Recital 3: Atlantic String Quartet



Presented by The Idea Factory

The Atlantic String Quartet of the NSO presents Recital 3 of the 2020-21 season. The concert features Taneyev’s Trio for 2 Violins and Viola in D major, op 21, Adams String Quartet no. 1,
and Mozart’s String Quartet in D major, K.575.


Join us before the concert for our digital pre-show featuring Listen Up! hosted by Dale Jarvis. Listen as we go behind the scenes with interviews of the artists, musicians and composers behind our concerts.

Get ready to unwind with a pre-show cocktail. Our friends at Piatto will show you how to channel your own internal mixologist here.


Atlantic String Quartet
Formed in 1985, the Atlantic String Quartet (ASQ) is a versatile and professional chamber ensemble comprised of the principal string players of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra (NSO): Heather Kao, first violin; Nancy Case-Oates, second violin; Kate Read, viola; and Theo Weber, cello. In addition to their work with the full orchestra and NSO Sinfonia, the quartet produces its own Recital Series each season, presenting a broad selection of works from the rich quartet and small ensemble repertoires.

The ASQ is an integral part of the creative life of its community and is known for its versatility and ability to work with music and musicians from all styles and genres. Having shared the stage with such international classical musicians as Anton Kuerti, André Laplante, and Martin Beaver, and local artists such as jazz artist Duane Andrews and renowned songwriter Ron Hynes, the members of the quartet also teach privately, and coach and conduct other ensembles. In 2014, the ASQ was offered a placement at the prestigious St. Lawrence String Quartet Music Seminar in Stanford, CA.

In 2020 the quartet released its first self-titled debut album featuring works by Arthur Bliss and Maurice Ravel.


Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915) is considered one of the greatest Russian composers in his home country but is relatively unknown in the western world.  He studied composition at the Moscow Conservatory as a protégé of Tchaikovsky.  A gifted concert pianist, he presented the Moscow premiere of his mentor’s Piano Concerto No. 1.   He later became a professor at the Conservatory, and eventually director, where his students included Rachmaninoff and Scriabin among others.  Taneyev admired Mozart’s music for its clarity and balanced forms.  He also loved Renaissance and Baroque counterpoint, especially the works of Ockhegem, Palestrina and J.S. Bach. He composed symphonies, concertos, an opera and choral works but his preferred genre was chamber music.  His string trios, quartets and quintets provided him good opportunities for contrapuntal writing.


Sergei Taneyev’s Trio for 2 Violins and Viola, Op. 21 (1907) combines classical tonalities and forms with Baroque counterpoint and a touch of Romanticism. The Allegro giocoso et semplice opens with a dulcet melody followed by a dotted theme. After a gentle pizzicato punctuation, a truly Mozartean tune in first violin is accompanied by the other strings.  Independent melodic lines in each part create a rich texture.  Strong accents and unexpected pauses lead back to the opening materials. The Menuetto and Trio is in textbook Classical form. A dance melody in violin with a bouncy accompaniment moves from one instrument to the other while each instrument plays separate lines. The theme modulates to various keys while the expanded motives are treated chromatically.  The dramatic Trio section features forceful drones, double stops, syncopations and overall busyness until a charming pizzicato descent heads back to the Menuetto. The ethereal Andante movement alternates poignant melodies with rich textures and long “solo” lines for each instrument accompanied by the other strings. The warm tones of the viola add lush Romantic sonorities to the ensemble. An energetic sinuous theme starts the Vivace movement.  Pizzicati and odd pauses precede a more dramatic, dotted note melody which interacts with the first tune.  The movement exploits these materials by combining them contrapuntally, breaking them into fragments, and changing textures. Relentless energy and increasing intensity become almost orchestral in scope. The mood changes and the work finishes on a playful note.


World renowned American composer and conductor John Adams (b. 1947) has written numerous operas, musicals, film scores, choral and instrumental works. He is the recipient of many awards including the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 2001. Like many before him, Adams was a bit intimidated by the string quartet medium.  He wrote, “String quartet writing is one of the most difficult challenges a composer can take on.”  Mozart would agree! Adams was in his early 60s when he composed two of these works for the St. Lawrence String Quartet in 2008 and 2014.

