Takács Quartet and Boulder Phil deliver a classical double-header

The missing composer in both concerts? Beethoven.

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Takasc String Quartet shot in Boulder April 2016 (Photo credit: Keith Saunders)
Caitlin Rockett | Boulder Weekly

Boulder will see a classical-music double-header Sunday, Sept. 24 as the Takács Quartet and the Boulder Philharmonic both open their seasons the same day.

The Takács goes first, at 4 p.m. in Grusin Music Hall on the CU campus with a program of Haydn, Mendelssohn and Brahms. And at 7 p.m. in Macky Auditorium, the Boulder Phil will open their 60th anniversary season with the music of Dvorák, Schumann and Christopher Theofanidis. The Takács will repeat their concert on Monday at 7:30 p.m.

That Takács program, and later programs during the year, are noticeably missing one composer. There are classical works during the fall (Haydn, Mozart), Romantic works (Mendelssohn, Brahms), and one new piece (Carl Vine). But there is no Beethoven.

That’s because the Takács played the full cycle of Beethoven quartets several times last year, and they decided enough was enough.

“We’re definitely taking a breather from Beethoven this year,” the quartet’s first violinist, Edward Dusinberre, says. “There’s so much drama in [Beethoven’s] music all the time that it does sap you of energy, physically and mentally. So it’s nice to have a break.”

Instead, the quartet will, as Dusinberre says, “stretch out a little bit and add some repertoire. We’ve been wanting to do some more Mendelssohn for a while, so I’m really enjoying learning the new stuff.

“Lots of notes, and it’s really interesting.”

The Sept. 24-25 program opens with Haydn’s Quartet in D minor, op. 76 no. 2, known as “The Fifths” from the use of that musical interval in the opening movement. In the classical period, the key of D minor was reserved for particularly dark and dramatic expression — think of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which opens in that key — and this quartet conforms to that convention.

“It’s a more dramatic work than many of the Haydn quartets,” Dusinberre says. “It’s a bit more troubled than some.” This stern D-minor mood is relieved occasionally by a turn to the major key, and the quartet ends on a happier note.

Dusinberre says that learning the quartet now is “a little bit odd” for him. “That’s the very first quartet that I learned in its entirety when I was a high school student, and I literally haven’t played it or heard it since then,” he says. “I go back to my music and I don’t even recognize my handwriting.”

Sharing the Grusin stage with CU faculty is something that the Takács does every year. This gives both faculty and the members of the quartet the chance to perform larger chamber works, something that is difficult for the quartet to do on tour where there is rarely time to rehearse with potential guests.

For the Sept. 24-25 program, the Takács will welcome CU faculty for two pieces: violist Erika Eckert for Mendelssohn’s String Quintet in B-flat major, and then Eckert and cellist David Requiro for Brahms’s Sextet in G major. In this case, they will take both works on the road with Eckert and Requiro for performances in Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York in October.

Mendelssohn’s quintet is an energetic work with a contrasting slow movement. Dusinberre describes the work as “very upbeat, cheerful, virtuosic, very virtuosic writing for the first violin — actually all of us —  but with quite a tragic slow movement. It’s very easy to respond to.”

But it is the Brahms Sextet that string players particularly relish. “The first movement is such an object lesson in simplicity of means,” Dusinberre says. “The rhythms are not complicated, and it’s such a beautiful piece. It’s completely gorgeous. I think it’s one of the truly wonderful pieces.”

     

Music director Michael Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic will open their 60th season with a work co-commissioned with orchestras in all 50 states, Dreamtime Ancestors by Christopher Theofanidis. Other works on the program are Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor with pianist Jon Nakamatsu, and Dvorák’s Symphony No 7. in D minor.

Dreamtime Ancestors was commissioned by New Music for America, a consortium of smaller-budget orchestras around the country. It premiered in 2015 and has been played by member orchestras since. Based on Australian Aboriginal spiritual beliefs about connections with past and future generations, it is arranged in three continuous movements titled “Songlines,” “Rainbow Serpent” and “Each Stone Speaks a Poem.”

The Boulder Phil played Theofanidis’ Rainbow Body a few years ago, so his music is known by Boulder audiences. Butterman describes Dreamtime Ancestors as “melodic, with tunes that you can clearly hear and identify. That makes it the sort of thing you can hear and appreciate and understand on first hearing.”

Nakamatsu is looking forward to playing the Schumann Concerto, even though he has played it many times before. “People say if it’s really familiar to the audience, it’s more difficult to play because everyone has an opinion,” he says. “But I find if you don’t have to win people over with the piece, you just have to play. Playing something everyone loves already, you have happy people in the hall. That’s a good place to start.”

Another pleasure of repeating a familiar piece, he says, is that it can be different every time. “I think every performance alters in ways that I don’t necessarily intend at the outset. It’s a nice thing to do this piece with different conductors, different orchestras, people who feel it differently than I do. All of those things make my job really interesting.”

A little farther off the beaten path than the Schumann Concerto is Dvorák’s Seventh Symphony, performed far less often than the Eighth or the “New World.” “It’s a substantial work, one that feels like you really have gone through a journey by the time you are through it,” Butterman says.

“In some ways it’s the most intense and the most tragic piece in Dvorák’s body of works. The opening is dark and slow and spare, and it’s really only at the very end that we get the turn to major. It’s got a lot of weight to it, and I love the unpredictability of the second movement — the really beautifully unfolding melodies in that one — and the infectious rhythm of the scherzo.

“It has a lot of the qualities of Brahms’ music that many people love. So people may not know [this symphony], but they know Dvorák’s name and I hope they trust that it’s going to deliver.

“It’s a great piece.”

On the Bill: 

Takács Quartet.: Haydn, Mendelssohn and Brahms

4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24 (sold out);

7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 25,

Grusin Music Hall, 1020 18th St., Boulder. Tickets: 303-492-8008

Boulder Philharmonic, “Boulder Phil at 60.” Michael Butterman, conductor, Jon Nakamatsu, piano.

7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24, Macky Auditorium, 1595 Pleasant St., Boulder. Tickets: 303-449-1343