Sunday, September 25, 2022 at 4 pm
download a copy of this program here.
Hrabba Atladottir, violin
Susan Freier, violin/viola
Clio Tilton, viola
Stephen Harrison, cello
Gwendolyn Mok, piano
Missy Mazzoli (b. 1980)
Lies You Can Believe In for String Trio (2006)
Germaine Tailleferre (1892–1983)
Piano Trio (1917; rev. 1978)
Amy Beach (1867–1944)
Piano Quintet in F-sharp minor, Op. 67 (1907)
Adagio – Allegro moderato
Allegro agitato – Adagio – Presto
About the music
Missy Mazzoli Lies You Can Believe In
Perhaps best-known for her three operas (a fourth has been commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera), Missy Mazzoli has also collaborated with a dizzying array of instrumentalists and ensembles, including soloists like Jennifer Koh and Emanuel Ax, the contemporary music ensembles Kronos Quartet and eighth blackbird, and leading orchestras from the Los Angeles Philharmonic to the Chicago Symphony, for whom she has been composer-in-residence. Mazzoli also plays in and writes songs for the band Victoire and has contributed songs to the television series Mozart in the Jungle. As might be assumed from the breadth of her musical activities, Mazzoli has been inspired by many different kinds of music. She has spoken in interviews about growing up in rural Pennsylvania, isolated from contemporary music, and of being very much based in music of the past before leaving for college and making a conscious decision to be an “artist of her time,” who writes music that can only be written today.
In her own program note for Lies You Can Believe In, Mazzoli writes that she uses the word “lie” not in the sense of a falsehood, but as “the old-fashioned word for an improvised and embellished story.” She also describes the trio as “urban folk music,” a piece in which the telling of the tale is more important than the truth behind it. Lies You Can Believe In draws on a number of different musical traditions, including Eastern European folk music and current popular dance music. These musical affinities express themselves in different ways, from the infectious nervous rhythmic energy of the opening to devices like the persistent glissandi and the scratchy tone color produced by bowing over the bridge.
Mazzoli has also spoken about her instrumental music as being about our attempts to communicate with each other as human beings, and about musical elements variously supporting or interrupting each other. This can be heard right at the beginning as the three instruments agree on a pulse and on a syncopated rhythm but take some time to fully cooperate. A more legato cello melody emerges out of the busy repeated notes and becomes a full-fledged solo, supported by held notes in the upper strings. Later types of cooperation include a violin solo over cello plucked as electric bass, an interlude in harmonics, and a vigorous passage where all three instruments finally agree on the same syncopated rhythmic figure.
Germaine Tailleferre Piano Trio
Germaine Tailleferre and Amy Beach, the two composers on this program born in the 19th century, could hardly have had more different careers. While Beach was essentially self-taught as a composer and received very little formal education of any kind, Tailleferre studied at the prestigious Paris Conservatoire from her early teens, receiving first prizes for harmony, counterpoint, and accompaniment (albeit attending in secret to avoid the wrath of her father). Marriage brought Beach financial security and social status, but Tailleferre had to support herself through commissions, royalties, and teaching, and never found a stable professional position. Beach’s compositional style remained grounded in a German-oriented late Romanticism that was already somewhat anachronistic by the turn of the century, while Tailleferre – a generation younger – was a leading member of a group of young Parisian modernists and non-conformists.
The question of age and style is a particularly interesting one for Tailleferre’s Piano Trio, as it was composed in two stages separated by over sixty years. The first version of the Trio was a student work, composed in 1916 and 1917, when the Conservatoire had been emptied out by the War. (Tailleferre’s composition class had only four students, including Darius Milhaud and Arthur Honegger.) This version was never published, and Tailleferre did not return to it until she was in her late eighties, very near the end of her compositional career. Remarkably for a piece that is both juvenilia and a late bloom, the four movements do not betray any obvious stylistic differences. She discarded a middle movement from the original three-movement Trio and revised the first and last movements of the student work; two middle movements were newly composed in 1978. All four movements are short and have strongly marked characters. The first starts cryptically before becoming a kind of whirling fast waltz with impressionistic harmonies. The second pairs an energetic, cheerful tune in the strings with an answering, more subdued idea from the piano. The third movement is the only slow one, and begins gracefully while ending with distinctly bluesy chords. The finale is very lively, featuring a naïve tune heard first in the cello, and answered in the violin, but in a different key, undermining the apparent simplicity.
