Author: Jill Kimball

At Takács concert, a few surprises in store

CU-Boulder’s quartet in residence showcases Beethoven, Mozart and Webern

The Takács Quartet, the University of Colorado Boulder’s award-winning ensemble in residence, plans to present a program of rare and surprising music at its penultimate pair of concerts on Sunday, Feb. 28 and Monday, Feb. 29.

The group, who recently earned its fifth Grammy nomination on a collaboration with pianist Marc-André Hamelin, is set to play a romantic piece by Anton Webern, an unusual and ambitious trio by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and a groundbreaking work written by a deaf Ludwig van Beethoven at the height of his creativity.

“In a way, what ties these pieces together is that they are all a surprise,” says first violinist Edward Dusinberre. “They’re not what you’d expect from any of these composers … in the best way possible.”

Webern’s “Langsamer Satz” String Quartet, for example, is a refreshingly romantic piece from a composer most people know as atonal and avant garde.

“When people think of [Webern] they get a little suspicious and alarmed that it’s going to be abstract,” Dusinberre says. “But this is a piece he wrote when he was 18 years old, and it’s a love poem to a woman who later became his wife. It’s really a gorgeous interlude that’s written in the late Romantic style. It sounds a bit like Mahler or Strauss.”

More surprises abound in the program’s anchor piece, Mozart’s Divertimento in E Flat for String Trio. It’s a much more complex, ambitious work than the title suggests, chock full of virtuosic lines that even the most accomplished musician would find challenging.

“The term ‘divertimento’ implies something a bit lighter, and it does have a lot of lightness and humor in it,” Dusinberre says. “But it’s contrasted with passages, especially in the slow movement, of extraordinary depth. There are lots of strange, searching, remote harmonies.”

Mozart’s only finished composition for string trio is widely regarded as one of the greatest works of chamber music in history. The musicologist Alfred Einstein wrote that in the piece, “Each instrument is first among equals … every note is significant, every note is a contribution to spiritual and sensuous fulfillment in sound.”

The program concludes with Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 9, written late in the composer’s life. When he lost his hearing, Beethoven sank into a period of deep depression and emerged a few years later only to compose the most unique, stirring music of his career, including this late quartet.

“Right before he wrote this, he had written in a notebook, ‘Let your deafness no longer be a secret, even in your art,’” Dusinberre says. “You can tell that in this piece he felt a defiance—instead of being secretive he could be more outspoken and forthright. It’s a very joyful piece, but it’s not an easy joy … it’s come out of this suffering.”

Like the Mozart piece, this isn’t an easy one for musicians to tackle. But Dusinberre says he relishes the challenge of taking on famous, difficult music like this.

“It’s part of any artistic endeavor that you have to dig deep,” he says. “As an audience member, you don’t want to feel like the performers are complacent. The heightened experience of hearing something difficult is integral to communication between performer and audience.”

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