New York Philomusica



Great Quartets of Schubert, Berkeley & Britten
Pre-Concert Lecture with Composer Michael Berkeley

Thursday, March 10, 2005 at 8PM - Merkin Concert Hall

The New York Philomusica Chamber Ensemble will perform the fourth concert of its 33rd season under the artistic direction of A. Robert Johnson on Thursday, March 10, 2005, at 8:00 p.m., in Merkin Concert Hall, Abraham Goodman House (129 West 67th Street), in New York City.

Expanding upon its review of the C.O.R.E. repertory, in March New York Philomusica presents String Quartet as Exposition and Conclusion, an examination of the string quartet as the purest form of musical expression. The evening will include Franz Schubert’s String Quartet No. 15 in G, Michael Berkeley’s Quartet Study, and Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No. 3, Op. 94. Featured artists in this program are Ju-Young Baek and Jesse Mills, violins; Junah Chung, viola; and Gregory Hesselink, ’cello. There will be a Meet-the-Artists interview with composer Michael Berkeley, whose Quartet Study appears in this program, preceding the concert at 7:30 p.m. and conducted by Mr. Johnson. A reception for the audience and artists follows the performance.

The string quartet is powerful in both its simplicity and its range. Four stringed instruments can sound like a symphony orchestra or a whispered conversation. The quartet form is often employed for its accessibility, its expressivity, and its openness. Performers are exposed, and thus the skill and musicianship of the interpreters is paramount. It is certainly significant that two of history’s greatest composers, Franz Schubert and Benjamin Britten, chose the quartet form to conclude their illustrious careers. The New York Philomusica’s March program proposes to explore the attraction of the quartet for great musical minds, as well as the continued use of the four voices as the ultimate vehicle of expression.

The last quartet of the great composer Franz Schubert, his String Quartet No. 15 in G, is a sweepingly rhapsodic piece that utilizes only four instruments to create a remarkable orchestral atmosphere. Composed in only eight days, Schubert’s last quartet surpasses in its modernity even some of the composer’s better-known works. Schubert is also a supreme example of a great composer who was largely overlooked during his own lifetime. Almost completely ignored as a musical talent while he was alive, Schubert’s enormous ability has since become widely accepted, a lesson that might lead us to be more sympathetic to emerging modern composers as they establish their popularity with contemporary audiences.

British composer Michael Berkeley appears for the second time this season with Quartet Study, which was composed in 1987, and in the words of the composer, was meant to be “a self-contained work that actually said something as opposed to a purely technical show-piece.” Like the other two quartets on this program, this piece will rely for its success on the interpretation of the performers, making each hearing unique. Berkeley’s quartet demonstrates the power of great writing combined with excellent performers to create a compelling piece of art.

Berkeley’s godfather Benjamin Britten concludes the evening with his String Quartet No. 3, Op. 94, the last work of his celebrated career. Written in 1975, just before the composer’s death and after a diagnosis of serious heart disease, Britten knew this would be one of the last pieces he would conceive, and that sentiment is conveyed through the quartet in the sometimes halting, sometimes ecstatic qualities of the writing and the final cadence left unresolved, as if to end with a question. Borrowing heavily from Britten’s own opera Death in Venice, the composer also ruminates on his favorite city, of which the bells can be heard in the final movement of the quartet. Intentionally leaving the meaning of this passionate quartet a mystery, Britten ends the evening’s program with a question, leaving us to ponder both the significance of the string quartet as the last medium of expression chosen by the composer and the enormity and mystery of death itself.

Returning again to a concert of purely string music, the New York Philomusica reminds audiences of the great expressive power of the string quartet. The versatility of the form, the range of characters and purity of musical expression make this the perfect vehicle for both the exposition of a composer’s innermost sentiments as well as for the conclusion of masterful bodies of a lifetime’s work. Audiences will appreciate the individuality of the performance, so dependent on the performers and their interpretive skills, as well as the poignancy of these two beautiful works written in the face of death, and one at the height of life.

Upcoming New York City concerts: Only one concert remaining this season! New York Philomusica will present a total of five concerts at Merkin Hall this season. The remaining concert will be held on Thursday, May 12, 2005. Program details and subscription information can be found at New York Philomusica holds an additional annual concert series in Rockland County at the Nauraushaun Presbyterian Church, 51 Sickletown Road, Pearl River, NY. March 10th’s program will be performed in Rockland County on the preceding Saturday, March 5, at 8 p.m. For more information, call Orangetown Friends of Philomusica at (845) 359-5660.

NEW YORK PHILOMUSICA was founded in 1971 by A. Robert Johnson to provide a new and comprehensive model of presenting chamber music to the public, which has since been adopted by many chamber ensembles. The group helped pioneer the modern residency through its 1973 seven-week residency at Dartmouth College, followed by its New York City Metropolitan Subscription Concerts in all five boroughs (1975-1979) and New York State Capitol Region Residency (1979-1981). Always a breeding ground for the finest musicians, the ensemble has fostered the talent of such artists as Tim Eddy, Kim Kashkashian, David Jolley, David Krakauer, Robert Levin, Todd Phillips, and Bill Purvis early in their careers. The ensemble has performed concerts and master classes on three continents and been broadcast on radio and television. The centerpiece of all the ensemble’s activities is its annual concert series in New York City’s Merkin Concert Hall. Praised by critics worldwide, the ensemble’s range of programming includes its 1993 World Premiere of Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale, with a new text by Kurt Vonnegut, the 1992 and 2002 premieres of works commissioned from John Harbison, the 1999 American premiere of Beethoven’s Concerto No. 4, for piano and string quintet, and numerous collaborations with renowned jazz pianist, the late Sir Roland Hanna. New York Philomusica has provided sustained exposure to the music of three composers—Iain Hamilton, Jacob Druckman, and John Harbison—through its Featured Composer program.

The first American ensemble to record Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, New York Philomusica is the first group ever to record the entire Mozart Divertimento catalogue. The Divertimento recordings were originally released by VoxBox Productions in 1975 and were followed by a release of Mozart Wind Serenades. Both titles were reissued in October 2002—with updated, comprehensive liner notes by New York Philomusica’s Artist Laureate, Mozart scholar Robert Levin—on the ensemble’s own label, New York Philomusica Records, established in 1992. Following a new release in April 2004, George and Joseph in Paris, featuring Robert Levin on piano, New York Philomusica Records now has 16 titles, available online at or through the New York Philomusica at

TICKET PRICES for March 10th are $35 ($30 seniors, $17.50 students). Further special promotions available online and through participating schools. For information or tickets, call New York Philomusica at (212) 580-9933, or visit

For press tickets, photographs, or further information, please contact:
Kim Stanford, 917-697-7588, or Tali Chitaiad, 212-580-9933

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