John Adams’ First Quartet was premiered at the Julliard School of Music in 2009.  Movement One, in three connected sections, is considerably longer than Movement Two. The composer’s early career was influenced by the 1960s Minimalist movement of John Cage, Steve Reich and Philip Glass among others.  Techniques such as limited musical materials, hypnotic repetitive rhythmic and melodic patterns, reiteration of melodic cells, and slowly transforming rhythmic and melodic “shapes” are aspects of both movements.


Movement One begins with a jagged theme in first violin over relentless rhythms patterns in the other strings. Each performer, especially first violin, has little solos as the rhythms persist. These shifting melodic shapes become more lyrical and rhythms more marked as the winding violin melody intensifies.  A broad range of dynamics enhances the drama taking place over a minimalist backdrop.  The slower middle section begins with an expressive recitative in first violin. The viola continues followed by fragments in second violin and cello, along with rhythmic fragments of the opening section.  The mood changes with dramatic, descending declamations, contemplative melodic statements, and a respite from the rhythmic patterns. Buoyant energetic cells introduce a faster section, described by Adams as a “crazy little scherzo.” As the movement proceeds, relentless energy dissipates until the movement ends with atmospheric trills and a quiet closing chord.  Movement Two continues the minimalist techniques and basic pulse of its predecessor. Rhythmic energy propels the movement even in quiet sections. Hypnotic repetitions, aggressively repeated strokes in all strings lead to an accelerando before the work ends with loud chords.  


Not long after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) moved to Vienna, he became acquainted with Franz Joseph Haydn. Their mutual influence on each others’ work is uplifting.  Mozart acquired more proficiency in motivic development, contrapuntal textures and sophisticated structural development while Haydn learned about longer phrase melodies and thematic contrast.  In 1785, Mozart dedicated six string quartets (K.387-K.465), “The fruits of a long and laborious endeavour,” to his mentor. Haydn was greatly impressed by his younger colleague.  Four years later, Mozart met Frederich Wilhelm, the King of Prussia, a generous supporter of the arts and an avid cellist. The king commissioned six quartets from Mozart, but only three were completed. Mozart’s String Quartet No. 21 in D major, K.575 is the first of these “Prussian” Quartets.


The opening Allegretto features a lyrical melody in first violin with a light accompaniment, answered by a short motive of quickly descending triplets. The cello then joins in to accompany the viola. Other features include an impish interruption, a descending scale in repeated notes and an outburst of cascading triplet arpeggios. The scale changes direction and is developed thoroughly along with “less important” ideas; this is a trait peculiar to Mozart, who tended to favour the underdog.  The movement ends on a high note with a whimsical rising scale and closing chords.


A gentle atmosphere pervades the elegant Andante movement. Beginning in four-part choral style, a soaring violin melody is answered by the cello, and moves throughout the ensemble. A new chromatic melody with dotted rhythms is accompanied by countermelodies, especially noticeable in the high-pitched cello. Even with continual melodic variations complemented by subtle grace notes and chromatic triplets, the mood remains serene. Delicate rising scales in first violin followed by cello lead to a bittersweet dissonance and a gentle resolution.

The Menuetto begins with a 16th note turn motive in violins followed by staccato melodic lines. The middle section is marked by syncopations, chromatics and tutti unisons. A witty rising and falling exchange in upper strings closes this section.  In the charming Trio, reduced textures allow the cello to stand out.  A unison violin opening is followed by a singing melody in the high register of the cello.  The bumptious staccato accompaniment in first violin is a reminder of the Menuetto.


The expansive opening melody of the Allegretto is derived from the beginning of the first movement.  Presented by the cello with a countermelody in viola, this version is taken over by unison violins accompanied by lower strings.  A burst of descending triplet scales in cello leads to overlapping triplet passages in all strings.  The entire movement is concisely organized from these materials. Motivic fragmentation, frequent key changes, complex textures, and intense counterpoint are some of the methods Mozart absorbed from Haydn a few years earlier. Throughout the effortless interaction of such intricate proceedings, lyrical melodies carry on in conversational style amongst all four strings.  This music can be appreciated on many levels. In true Mozartian fashion, there’s something for all ears!


Atlantic String Quartet

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