St. Lawrence String Quartet to Perform Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's 'Voyage' in Upcoming Season

Article Pixel

In the 2011-12 season, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich premiered three new works-Shadows for piano and orchestra, Commedia dell'Arte for violin and orchestra, and a Quintet inspired by Schubert's "Trout" Quintet that was performed across the country.

For the 2012-13 season, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich has written a new work that celebrates one of the most famous names in chamber music of the 20th century. Voyage for string quartet commemorates the centennials of the founding members of the original Galimir String Quartet-four siblings: Marguerite Galimir Rollin, Renée Galimir Hurtig, Felix Galimir, and Adrienne Galimir Krasner-which for a period of time in the 1930s, before they fled Vienna, enjoyed an international reputation, making the first recording of Berg's Lyric Suite in 1935 (a work at the time considered by many "unplayable") and winning the Grand Prix du Disque in 1937 for a recording of the Ravel String Quartet. The violinist Felix Galimir, the most famous alumnus of the ensemble, became one of the most influential musical pedagogues in America in the latter half of the 20th century.

The work has been commissioned by Richard and Judith Hurtig, Viola and Richard Morse, Naomi Krasner, and Elsa and Marvin Miller, and by South Mountain Concerts of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Richard Hurtig is the son and Viola Morse is the daughter of Renée Galimir Hurtig, and Elsa Miller and Naomi Krasner are the daughters of Adrienne Galimir Krasner.

The world premiere of Voyage will be performed by one of today's most acclaimed young American quartets, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, on the South Mountain Concerts series on Sunday, October 7, 2012. Among the quartet's performances of the work in the 2012-13 season are those at Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa on November 16; at Philadelphia's Kimmel Center sponsored by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society on January 29, 2013; at Toronto's St. Lawrence Center for the Arts on January 31, 2013; and on the Duke Performances series in Durham, North Carolina, on February 2, 2013. (See the schedule below.)

Zwilich describes her inspiration: "As I was reading about family records and perusing copies of reviews from the 1930s, I saw a picture of the Galimir Quartet. I was struck by the beautiful bow arms and the most serious but optimistic young faces (they looked to me like teenagers) and I was almost overwhelmed by the promise, the tragedy, and the triumph represented by these gifted people. My piece seemed to start at this moment and I let it take me on my own voyage. I am honored to be a small part of this tribute."

The Galimir Legacy
As Zwilich recounts in her program note for the piece, "Formed in Vienna in 1927 (the centennial of Beethoven's death), the young members of the Galimir Quartet were originally mentored and coached by Szymon Pullman. By 1934 the quartet had earned an international reputation, concertizing throughout Europe and in parts of the Middle East. In addition to their devotion to the standard repertoire, they forged significant relationships with living composers as diverse as Maurice Ravel (their recording of the Ravel String Quartet received the Grand Prix du Disque in 1937) and Alban Berg (they made the first recording of the Berg Lyric Suite in 1935).

"In 1936, in response to the increasingly threatening situation (Felix had won a violin audition for the Vienna Philharmonic, but was unwelcome because he was Jewish), the family left Vienna for various unfamiliar destinations: Felix and Renee (the violist) went to Palestine where they became founding members of the Palestine Philharmonic (later the Israel Philharmonic) newly established by Bronislaw Huberman. Adrienne (the second violinist) married the noted violinist Louis Krasner and left for Boston; Marguerite (the cellist) moved with her father to Paris, from which they eventually fled across the Pyrenées, and sailed on an ocean liner from Portugal. All four found homes in the United States. Felix left Palestine after two years for a position with the NBC Symphony under Toscanini. Renee remained in Palestine through 1944, married, moved to Cairo, and eventually came to the U.S. by way of Holland, Israel, and Cuba."

The St. Lawrence String Quartet-Geoff Nuttall and Scott St. John, violins; Lesley Robertson, viola, and Christopher Costanza, cello-has established itself among the world-class chamber ensembles of its generation. Its mission: bring every piece of music to the audience in vivid color, with pronounced communication and teamwork, and great respect to the composer. Since winning both the Banff International String Quartet Competition and Young Concert Artists International Auditions in 1992, the quartet has delighted audiences with its spontaneous, passionate, and dynamic performances. Alex Ross of The New Yorker magazine writes, "the St. Lawrence are remarkable not simply for the quality of their music making, exalted as it is, but for the joy they take in the act of connection."

