Thursday, March 25, 2021 / 7:30pm
Geoff Nuttall, violin
Owen Dalby, violin
Lesley Robertson, viola
Christopher Costanza, cello
The father of the string quartet, Haydn is too often regarded as an opening act; pleasant appetizer music before the main course of a concert program. In Haydn Discovery Geoff Nuttall and his St. Lawrence String Quartet colleagues will reveal Haydn’s genius, first unpacking this masterpiece via “active listening”, then offering a full performance.
Franz Josef Haydn String Quartet in G minor, Op. 20 No. 3 (1772)
1732-1809 Allegro con spirito
Allegro di molto
St. Lawrence String Quartet
“Modern,” “dramatic,” “superb,” “wickedly attentive,” “with a hint of rock ‘n roll energy” are just a few ways critics describe the musical phenomenon that is the St. Lawrence String Quartet (SLSQ). The SLSQ is renowned for the intensity of its performances, its breadth of repertoire, and its commitment to concert experiences that are at once intellectually exciting and emotionally alive.
Established in Toronto in 1989, the SLSQ quickly earned acclaim at top international chamber music competitions and was soon playing hundreds of concerts per year worldwide. It established an ongoing residency at Spoleto Festival USA, made prize-winning recordings for EMI of music by Schumann, Tchaikovsky, and Golijov, earning two Grammy nominations and a host of other prizes before being appointed ensemble-in-residence at Stanford University in 1998.
At Stanford, the SLSQ is at the forefront of intellectual life on campus. It directs the music department’s chamber music program, and frequently collaborates with other departments including the Schools of Law, Medicine, Business and Education. The Quartet frequently performs at Stanford Live, hosts an annual chamber music seminar attracting musicians from all over the world, and runs the Emerging String Quartet Program through which they mentor the next generation of young chamber musicians. In the words of Alex Ross of The New Yorker: “The St. Lawrence are remarkable not simply for the quality of their music making, exalted as it is, but for the joy they take in the act of connection.”
Last year, the SLSQ marked its 30th anniversary season with musical engagements celebrating new compositions alongside cornerstones of the chamber music repertoire. They released new album of all six Haydn Opus 20s, alongside a concert at Wigmore Hall of the same program, which the Los Angeles Times hailed as “in-your-face exhilarating.” The season followed with engagements in North America and Europe featuring Haydn Discovery Concerts, and programs including Beethoven Opus 135, Amy Beach Piano Quintet with pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, Debussy String Quartet, Franck Piano Quintet with pianist Stephen Prutsman, Korngold String Quartet No. 3, Paul Wiancko Oboe Quintet with oboist James Austin Smith, and new commissions by Douglas Balliett, Osvaldo Golijov, and Patricia Alessandrini.
Geoff Nuttall (violin) and Lesley Robertson (viola) met as students while studying music in their native Canada and in 1989 founded the St. Lawrence String Quartet. Christopher Costanza (cello) joined the ensemble in 2003 after performing for many years with the Chicago String Quartet. Owen Dalby (violin) is a founding member of Decoda, the Affiliate Ensemble of Carnegie Hall. He joined the SLSQ in 2015.
Notes on the Program
“He could amuse, shock, arouse laughter and deep emotion as no other.”
—Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart speaking about Franz Joseph Haydn
Mozart and Beethoven are generally considered the two great musical geniuses of the classical era, with Haydn as an afterthought. One could argue however that Joseph Haydn was at least as talented, imaginative and groundbreaking as the two giants. When it comes to the string quartet there is little debate. Haydn composed 68 quartets. Over 50 are masterpieces, and the influence they had on Mozart, Beethoven and composers of string quartets that followed cannot be overstated.
Why Opus 20?
“Every page of the six quartets of Op. 20 is of historic and aesthetic importance… there is perhaps no single or sextuple opus in the history of instrumental music which has achieved so much or achieved it so quietly…”
—Sir Donald Francis Tovey
These particular quartets by Haydn are the first great masterpieces—by any composer—for the medium of two violins, viola, and cello. In addition to solidifying the formal four-movement structure of the string quartet, for the first time in a small ensemble context one can hear the democratic participation of four truly equal voices. Haydn draws on an immense range of emotional expression in Op. 20, with brilliant compositional flourishes to match. He synthesizes the very pinnacle of baroque-era counterpoint with his distinctive wit, whimsy, pathos, and the groundbreaking use of silence as “topic”. It is these six quartets specifically that threw down the gauntlet and which inspired every major later composer to compose their most profound utterances for the medium of string quartet.
Haydn Op. 20, Number 3, in G minor
The opening movement is stormy and tumultuous, with dramatic stops and starts as well as sudden, massive dynamic shifts. The darkness continues in the brooding minuet, finally finding release in the trio that is almost a sigh of relief and in a second violin solo that is simply beautiful. A regal, serene Adagio with a magnificent extended cello solo in the middle section is followed by a Rondo Finale. This return to G minor and the breathless flamboyance and excitement of the first movement is instigated by the second violin.