ALIAS November 2003

November 30, 2003, 7:30 PM
Turner Recital Hall, Blair School of Music

String Quintet no. 1, “Unknown Heavens”, mvmt. II Einojuhani Rautavaara (b.1928)
  • Jeremy Williams, violin
  • Zeneba Bowers, violin
  • Christopher Farrell, viola
  • Christopher Stenstrom, cello
  • Michael Samis, cello
Rhythm Suite for clarinet and marimba (2000) Jeffrey Agrell (b.1948)
  1. Sassy
  2. Resolute
  3. Quirky
  4. Spirited
  • Lee Levine, clarinet
  • Christopher Norton, marimba
Phantasy for oboe and strings, op. 2 (1934) Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
  • Roger Wiesmeyer, oboe
  • Alison Gooding, violin
  • Clare Yang, viola
  • Matt Walker, cello
Sonata for violin and piano Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
  1. Allegro vivo
  2. Intermède
  3. Finale
  • Zeneba Bowers, violin
  • Leah Bowes, piano
– Intermission –
Sonata for horn and marimba (1986) Charles Taylor (b.1960)
  • Leslie Norton, horn
  • Christopher Norton, marimba
String Quartet in A minor, op. 51, no. 2 Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
  1. Allegro non troppo
  2. Andante moderato
  3. Quasi Minuetto, moderato – Allegretto vivace
  4. Finale: Allegro non assai
  • Zeneba Bowers, violin
  • Jeremy Williams, violin
  • Christopher Farrell, viola
  • Michael Samis, cello

Proceeds from this performance benefited Hands on Nashville, which offers programs, partnerships, and services that maximize volunteer impact in the greater Nashville community. More information and volunteer opportunities can be found on their web site,

Program Notes

Einojuhani Rautavaara: String Quintet, “Unknown Heavens”
One of Finland’s most eminent composers, Rautavaara studied composition and musicology in Helsinki and then travelled to the United States, where he studied with Persichetti, Copland, and Sessions at Juilliard and Tanglewood. His works show a wide range of influences, including the neo-classicism of Stravinsky and Hindemith, Serialism, and the Romantic warmth of Bruckner.

Rautavaara’s most recent compositions, such as his Seventh Symphony, mark a synthesis of styles, resulting in a beautiful, lyrical style, often referred to as mystical romantic. The string quintet, originally commissioned as a string quartet for the Kuhmo Chamber Festival in 1997, is one of the first compositions from this phase. The subtitle, “Unknown Heavens,” is from the poem La Mort des Pauvres from Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal, which Rautavaara used as the text for the Serenade to Death in his Four Serenades for male choir.

Jeffrey Agrell: Rhythm Suite for clarinet and marimba
Jeffrey Agrell joined the University of Iowa School of Music faculty as horn professor in 2000 after a 25 year career as symphony musician with the Lucerne (Switzerland) Symphony. The opportunity to write for clarinet and marimba came at a good time, on the heels of a commission for a concerto for marimba and marimba/percussion ensemble. His Rhythm Suite for clarinet and marimba won First Prize in the 2000 composition contest of the International Clarinet Association. Following are his words on the piece:

Each movement of Rhythm Suite features certain rhythmic challenges:
Movement 1, “Sassy,” opens with the unique specialty of these two instruments: a crescendo starting from absolutely nothing into fortissimo (or the reverse, which ends the movement). The hallmark of this movement is the dazzling and dangerous high-speed unison playing punctuated with irregular accents and phrases that are at odds with the simple 4/4 meter.
Movement 2, “Resolute,” revolves around a steady passacaglia-like repeating figure in the marimba, with the right hand in four against a six in the left hand. The clarinet soars over this ground in phrases that are often five beats long. Both instruments have brief cadenza passages before the recapitulation.
The harmonic basis of movement 3, “Quirky,” is drawn partly from the blues, but rhythmically the challenges are the odd meters (7/8, 7/4) plus written-out swing rhythms alternating with “straight” rhythms.

All stops are out for movement 4, “Spirited.” The clarinet grabs attention with a brazen octave glissando up (against a double downwards glissando in the marimba) that segues into a fast 3/4 ostinato in the marimba over which the clarinet alternates fast figures in 6/8 and 3/4, with sections in duple meter providing contrast and surprise. Clarinet and marimba take turns displaying wide-ranging virtuosity, culminating in a “chase” (i.e. a canon). The piece ends with rapid figures in the marimba racing the clarinet’s glissando to the dramatic unison at the end on a high concert B flat.

Benjamin Britten: Phantasy, op. 2 for oboe and strings
Britten remains the most prominent of the 20th century British composers. His music reflects a number of influences, with both tonal and atonal elements. He created a large and influential body of distinctly British works, including operas and vocal works as well as orchestral and small instrumental compositions. His Phantasy is one of his first compositions, written during his time as a student at the Royal College of Music.

Claude Debussy: Sonata for violin and piano
Along with Maurice Ravel, Debussy established 20th century French impressionism with a variety of devices, from tonal color in harmony to innovations in the use of instrumentation, dynamics, and rhythm; these elements have been tremendously influential ever since. His Violin Sonata was finished in 1917, and just barely; it was the last work that Debussy ever completed.

Charles Taylor: Sonata for horn and marimba
This piece was written in 1986 on a commission by Chris and Leslie Norton. The Nortons and Taylor were classmates in the early eighties at the Eastman School of Music where the latter was a composition major. Taylor is a prolific composer whose works span the gamut of media and genres – from jazz to sacred to classical, from solo instrumental to chamber to concertos and full orchestral works with percussion, but this Sonata marks his first work employing advanced four-mallet marimba technique. Like most of his works, it is tonal and based on traditional formal structures.

Johannes Brahms: String Quartet in A minor, op. 51 no. 2
Brahms’ music combines the height of expressive Romanticism with a Classical sense of form and structure. He was known for being hard on himself when it came to his work, feeling as if he were standing in the intimidating shadow of the great Beethoven. He therefore put off completing his first symphony (a form for which Beethoven was considered the ideal) until he was 44 years old, in 1877. Similarly, between 1865 and 1973 Brahms made at least twenty attempts to write string quartets, trying to master the strict four-part contrapuntal style, and not going to print until his high standard was satisfied. The two quartets of op. 51 are the fruits of this labor. The theme of the A minor quartet is based on the motif F-A-E, which is sort of an “in-joke” for the benefit of his friend the great violinist Joseph Joachim. The last movement shows some of the gypsy-inspired flavor which sometimes crept into his music.