May 4, 2023Print | PDF
We are back! The Penderecki Quartet is super excited to be presenting QuartetFest ’23 after a 3-year hiatus. Our deep thanks go to the amazing support we receive from the team at the Faculty of Music at Laurier University and the unbelievable 30-year commitment from the KW Chamber Music Society. With all these key players involved, we are back on track with QuartetFest – a gem event for us, our students, and our community!
This year’s festival is being coordinated by Yours Truly with the artistic vision of the PSQ. The festival model is rather unchanged: faculty concerts and student concerts (see schedule this page) with daily coaching, lessons and classes for the university students that enrol. The final weekend will include a secondary school workshop where chamber groups will be presented on the young artists concerts. Because Maureen Forrester Hall is under renovation, we will be using 3 venues: Lazaridis Hall (Business Building at Laurier), Keffer Memorial Chapel, and First United Church – so keep your eyes peeled for the proper venue!
We kick off the festival with a 7pm Faculty Concert on June 2nd at the Lazaridis Hall. The Penderecki Quartet will be joined by pianist Anya Alexeyev and clarinetist Oskar Espina Ruiz in quintets by Béla Bartók and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Coleridge-Taylor’s remarkable clarinet quintet was composed in 1895 and yet will probably be a ‘premiere’ for most Waterloo audiences. But fear not, we will be in good hands because the esteemed clarinetist Oskar Espina Ruiz has made this work a central focus in his current repertoire. Ruiz is currently on faculty at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and is the artistic director of Music Mountain in Connecticut, one of America’s longest running chamber music festivals. Ruiz is most notably an avid chamber musician and has performed with the leading quartets of our generation (including the Shanghai and Escher Quartets), and has performed concertos and recitals throughout Russia, Spain, Japan, China, and at Carnegie Hall in NYC.
A few introductory words about Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. He was born in London, England in 1875. His father was African from Sierra Leone and his mother was Caucasian English. Samuel began his musical studies at an early age and studied violin and composition at the Royal College of Music. His Clarinet Quintet in F# minor, Op.10, was composed as something of a dare from his teacher Charles Stanford. After a performance of the Brahms clarinet quintet at the Academy, Stanford exclaimed that no composer could now write a clarinet quintet without the influence of Brahms. Coleridge-Taylor accepted the challenge and produced his own unique and highly revered masterwork. Those who have heard or played it acknowledge it is equal in craft to the Brahms or the Mozart clarinet quintets.
The second half of the June 2 concert will feature Béla Bartók’s Piano Quintet. Bartók composed this quintet in 1903 just after he graduated from the Liszt Academy in Budapest. Bartók was deeply influenced by the works of Richard Strauss but this was also the beginning of Bartók’s exploration of national music as a means to express his Hungarian heritage. The ambitious piano part in this quintet however, seems designed to rival the pianistic virtuosity of Franz Liszt – an omnipresence in the Hungarian scene at this time. The work was revised in 1921 and was very successful with audiences and critics. Bartók apparently was embarrassed by its success and seems to have hidden the work. It was not until 1963 that the scholar Denis Dille rediscovered the work and had it republished.
The work delights in Hungarian rhythms and flavours throughout. There is a theme based on a Magyar song called ‘Ég a kunyhó, ropog a nád’ (‘The hut is blazing, the reed crackles’). There are also moments that evoke the mysterious ‘night music’ style found in Bartók’s mature works, decorated with cimbalom-like colouring and rippling piano scales. The Adagio functions as the slow (lassú) movement of the traditional Hungarian verbunkos dance with the final movement being the fast (friss), full of energetic Hungarian csárdás-inspired rhythms and some teasing Viennese schmaltz. The work concludes with nearly 100 measures of an embracing a triumphant C Major prestissimo!
The Penderecki Quartet is thrilled to be sharing this performance with our wonderful Laurier colleague Anya Alexeyev. Anya’s probing artistry and ebullient electricity is sure to bring this masterwork to new life. As many of you know, Anya has been teaching piano at Laurier for many years now. She began her studies at the Moscow Conservatory and continued to London’s Royal College of Music where she won the Gold Medal. From there she won the Newport International Piano Competition and her concert career took flight with concerto appearances with the Royal Philharmonic, Vienna Chamber Orchestra, Belgian National Orchestra, and the Moscow State Symphony to name a few. We are proud to have her among us and share the stage with her at QuartetFest!
Our final faculty artist concert on June 9 features the beloved Lafayette String Quartet. This internationally acclaimed group has not changed their membership since they formed 37 years ago. They have lived a rich life of music together performing concerts all over the world with an extensive recording legacy. Sadly, their career is drawing to a close as they have decided to disband and pursue new ventures at the end of this summer. The Lafayettes are a VERY special ensemble with a long important presence in Waterloo. They have presented cycles of Beethoven and Shostakovich here and have been our number one at QuartetFest over the years. They perform with a tremendous range of power and intimacy laden with a rich golden sound all the while infused with uncanny nuance and fluidity. I have been trying to figure out how they do what they do for years. My conclusion after all this time is I think they are just superhuman. That is my only explanation!
We are celebrating this last hurrah with the Lafayettes with a performance of George Enescu’s octet for strings. Enescu was a child prodigy and composed this octet in 1900 at the age of 17. Enescu was the youngest student ever to attend the Vienna Conservatory at the age of 7. He blossomed into one of the finest violinists of his generation and became a superb pianist, conductor, teacher, and composer. He is one of Romania’s greatest musical geniuses to date -- his picture even appears on the Romanian 5 dollar bill!
Enescu’s prodigious youth is often compared to the early radiance of Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn was also a highly accomplished teenaged violinist/pianist/composer and composed his octet at the age of 16. Enescu distinguished himself from Mendelssohn’s wildly popular Classical octet by creating a grand work in a Romantic style. Enescu’s octet is a bounty of luxuriant themes with ardently layered counterpoint cast in a harmonic palette riding with the likes of Wagner, Mahler and Strauss. The listener will also delight in the spicy Eastern European folk music flavours throughout.
So come join us for QuartetFest ’23! This is a 2-week haven in our own city where we bask in chamber music, train eager students, and learn from seasoned pros. All this set with the backdrop of the early blossom days of summer! Bring it on!