Amy Beach Piano Quintet in F-sharp minor, Op. 67
Amy Marcy Cheney seems to have been staggeringly musically gifted, even by the standards of child prodigies. Already by the age of one she had a substantial repertoire of songs that she always sang in the same key, and she was soon harmonizing her mother’s melodies and composing new pieces in her head. Both her ear and her musical memory were clearly extraordinary. Despite these abilities, and despite the fact that her mother was herself an accomplished pianist, young Amy was not allowed to fully indulge her passion for music. Piano lessons were withheld in her early childhood and no thought given to conservatory training (let alone study in Europe) in her teens. While it is true that she began playing in public (including some of her own pieces) at seven and soloing with the Boston Symphony at seventeen, more remarkable than her young age is that she did so despite being prevented early professional training.
Soon after turning eighteen, Cheney married Henry Beach, a surgeon and amateur singer almost a quarter-century older than her. Henceforth, Amy Marcy Cheney would be Mrs. H.H.A. Beach, and she would be a composer rather than a performer. On the one hand, marriage moved Beach into Boston’s social circles that would be very helpful to her career and allowed her the time and financial resources to devote herself to composition with a freedom highly unusual at the time for a musician of any gender. On the other, Dr. Beach insisted that his wife restrict her pianistic activities to a single Boston recital each year and discouraged her from studying composition with a professional teacher. This led to an unusual and asymmetrical career for Beach as a self-taught, but internationally known composer, and as a locally celebrated and beloved figure in Boston as a player and musical community member.
The Piano Quintet is an exemplary reflection of Beach’s circumstances and opportunities during her years of married life. Although her solo recitals were only annual events, she did play regularly with the very best professional musicians in Boston, including the Kneisel Quartet, an ensemble led by Boston Symphony concertmaster Franz Kneisel, and the most distinguished American quartet of the day. Beach’s Quintet was prompted by her performance of Brahms’ Piano Quintet with the Kneisel Quartet, a collaboration that provided an opportunity to perform her own work with professional quartets. Its 1908 premiere was with the Hoffmann Quartet, another group made up of Boston Symphony members, and Beach took the Quintet on tour with the Kneisel Quartet. Like all of Beach’s printed works from 1885 to 1915, the Quintet was published by Arthur P. Schmidt, who was both a dedicated supporter of Boston composers and a friend and patient of Henry Beach. Again, like all of Beach’s works in this period, the Quintet was published under the name of Mrs. H.H.A. Beach, a designation that carried no trace of her birth name.
The Quintet’s connection to Brahms’s work for the same instrumentation is cemented by Beach’s use of a theme from the last movement of the Brahms Quintet. The reference is clear, but the Brahms theme is not very distinctive in the first place, and Beach paraphrases it to the point that it doesn’t stand out as quoted material. The first movement starts with an atmospheric slow introduction. The descending chromatic line in the strings is the first paraphrase of the Brahms theme. The sonata-form Allegro moderato that follows has a first theme that again resembles the Brahms material and a second theme that is more of a wistful waltz, heard first in the piano. The second movement is based on a particularly beautiful melody that is played at different times by everyone except the violist. The third movement starts off sounding as if it might be an energetic scherzo, but turns out to be a serious and extensive finale, including a fugal section for the strings and a return of the slow introduction from the opening of the Quintet.
The frequent use of octaves and brilliant figuration in the piano part gives some sense of Beach’s own technique, and this piece featured prominently in her repertoire for the rest of her life.
