Philomusica Offers Autumnal Beauty

Quartet performs a classic by Brahams and two surprise works by Bruch and Copland.

By - Oct 25th, 2019 02:56 pm
Philomusica Quartet.

Philomusica Quartet.

Next Monday evening the Philomusica Quartet (violinists Jeanyi Kim and Alexander Mandl, violist Nathan Hackett and cellist Adrien Zitoun) welcomes Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Principal Clarinetist Todd Levy to their first concert at the Wisconsin Lutheran College this season. Appropriately titled Autumn Colors, the program features three works incorporating minor keys which might usually represent sadness. But in this case, the program choices can be read as an analogy to fall – with both the melancholy of the end of a season and the calm and beauty of changing colors.

Levy joins the Quartet for the key work on the concert, Johannes Brahms‘ late composition, the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B minor, Op. 115. Mandl calls this “Some of the most refined chamber music writing in the entire repertoire – sublime work of delicacy – so elegant from beginning to the end.” The quintet is a staple of the chamber repertoire works for clarinet. Levy observes: “Few pieces take the listener on such an amazing emotional journey of contrasting ideas, not unlike a look back on the trajectory of one’s life which Brahms was certainly in a position to do.”

Todd Levy. Photo from MSO.

Todd Levy. Photo from MSO.

Levy adds, “It has been a real treat to be able to delve into the details of the Quintet” with the Philomusica Quartet. Mandl returns the compliment. Throughout the quintet, “every single voice is active, a real balanced juggling act. Todd knows exactly in all parts when we have to deviate from dynamic markings based upon what somebody else is doing. It was a wonderful learning experience for us.”

The Philomusica will offer a Wisconsin premiere of a recently discovered string quartet by Max Bruch, String Quartet in C minor (1852). Written at age 14 for a competition, the work is remarkably mature. The only sign of youth may be the extent of homage to Bruch’s favorite composers, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Schubert, and Beethoven. Mandl points out that the scherzo is  “literally a take on Beethoven’s 7th symphony.”

Bruch composed during an early 20th century period when composers were looking for new directions in classical music. Mandl observes, while “Bruch was a traditionalist” and “unfortunately, was brushed aside because he was not a revolutionary.”

The concert will also feature a work by Aaron Copland from the beginning of his career. His Two Pieces for String Quartet (1921 & 1923) may be best considered two separate pieces, although both were inspired by Gabriel Fauré. The first piece has been characterized as an arrangement of Faure’s 9 Préludes, Op. 103: No. 9, but the ordered, pensive mood created by Fauré’s piano work is transformed by Copland’s take on the melody and a harmonic structure less obvious in Fauré. Even very early in his career, Copland’s signature sound and rhythmic style are recognizable. In the second piece, the pace quickens and Copland’s skill with complex rhythms is evident. Inspired by jazz, but not to be mistaken for jazz, the short work also shows Copland experimenting with polytonality.

Philomusica will hold its concert Monday, October 28th at 7:30 p.m. at Wisconsin Lutheran College, in the Schwan Concert Hall located at 8815 W. Wisconsin Ave. Free parking is available in a parking garage to the east of the hall. Tickets can be purchased for $25 ($12 student) online at or by calling the box office at 414-443-8802.

The Philomusica Quartet returns to the Schwan Concert Hall on Monday, February 10th, 2020 at 7:30 p.m. The concert is called Musical Dialogues, featuring quartets by W.A. Mozart and Robert Schumann as well as arrangements for string quartet of J.S. Bach‘s Art of the Fugue.

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