The Takacs Quartet performs at Notre Dame Cathedral, 2007

Author: Kelly Dean Hansen

DAILY CAMERA: Takács brings talented friends to stage for new Boulder season

The upcoming season will include more works than ever that the Boulder audience has never heard the Takács play.

In that past, a typical Takács String Quartet program at Grusin Music Hall on the University of Colorado campus would follow a fairly predictable pattern: three quartet works, often opening with a classical piece by Mozart or Haydn, then moving to a more contemporary work, and closing after intermission with a more substantial quartet by Beethoven or a romantic composer. All-Beethoven programs have also been common, with one quartet each from that composer’s early, middle and late periods.

Not that there is anything wrong with these formulas. Patterns become established because they are successful. And as far as Beethoven goes, not only has the Takács long been recognized as a foremost interpreter of the works — both in the recording studio and the concert hall — but first violinist Edward Dusinberre’s book “Beethoven for a Later Age” has received accolades (including the Royal Philharmonic Society award for creative communication) for its spotlight on how an ensemble lives with these monuments of western music. (The book becomes available in paperback in the United States this month.)

But the quartet also recognizes that its home-base audience in Boulder is loyal enough not only to accept innovations in programming but to fully embrace it. And the members’ positions on the CU College of Music faculty provide unique opportunities for regular collaborations with their colleagues on non-quartet works, including string quintets, piano quintets, or even duo and trio works for one member and a collaborator or two.

This has been the norm in recent years, and for its 2017-18 five-concert season at Grusin, the quartet is doing only one program without a CU faculty collaborator. “With so many great people on the faculty, this is how we’ve come to think of the Boulder season,” Dusinberre said in an interview. “Of course we will play quintets when on tour, but it’s usually with someone who travels in from a different place and is with us very briefly. It’s a luxury to spend a whole week working on one of these pieces with people we know very well.”

In addition, the upcoming season will include more works than ever that the Boulder audience has never heard the Takács play. Dusinberre said that the audience has heard a lot of Beethoven since his book was published two years ago, and that only one Beethoven quartet will be played this year, on the last concert of the season. But even that will be one of the late works that the Takács has not played in Boulder in several years.

All Takács concerts are Sunday afternoons and Monday evenings. While the Sunday concerts typically sell out by subscription, it is generally possible to obtain single tickets via cancellation, and the Monday night repetitions are available to anybody who reserves tickets early enough. For a Grammy-winning, world-class ensemble that happens to call Boulder home, the $36 price tag remains a bargain.

The concerts

The season opens Sept. 24 and 25 and features the quartet’s first appearance with cello professor David Requiro since his appointment to CU in 2015, along with violist and longtime partner Erika Eckert. With Eckert, the quartet plays Felix Mendelssohn’s mature Op. 87 String Quintet in B-flat — one of the “fresh” pieces described by Dusinberre. Requiro then joins Eckert and the quartet for the Brahms String Sextet in G major. The program opens in traditional fashion with a late Haydn Quartet (Op. 76, No. 2, the so-called “Fifths” Quartet). Dusinberre was particularly thrilled that Eckert and Requiro will later join the quartet to play the Mendelssohn and Brahms works at Carnegie Hall.

The Oct. 29-30 program is the only one without a guest artist, but it also includes something new. The Takács just returned from an intense summer tour in Australia, where they premiered (and repeated several times) a piece commissioned by them from Australian composer Carl Vine. The new quartet, called “Child’s Play,” is at the center of the October program. Dusinberre said that Vine has long appreciated the Takács’ sense of humor and wanted to convey something playful and humorous in the music. Vine’s piece is preceded by Mozart’s late B-flat Quartet, K. 589, and followed by another mature Mendelssohn piece, the F-minor Quartet, Op. 80.

The three 2018 programs all feature both collaborators and works new for the Takács. On Feb. 4-5, they are joined by CU pianist Andrew Cooperstock for Hungarian composer Erno Dohnányi’s Second Piano Quintet. This follows up that composer’s virtuosic First Piano Quintet, which was performed with pianist and CU Opera music director Nicholas Carthy last season. Before that, tenor Matthew Chellis joins Cooperstock and Takács violist Geraldine Walther for the “Four Hymns” by 20th-century English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

On March 11-12, the Takács introduces the big, bold String Quartet in G minor by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg to the Boulder audience. The guest on that program is CU guitar professor Nicolò Spera. Together, they will play a trio of movements from two quintets for strings and guitar by Tuscan composers from different centuries. Two movements from classical-period composer Luigi Boccherini’s “Fandango” Quintet will frame a movement from the quintet by 20th-century composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. A Spanish flavor is common to all three movements, and Castelnuovo-Tedesco felt an affinity for the music of Boccherini. Another Mozart string quartet will open that concert.

Eckert and Requiro return for the season closer April 29-30, where the Takács will play Tchaikovsky’s grand sextet “Souvenir de Florence,” rather amazingly a completely new work for them. Preceding the Tchaikovsky is the season’s only Beethoven offering, the utterly profound Op. 131 Quartet in C-sharp minor.

Altius String Quartet as graduates

The Takács season always includes one guest appearance by an up-and- coming string quartet.

This year, that guest ensemble is a particularly special one. During their three-year tenure as graduate quartet-in-residence at CU, the Altius String Quartet gained a devoted following in Boulder while they studied with the Takács members. Having played several free recitals at Grusin and elsewhere as part of their study program, the Altius finally “graduates” to a full-fledged inclusion on the Takács subscription series Jan. 21-22. The program is yet to be announced.