Notes by Dr. Derek Katz
About the musicians
Hrabba Atladottir is an Icelandic violinist who studied in Berlin, Germany with Professor Axel Gerhardt. After finishing her studies, she worked as a freelancing violinist in Berlin for five years, regularly playing with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Deutsche Opera, and Deutsche Symphonieorchester. Hrabba also participated in a world tour with the Icelandic pop artist Björk, and a Germany tour with violinist Nigel Kennedy.
In 2004, Hrabba moved to New York, where she played on a regular basis with the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Orchestra of St. Luke’s and New Jersey Symphony Orchestra among other orchestras. Since August 2008, Hrabba has been based in Berkeley, California, where she has been performing as a soloist as well as with various ensembles, such as The New Century Chamber Orchestra, The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, The Empyrean Ensemble, The ECO ensemble and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players to name a few.
Susan Freier, violin/viola, and co-Artistic Director of the Ives Collective, earned degrees in music and biology from Stanford University as a Ford Scholar and continued her studies at the Eastman School of Music where she co-founded the award-winning Chester String Quartet. The Chester went on to win the Munich, Portsmouth (UK) and Discovery Competitions and were the quartet-in-residence at Indiana University, South Bend.
In 1989 Susan returned to her native Bay Area and joined the Stanford faculty and the Stanford String Quartet. She performs with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and has been an artist/faculty member at the Newport Music Festival, Garth Newell, Music in the Mountains, Rocky Ridge Music Center, and the Schlern and Orfeo Music Festivals. Susan teaches and performs at the Mendocino Music Festival and the SoCal Music Workshop.
Freelance violist Clio Tilton delights in the diversity and excitement in her career. Seeking to share her gifts through both teaching and performing, she can be heard around the Bay Area in a wide range of groups: early music ensembles, symphony orchestras, and chamber groups.
Clio performs with the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, the San Francisco Contemporary Players, Oakland Symphony, Berkeley Symphony, the American Bach Soloists, as well as other regional orchestras. Sought-after as a chamber musician, Clio has performed with the Friction Quartet, Classical Revolution, Candlelight Concerts, and is a founding member of the Chamber Music Society of San Francisco. She has recorded for Time Warner with the Camerata de Lausanne, and has also been heard in recordings with Shajarian, Geographer, and Meklit.
Stephen Harrison, cello, and Co-Artistic Director of the Ives Collective has been on the Stanford University faculty since 1983. A graduate of Oberlin College and Boston University, he has been solo cellist of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players since 1985. He has toured internationally and recorded on the Delos, CRI, New Albion and Newport Classics labels. Stephen has been on the faculty of the Pacific Music Festival, the Orfeo and Schlern International Music Festivals (Italy) and the Rocky Ridge Music Center. He is currently principal cellist at the Mendocino Music Festival and performs and teaches at the SoCal Chamber Music Workshop.
Born in New York City, pianist Gwendolyn Mok has appeared in many of the world’s leading concert halls, including the Barbican, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Avery Fisher Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Davies Symphony Hall, and the Hong Kong Performing Arts Center. She is frequently invited to play and record with major international orchestras, such as the London Symphony, the Philharmonia, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, the Beijing Philharmonic Orchestra and the Residency Orchestra of the Hague.
Ms. Mok began her studies at the Juilliard School of Music, completed her undergraduate work at Yale University, and earned her Masters and Doctorate at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She is currently Coordinator of Keyboard Studies at San Jose State University and maintains a busy performing and recording schedule. Ms. Mok is a recording artist for Nonesuch/Elektra, Musical Heritage Society, Musician Showcase Recordings, Cala Records, and EMI.
As a chamber musician, Ms. Mok appears regularly in the San Francisco Symphony Chamber Music Series, as well as in the San Jose Chamber Society and the Sacramento Chamber Society series. A popular soloist with the Symphony Silicon Valley, Ms. Mok co-produced and appeared in four sold-out performances of The Gershwin Radio Hour. In 2016 Ms. Mok was named President’s Scholar by San Jose State University, the highest honor given to an outstanding faculty member for their scholarship and research. She was also presented a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019 by the California Association of Professional Music Teachers Association.