Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective
Franz Schubert, aged 19, is said to have composed this quartet at the request of Heinrich Grob, the brother of Therese Grob whom at the time he hoped to marry. When Schubert was a teenager, the Schuberts and the Grobs spent holidays together, were godparents to each other’s children, and performed together in their homes as well as at the neighborhood church. Therese had “a fine soprano voice”; her brother was an accomplished cellist and pianist, and later church choir director. Franz described young Therese in a letter as “not by any means a beauty, but well shaped, fairly buxom with a fresh, childlike little round face.” According to his friends, he might well have married her if he had been able to support her. As things turned out, she married a master baker; Schubert never married.
Adagio and Rondo Concertante (1816) is really a miniature piano concerto, with the piano given an attention-getting role. As Schubert matured more slowly in his instrumental music than in his songs, this work is marked more by his gift for melody than for its emotional depth. It is one of the few works the composer wrote in this style, and was his first complete composition for piano and string ensemble, preceding his famous "Trout Quintet" by three years. The composition was published posthumously. The two movements are played continuously without pause.
Ernö Dohnányi is sometimes celebrated as the greatest Hungarian musician after Franz Liszt. This judgement is based on his abilities as an epic concert pianist, tireless conductor, superb composer, educator, administrator and musical ambassador for Hungarian classical music in the decades leading up to WWII. Owing to his international career, he often went by the more German version of his name, Ernst von Dohnanyi.
Piano Quintet No 1 in C Minor, Op 1 (1895) is one of the most famous of nearly a dozen chamber music works Dohnányi wrote. It is difficult to imagine a more auspicious start to a composer’s career. The seventeen-year-old Dohnányi was enjoying a summer vacation after his first year at Budapest’s National Hungarian Royal Academy of Music, when he received a postcard from his composition teacher Hans Koessler. The latter was vacationing at Bad Ischl, and his friend Johannes Brahms was also spending the summer there. Koessler mentioned to Brahms that his prized pupil had written a piano quintet, which had been triumphantly premiered during an examination concert at the end of the academic year. Brahms was intrigued, and asked to see the work. Upon reviewing the manuscript, Brahms requested a performance. Dohnányi was unable to travel to Bad Ischl, so Brahms had the Kneisel Quartet and Arthur Nikisch play through the quintet. Brahms was so impressed that he reportedly told Koessler: “I could not have written it better myself.” Brahms subsequently organized a performance in Vienna in November of that year, with the Fitzner Quartet and Dohnányi himself at the piano. It is easy to hear what earned Brahms’s admiration. It is a work in the great Romantic tradition, showing a mastery of counterpoint and form far surpassing a typical student work.
Jessie Montgomery is an acclaimed composer, violinist, and educator. She is the recipient of the Leonard Bernstein Award from the ASCAP Foundation, and her works are performed frequently around the world by leading musicians. Her music interweaves classical with elements of vernacular music and improvisation, placing her squarely as one of the most relevant interpreters of 21st-century American sound. Her works have been described as “turbulent, wildly colorful and exploding with life” (The Washington Post). Montgomery was born and raised in Manhattan’s Lower East Side during a time when the neighborhood was at a major turning point in its history. Artists gravitated to this hotbed of artistic experimentation and community development. It is from this unique experience that she has created a life that merges composing, performance, education, and advocacy for social justice. Montgomery holds degrees from the Juilliard School and New York University, and is a Graduate Fellow in Music Composition at Princeton University.
Duo for violin and cello (2015) is a modern classic that has quickly become one of Montgomery’s most celebrated pieces. It partakes of the improvisatory spirit that is a cornerstone of her compositional practice; that it does so within the framework of a three-movement chamber piece, informed by classical tradition, enhances its fascination. It is full of playful romps, tender exchanges, and moments of stunning resonance. Montgomery originally wrote Duo for herself and her friend, cellist Adrienne Taylor, stating: “It’s an ode to friendship that is meant to be fun and whimsical, representing a range of shared experiences with friends.” The composer more recently gave names to the movements that hint at the emotional arc of a friendship, alongside the camaraderie required to play chamber music honestly and engagingly. In Montgomery’s words: “I have several pieces with open sections that call for improvisation. Some of my compositions can and should be played with an improvisatory attitude. Whenever I get questions about what speed to take or how to phrase a passage, I always end up saying: ‘This is your piece now. The tempos are what I think needs to happen for the music to feel coherent, but I write it in a way that I hope gives an elasticity for you to make it your own.’ Duo needs to have that flexibility.”
Florence Beatrice Price was born in Little Rock, Arkansas into a mixed-race family. Her father was the only African-American dentist in the city, and her mother was a music teacher who guided her early musical training. She moved to Chicago to escape the increasingly racist South. Educated at the New England Conservatory of Music, Price was active in Chicago from 1927 until her death. She was the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer, and the first to have a work played by a major orchestra. Price composed over 300 works, including four symphonies and four concertos, as well as choral works, art songs, chamber music, and music for solo instruments. In 2009, a substantial collection of her works and papers was found in an abandoned house on the outskirts of St. Anne, Illinois, which Price had used as a summer home.
Piano Quintet in A Minor (c. 1936) starts with a glorious first movement, Allegro non troppo, that offers a strong classical opening with a suggestion of folk music quality. The second movement, Andante con moto, opens mournfully but continues with great warmth; the con moto (with motion) marking brings animation and energy. The influence of folk music can once again be noted in the joyful and animated third movement Juba, a term that refers to a dance originating among plantation slaves in the southern US. The juba featured rhythmic handclapping and slapping of the thighs. The final movement, Scherzo, gives a strong and once again joyful conclusion to this remarkable work. Price made considerable use of characteristic African-American melodies and rhythms in many of her works. In the program notes for one of her piano pieces Price wrote: "In all types of Negro music, rhythm is of preeminent importance. In the dance, it is a compelling, onward-sweeping force that tolerates no interruption... All phases of truly Negro activity - whether work or play, singing or praying - are more than apt to take on a rhythmic quality."