Fine Arts Quartet Offers Spring Festival

World-class ensemble presents 3 concerts, 6 guest artists and great music, all for free.

By - Apr 2nd, 2024 07:02 pm
Fine Arts Quartet (L to R, Ralph Evans, Efim Boico, Gil Sharon, Niklas Schmidt

Fine Arts Quartet (L to R, Ralph Evans, Efim Boico, Gil Sharon, Niklas Schmidt

The annual Fine Arts Quartet Festival is a much-anticipated event for Milwaukee chamber music aficionados. The 2024 edition, April 7-16, features three public concerts, four quartet members, and six guest artists. Admission to public concerts is free; no tickets are required.

FAQ members Ralph Evans (violin), Efim Boico (violin), Gil Sharon (viola), and Niklas Schmidt (cello) gained a huge local following during their years of residency at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The Festival, arranged and supported by the volunteer Friends of Fine Arts Quartet, opens with a performance of two piano quintets at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 7. Pianist Gisele Nacif Witkowski joins the FAQ for Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat major. Schumann (1810-1856) composed the piece in 1842, writing the keyboard part for his concert pianist wife Clara.

Gisele’s duo-piano partner Fabio Witkowski takes the stage with the Quartet for the second piano quintet on the April 7 program: Piano Quintet No. 1 in C minor by Ernst von Dohnányi (1877-1960). This seldom-played piece was composed while Dohnányi was an 18-year-old student at the Budapest Music Academy. Johannes Brahms was so impressed by the work that he promptly scheduled a performance in Vienna for which he played the piano part.

The second public Festival concert, at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 14, features one of two string sextets written by Brahms (1833-1897). The String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat major, for two violins, two violas, and two cellos, was composed  in 1860, some 13 years before Brahms wrote his first string quartet. Musicologist Kelly Dean Hansen suggests that, by writing the sextet, Brahms hoped to “‘get his feet wet’ before attempting the leaner and more ‘hallowed’ genre of the quartet.” Cellist Madeleine Kabat and violist Linda Numagami will play the additional string parts.

Also on the April 14 program is Giuseppe Verdi’s only surviving chamber work: the String Quartet in E minor. Verdi (1813-1901) wrote the four-movement piece in 1873; he had time on his hands while the lead singer in the Naples premiere of Aida recovered from illness. Music publisher Edition Silvertrust points out that Verdi had little incentive to write chamber music. In opera-mad Italy, “A successful opera brought fame and fortune. A successful chamber work did little for an Italian composer’s reputation or wallet.”

German conductor and composer Ignaz Lachner (1807-1895) arranged 12 piano concertos written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) for piano and string quartet, enabling these works to be played in chamber settings. The FAQ has recorded eight of these transcriptions on the Naxos label, and will be in the recording studio again this summer to record two more. The final 2024 Festival concert at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 16 will program two of the Lachner arrangements: No. 18 in B-flat major and No. 22 in E-flat major. Pianist Alon Goldstein and double bassist Avery Cardoza are guest musicians for this performance.

Here are the details for the three free public concerts:

Sunday, April 7 – Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts, UW-Milwaukee, 2419 E. Kenwood Blvd. — 2 p.m. pre-concert talk by Steve Basson; 3 p.m. performance

Sunday, April 14 – St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 914 E. Knapp St. — 2 p.m. pre-talk by Steve Basson; 3 p.m. performance

Tuesday, April 16 – Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts, UW-Milwaukee — 7 p.m. performance

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