!” That fear of not being able to live-up to Beethoven’s legacy also inhibited his writing of string quartets. Brahms was forty-three in 1876 when he premiered his First Symphony; he was already forty in 1873 when he unveiled his first two string quartets in C Minor and A Minor. In the quartet genre, not only Beethoven but also Haydn and Mozart had set such a high standard that Brahms claimed he’d written and thrown- away twenty string quartets before he dared to release his two quartets of Opus 51. (A third quartet in B-flat Major followed in 1875.)

Brahms’ string quartets have never been among his most popular chamber works and are too seldom played in relationship to their quality. Though the A-Minor Quartet we’ll hear is more lyrical and immediately appealing than the C-Minor, they are both formidable works in terms of their technical and formal complexity. One could even say that Brahms was here expanding Haydn’s concept of thematic elaboration to derive most of the material of each movement from elements in its principal theme. The quartets are also very harmonically advanced, an aspect that particularly fascinated Arnold Schoenberg. Alongside all its beautiful melodic material, the A-Minor is filled with very dense contrapuntal writing, especially the use of canons; J.S. Bach is as much an influence here as Beethoven.

This Quartet was premiered on October 18, 1873 in Vienna by the Joachim Quartet, helmed by Joseph Joachim, Brahms’ life-long friend and the inspiration for his Violin and Double concertos. And the very beginning of the first movement reveals that the composer was mentally dedicating this music to that great violinist, for the second, third, and fourth notes of its principal theme are Joachim’s musical motto F-A-E, standing for “Frei aber einsam” (“free but lonely”). Also the gypsy finale, which is related in spirit to the Violin Concerto’s finale, recalls Joachim’s Hungarian birth and the years the two musicians as young men spent touring with Magyar gypsy repertoire. However, as this Quartet was being published, Brahms and Joachim were having one of their periodic spats, and so the dedication went to another friend Dr. Theodor Brillroth, a prominent surgeon and passionate amateur chamber-music player who often joined the composer on his trips to Italy.

Movement one: Over a triplet-rhythm accompaniment in the viola, the first violin sings the gloriously lyrical principal theme, with Joachim’s upward-arching F-A-E motto embedded within. Even those triplet patterns are related to this theme, and in fact, triplet rhythms will also be an important element in all four movements. A secondary idea of syncopated notes leaning into gently tapping eighth-note patterns is passed in counterpoint between the instruments and developed into a transition to the true second theme—a warmly sentimental Viennese melody sung in close duet between the two violins. A third theme, its rapid ascending notes derived from the tapping patterns, brings the exposition to a quiet but firm conclusion. This exposition is usually repeated.

Breaking free of the exposition’s reverie, the development vehemently tears apart the components of both the first and third themes as well as the triplet rhythms and recombines them in elaborate counterpoint. Subsiding gradually back into lyricism, the music flows seamlessly into the recapitulation and the return of the soaring F-A-E theme. An extended coda carries the movement to a passionate conclusion.

Though the second movement moves from A Minor to A Major, it is darker and more troubled music than the first. Low in its range, the violin presents a grave and lovely rocking theme, which is at first confined within a very restricted range before finally releasing upward. This is an expansive melody, singing on amid rich counterpoint for some three minutes. A violent contrast comes abruptly as the first violin and cello, playing in canon, attack a fierce idea of jagged leaps and sharp accents over frenzied tremolos in the middle instruments. This subsides into a passage of quiet yet profound sadness whose ravishing counterpoint and fevered chromaticism suggest Richard Strauss. The opening rocking melody returns and at the end the Straussian ascending music, too, for a very delicate and moving close.

The third movement is a fascinating Brahmsian interlude with two contrasting elements. It opens with a wistfully lovely minuet in A Minor and 3/4 time. Intermingled with this calm and graceful music is a quicksilver scherzo in A Major and 2/4 time; its fleet staccato notes generate intricate counterpoint between the instruments. A variant of the slower minuet alternates with this until the minuet finally returns in its original form to close the movement.

Though the finale’s vivacious gypsy dance theme seems to suggest a straightforward rondo like the Violin Concerto’s finale, here it is subjected to a much more elaborate treatment, returning in superb variants throughout a form that is more sonata than rondo. Though lyrical episodes provide moments of relief, Brahms continually emphasizes the vigor of his dance theme with clashing cross rhythms à la Beethoven. The closing coda is wonderfully calibrated: after a flirtation with A Major in eerie, soft chords, Brahms returns decisively to A Minor for a wildly virtuosic variant of the gypsy dance in a breakneck Più vivace tempo.

Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2012 


Program Subject to Change Without Notice