String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, K. 465 “Dissonance”
6 Bagatellen for String Quartet, Op. 9 / SCHUBERT Minuets, D. 89
Piano Quintet in A Minor, Op. 84
Charles S. Robinson Memorial Concert
For thirteen years, the Brentano String Quartet was Princeton’s cherished quartet-in-residence, filling Richardson Auditorium with more wonderful performances than we can count, with a whirl of collaborators and repertoire. In 2014, they moved on to the same post at the Yale School of Music, replacing the Tokyo String Quartet after their 37-year tenure. The Daily Telegraph (London) has called their sound “hair-raising … An ensemble of exceptional insight and communicative gifts.” These gifts will be in full bloom in February, when the home team returns and is joined by another Princeton veteran, pianist Jonathan Biss. Biss is a New York City cultural linchpin with a long history as both a soloist and chamber musician. Their program includes the lush and rarely heard Elgar Piano Quintet, composed on vacation in summer of 1918 and “influenced by the quiet and peaceful surroundings.”
About the Artist:
Since its inception in 1992, the Brentano String Quartet has appeared throughout the world to popular and critical acclaim. “Passionate, uninhibited and spellbinding,” raves the London Independent; the New York Times extols its “luxuriously warm sound [and] yearning lyricism”; the Philadelphia Inquirer praises its “seemingly infallible instincts for finding the center of gravity in every phrase and musical gesture”; and the Times (London) opines, “the Brentanos are a magnificent string quartet…This was wonderful, selfless music-making.” Within a few years of its formation, the Quartet garnered the first Cleveland Quartet Award and the Naumburg Chamber Music Award; and in 1996 the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center invited them to be the inaugural members of Chamber Music Society Two, a program which was to become a coveted distinction for chamber groups and individuals. The Quartet had its first European tour in 1997, and was honored in the U.K. with the Royal Philharmonic Award for Most Outstanding Debut. That debut recital was at London’s Wigmore Hall, and the Quartet has continued its warm relationship with Wigmore, appearing there regularly and serving as the hall’s Quartet-in-residence in the 2000-01 season.
In recent seasons the Quartet has traveled widely, appearing all over the United States and Canada, in Europe, Japan and Australia. It has performed in the world’s most prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall in New York; the Library of Congress in Washington; the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam; the Konzerthaus in Vienna; Suntory Hall in Tokyo; and the Sydney Opera House. The Quartet has participated in summer festivals such as Aspen, the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, the Edinburgh Festival, the Kuhmo Festival in Finland, the Taos School of Music and the Caramoor Festival.
In addition to performing the entire two-century range of the standard quartet repertoire, the Brentano Quartet has a strong interest in both very old and very new music. It has performed many musical works pre-dating the string quartet as a medium, among them Madrigals of Gesualdo, Fantasias of Purcell, and secular vocal works of Josquin. Also, the quartet has worked closely with some of the most important composers of our time, among them Elliott Carter, Charles Wuorinen, Chou Wen-chung, Steven Mackey, Bruce Adolphe, and György Kurtág. The Quartet has commissioned works from Wuorinen, Adolphe, Mackey, David Horne and Gabriela Frank. The Quartet celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2002 by commissioning ten composers to write companion pieces for selections from Bach’s Art of Fugue, the result of which was an electrifying and wide-ranging single concert program. The Quartet has also worked with the celebrated poet Mark Strand, commissioning poetry from him to accompany works of Haydn and Webern.
The Quartet has been privileged to collaborate with such artists as soprano Jessye Norman, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, pianist Richard Goode, and pianist Mitsuko Uchida. In 2015-2016, they will collaborate with pianist Jonathan Biss on a project centered around late works of great composers.
The Quartet has recorded the Opus 71 Quartets of Haydn, and has also recorded a Mozart disc for Aeon Records, consisting of the K. 464 Quartet and the K. 593 Quintet, with violist Hsin-Yun Huang. In 2010-2012, the Quartet recorded all of Beethoven’s late quartets, which were also released on Aeon. In the area of newer music, the Quartet has released a disc of the music of Steven Mackey on Albany Records, and has also recorded the music of Bruce Adolphe, Chou Wen-chung and Charles Wuorinen. Upcoming releases include a recording of Schubert’s Cello Quintet, recorded at Amherst with Michael Kannen.
In 1998, cellist Nina Lee joined the Quartet, succeeding founding member Michael Kannen. The following season the Quartet became the first Ensemble-In-Residence at Princeton University, where they taught and performed for fifteen years.
In the fall of 2014, the Quartet became the Resident String Quartet at the Yale School of Music, succeeding the Tokyo Quartet in that position. At Yale, they perform in concert each semester, and work closely with the students in chamber music contexts.
The Quartet is named for Antonie Brentano, whom many scholars consider to be Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved”, the intended recipient of his famous love confession.
Jonathan Biss was born in 1980; his professional debut preceded this event by several months, when he performed, prenatally, the Mozart A Major Violin Concerto at Carnegie Hall, with the Cleveland Orchestra under the direction of Lorin Maazel. Subsequent violin performances have shown greater independence, though they have also been more likely to send listeners running in the opposite direction, wildly searching for Ear, Nose and Throat specialists, and handguns.
Although the highlight of his career as a violinist took place when he was a fetus, Mr. Biss’ childhood was nonetheless saturated with music. With both of his parents playing the violin, and his older brother Daniel taking up the piano, he remembers music emanating from nearly every room in the house, including bathrooms, which, while modest in their decor, were valued for their acoustical properties.
Given this background, Mr. Biss’s commencement of piano studies at the age of six might seem like a defensive move, but it was in fact entirely offensive: while this adjective may in fact describe the sounds he produced when he began studying, it is simply meant to convey that the motivation to play the piano was entirely his own - his parents had no extra bathrooms to practice in, after all, and were not keen to build an outhouse. Mr. Biss’ enthusiasm manifested itself from the very beginning of his studies, far exceeding his six year-old physical and intellectual capacities.
This enthusiasm (or, if you take the word of Mr. Biss’s friends and associates, “obsessiveness” and “neurosis”) remains today, as does the feeling that doing justice to great music is an ever unattainable goal. While this doesn’t necessarily make life easy, it is Mr. Biss’s deeply held sentiment that any other approach would be unthinkable. Or, in his own words, “if I ever stop finding music challenging and life-altering, I’ll quit and become an accountant.”
Growing up in Bloomington, Indiana, Mr. Biss was blessed with excellent teachers, starting with Karen Taylor - who as his first instructor, helped him give what is still regarded as the definitive performance of the “Middle C Piece,” - and continuing with Evelyne Brancart, who for six years was an invaluable source of information while Mr. Biss weathered what might best be termed an awkward adolescence. At the age of 17, Mr. Biss went to the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied with Leon Fleisher, which proved a phenomenal learning experience whenever Mr. Biss stopped looking under the piano to see if magic or pharmaceuticals were involved in the production of Mr. Fleisher’s surreally beautiful sound.
Around the same time, Mr. Biss began concertizing, which has led to his present activities, described in other pages of this site. Highlights have included post-natal reengagements with Ms. Fried (with Mr. Biss a less reticent partner this time around), Maestro Maazel, and in November 2007, the Cleveland Orchestra.
While Mr. Biss’s life in music provides him with tremendous satisfaction, playing music remains ever a struggle. He regards it as a pleasure and privilege to live this struggle, and to share its results with other people.