Program Notes for [Untitled]: February 13, 2015

Photo Oct 17, 10 08 07 PM - Version 2

Attending the Seattle Symphony’s [untitled] concert tonight? Grab a chair, booth or cushion, and open your ears. Have something to say about the music? Let us know on Twitter #SSOuntitled or Facebook.

Follow the links below to read program notes about each piece. Enjoy the show!

Jacob Druckman — Synapse and Valentine

Vladimir Martynov — Schubert Quintet (Unfinished)

John Adams — String Quartet

John Adams — String Quartet

John Adams (b. 1947) was raised in New England and studied at Harvard University, but he left the Eurocentric East Coast in 1971 and settled in California. His earliest successes drew upon the minimalism of Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and his palette expanded to incorporate rich echoes of Romanticism and mischievous references to jazz and popular music. Through his operas and diverse concert works, as well as his activities as a conductor and writer, Adams has become the single most prominent voice in contemporary American music.

Chamber music has accounted for a small portion of Adams’ prolific output. He abandoned an early string quartet (which was reborn as his seminal Shaker Loops), and his quartet from 1994, John’s Book of Alleged Dances, incorporated electronics. He wrote a short quartet movement in 2007, and finally penned his first true String Quartet in 2008, written for the St. Lawrence String Quartet.

The intricate, cycling patterns embedded within Adams’ String Quartet may recall the techniques of minimalism, but in this score the repeated textures support a hard-driving, restless exploration, rather than meditative stasis. From the sassy opening melody plucked by the cello to the ghostly traces that fade to silence some 20 minutes later, the first movement is an epic journey, its folk-like strains and inner symmetries honoring the Bartok string quartet legacy. A shorter finale uses chattering rhythms and interwoven layers to maintain a sizzling pulse until massive chords take over for a conclusive coda.

© 2015 Aaron Grad

Vladimir Martynov — Schubert Quintet (Unfinished)

The Russian-born Vladimir Martynov (b. 1946) is a contemporary composer whose works often obsess over the past. With inspiration ranging from Russian Orthodox chant to the Classical canon, his musical methods draw out and re-examine minute details from all angles, making him a stylistic kin of the American minimalist composers. Martynov has been championed by the Kronos Quartet, which recorded several commissioned scores for a 2012 album devoted entirely to Martynov’s music.

Martynov composed Schubert Quintet (Unfinished) for the Kronos Quartet in 2009. As in Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major and other quintets of that era, the fifth instrument is a second cello. (The other common variant, favored by Mozart and Brahms, among others, uses a second viola instead.) Martynov’s scoring had personal significance for Kronos: its purpose was to bring back the quartet’s founding cellist, Joan Jeanrenaud, who left in 1999 after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Martynov’s quintet extracts its source material from Schubert’s C-major Quintet, completed in 1828, just months before the composer succumbed to syphilis at the age of 31. Schubert’s quintet actually was finished, despite Martynov’s title, but his life’s work certainly was not. Schubert Quintet (Unfinished) rehashes certain key gestures again and again, as if attempting to hold back the progress of time — and, by extension, illness. The second movement ruminates on the same material, but its slower pace and chorale-like harmonies create a more consoling mood. As Martynov explained in the notes accompanying the Kronos recording, he wanted to “prolong forever each moment of sound, examine every turn, every Schubertian pause through a magnifying glass, or even a microscope.”

© 2015 Aaron Grad