Recent Praise for Zwilich's New Works
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's last two works for chamber ensembles-both written for the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio and guest artists-have been greeted with country-wide accolades. Her Quintet for Violin, Viola, Cello, Contrabass, and Piano, inspired by Schubert's "Trout" Quintet, premiered in August 2010 and had more than 10 performances in the 2011-12 season. The American Record Guide's Leslie Kandell said, "Jazzy, bluesy, and full of American optimism...what a feat of loving reimagination this was, finding the Gershwin in Schubert. This time [Zwilich] struck gold." And David PatRick Stearns said in The Philadelphia Inquirer, "if anything, [the composer] found an even more defined voice. Zwilich's fine Quintet came off as if the melodious Schubert piece didn't exist."

Zwilich's Septet for Piano Trio and String Quartet, which has had more than a dozen performances since its April 2009 premiere, has also garnered major critical praise, Gil French of the American Record Guide calling it "magnificent," and John Fleming in the St. Petersburg Times describing it as "a modern masterpiece." Donald Rosenberg called it "a finely wrought, organic and rich tapestry of ideas" in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Ken Keaton in the Palm Beach Daily News said, "Zwilich's Septet is a powerful, moving work, surely destined to become a part of the canon."

The Septet will be performed as part of the La Jolla Music Society's "Commissions and Premieres" program on August 10, 2012, along with works by Gabriel Kahane, Aaron Jay Kernis, and Marc-André Dalbavie.

Works from every part of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's oeuvre are performed constantly, and continue to attract notice: of the 2008 premiere of her Symphony No. 5, Barrymore Laurence Scherer said in The Wall Street Journal, "the work made a profound impact." Of a 2010 performance of her 1983 Divertimento for flute, clarinet, violin and cello, Allan Kozinn said in The New York Times, "the music is vital and inventive. ... Ms. Zwilich's work presented an updated, freewheeling look at Neo-Classicism." Janelle Gelfand said recently in the Cincinnati Enquirer, "Zwilich's Symphony No. 4 [1999] a stunning find. From the first note, one was struck by the bold, colorful and communicative writing." And George Grella of called the Lament for Cello and Piano (2000), "a simple, expressive and very beautiful piece."

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
At a time when the musical offerings of the world are more varied than ever before, few composers have emerged with the unique personality of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Her music is widely known because it is performed, recorded, broadcast, and – above all – listened to and liked by all sorts of audiences the world over. Like the great masters of bygone times, Zwilich produces music "with fingerprints," music that is immediately recognized as her own. In her compositions, Zwilich combines craft and inspiration, reflecting an optimistic and humanistic spirit that gives her a unique musical voice.

Ellen Zwilich is the recipient of numerous prizes and honors, including the 1983 Pulitzer Prize in Music (the first woman ever to receive this coveted award), the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Chamber Music Prize, the Arturo Toscanini Music Critics Award, an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, 4 Grammy nominations, and the NPR and WNYC Gotham Award for her contributions to the musical life of New York City. Among other distinctions, Zwilich has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1995, she was named to the first Composer's Chair in the history of Carnegie Hall, and she was designated Musical America's Composer of the Year for 1999. Zwilich holds a doctorate from The Juilliard School and currently holds the Francis Eppes Distinguished Professorship at Florida State University.

A prolific composer in virtually all media, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's works have been performed by most of the leading American orchestras and by major ensembles abroad. Her music first came to public attention when Pierre Boulez conducted her Symposium for Orchestra at Juilliard (1975), but it was the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for the Symphony No. 1 – commissioned and premiered by the American Composers Orchestra, conducted by Gunther Schuller – that brought her instantly into international focus. Commissions, major performances and recordings soon followed: the Symphony No. 2 (Cello Symphony), premiered by Edo de Waart and the San Francisco Symphony; Symphony No. 3, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for its 150th anniversary; Symphony No. 4 "The Gardens" (with chorus), commissioned by Michigan State University and the subject of a PBS documentary seen nationally; and the Symphony No. 5, commissioned by The Juilliard School; and the string of concertos commissioned and performed over the past two decades by the nation's top orchestras.

Many of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's works have been issued on recordings, and Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians [8th edition] states: "There are not many composers in the modern world who possess the lucky combination of writing music of substance and at the same time exercising an immediate appeal to mixed audiences. Zwilich offers this happy combination of purely technical excellence and a distinct power of communication."

For more information, including a full list of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's works and recordings, visit the Theodore Presser Company web site:

Related Articles View More Classical Music Stories

More Hot Stories For You