Music That’s Fresh Off The Page

Fine Arts Quartet performs new music by soulful French composer Guillaume Connesson, plus works of Beethoven and Debussy.

By - Jun 4th, 2015 12:11 pm
Fine Arts Quartet – violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez and cellist Robert Cohen

Fine Arts Quartet – violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez and cellist Robert Cohen

The Fine Arts Quartet’s second concert in the Summer Evenings series on Sunday June 7th features three compositions separated by centuries. The Quartet (violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, cellist Robert Cohen and violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez) will play works by Beethoven, Debussy and Guillaume Connesson.

Ludwig van Beethoven wrote String Quartet No 1 in F major, Op.18, no 1 in 1799. This early work reflects his debt to Mozart and Haydn.

The first movement contrasts a light, syncopated melody with a sparse motif that critic Joseph Kerman described as “a coiled spring, ready to shoot off in all directions. ” The emotional second movement is said to be inspired by the tomb scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

But cellist Cohen insists, “our focus can not be on the story … [that] could be a distraction. We look very specifically for the emotional level in the music [itself]… This is not just a piece of music by Beethoven. It is Beethoven. You are actually playing the man himself.”

The quartet’s third movement scherzo contains the joy of Haydn’s works and the last movement rondo honors Mozart.

Composer Guillaume Connesson - photo by Marie-Sophie Leturcq

Composer Guillaume Connesson
– photo by Marie-Sophie Leturcq

Contemporary French composer Guillaume Connesson was born in 1970 in Boulogne-Billancourt, France. He has already published a wide variety of works – for symphony, opera, vocal and chamber groups. Pop music, techno-music, dance and cinema have influenced his work.

A Wikipedia profile suggests the composer has “influences” as various as (whew) François Couperin, Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky, Olivier Messiaen, Henri Dutilleux, Steve Reich and John Adams, but also movie composers such as Bernard Herrmann or John Williams, not to mentionthe funk style” of James Brown.

Connesson’s String Quartet, written in 2010, has not been recorded, nor have performances been available on the web. Critical assessment of Connesson’s music may offer additional perspective: “His music is dreamlike, forever renewing itself and multiplying melodic and rhythmical discoveries” (La Terrasse, Jean Lukas, 2003) “Yet he likes the uncertain, the unpredictable, the meandering melodies which find their resolution in a rich, dense, sometimes thick-woven yet always intell(e)gible writing.” (Bertrand Dermoncourt, 2014)

Cohen finds the first and final sections of the Quartet “lyrical, soulful, and romantic” and the large middle section “highly rhythmical, on the jazz side … full of energy and excitement … using off beat syncopation to create a kind of jagged energy.”

The Fine Arts Quartet will play the work in Europe before Connesson later this year.

Claude Debussy wrote his break-through, impressionistic String Quartet in G minor, op. 10 in 1893, 94 years after the Beethoven Quartet.

A germinal motif introduced in the first movement appears as a thread throughout the quartet. A delightful scherzo features a viola variation of the motif surrounded by pizzicato accompaniment. Melodic themes build dramatically in the third movement. The quartet concludes with rhythmic echoes of the opening motif.

Debussy’s string quartet breaks substantially with past formal structures. Critic Keith Anderson observes that “Debussy never bothered with formal development, bold ideas just rise out so naturally against the background when their time comes. ” To Cohen, the bold break-throughs are not an opportunity for the Quartet to interpret the music in its own way. “The score is marked incredibly precisely. [This is] “not impressionistic music in the sense of La Mer. … This is a language that is new.”

This concert is the second of the Summer Evenings of Music series at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee – Zelazo Center starting each night at 7:30 PM on June 7, June 14 and June 28. The concerts will be preceded by a pre-talk at 6:30 P.M. Details of the summer concerts are posted on the Peck School website. Tickets may be purchased on-line at the Peck School of the Arts box office or at (414) 229-4308. Tickets are a bargain $10 ($5 students). Parking is available in the Zelazo Center lot, to the south of the building, and in the Union parking garage across Kenwood Boulevard. Parking is free on Sundays only.

0 thoughts on “Classical: Music That’s Fresh Off The Page”

  1. Anonymous says:

    What varied influences! I certainly hope to be able to attend one of these concerts! Your articles are always so thorough and informative, Michael Brandt!

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