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The Escher Quartet with Andrew Nolen
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This project is funded by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, through the generous support of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

+ About the Performance
This program was recorded 02/03/2011 at Symphony Space.

The Escher String Quartet, featuring Adam Barnett-Hart (Violin); Wu Jie (Violin); Pierre Lapointe (Viola); Dane Johansen (Cello), along with guest bass-baritone Andrew Nolen, perform the premiere of Eugene Drucker's Sonnets and a Soliloquy (text by Shakespeare), Barber's haunting Dover Beach (text by Matthew Arnold), Hugo Wolf's Italian Serenade, and Alban Berg's Lyric Suite.




Hugo Wolf

Italian Serenade


Alban Berg

Lyric Suite

I. Allegretto gioviale

II. Andante amoroso

III. Allegro misterioso - Trio estatico

IV. Adagio appassionato

V. Presto delirando - Tenebroso

VI. Largo desolato


Eugene Drucker

Sonnets and a Soliloquy

(text: William Shakespeare)

Sonnet 60

Sonnet 29

Sonnet 30

Sonnet 81

Sonnet 27

Sonnet 129


Sonnet 73


Samuel Barber


Dover Beach (text: Matthew Arnold)

+ About the Artists

The Escher String Quartet has received acclaim for its individual sound and unique cohesiveness. The quartet has performed at prestigious venues and festivals across the United States and abroad, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, 92nd Street Y, Symphony Space, Boston’s Gardner Museum, The Louvre in Paris, Dallas Chamber Music Society, Kennedy Center, New Orleans Friends of Music, Orange County Performing Arts Center, and the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, as well as at the Ravinia, Santa Fe Chamber Music, Gold Coast and Caramoor Festivals, Music@Menlo, and La Jolla SummerFest. The quartet recently served its third season as resident ensemble of Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s “CMS Two” program and has collaborated with Andrés Diaz, Lawrence Dutton, Kurt Elling, Leon Fleisher, Lynn Harrell, Wu Han, Jeffrey Kahane, Joseph Kalichstein, Pepe Romero, Luke Temple, David Shifrin, and Pinchas Zukerman. Within months of its inception in 2005, the Escher was invited by both Pinchas Zukerman and Itzhak Perlman to be quartet-in-residence at each artist’s summer festival.

The 2010-2011 season features appearances at the World Science Festival in New York and with the Little Orchestra Society in Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Auditorium. The Escher will perform several concerts with guest artists, notably Des Moines Arts Center with David Shifrin (clarinet) and Newtown Friends of Music with Jason Vieaux (guitar). Additional North American engagements will be Shriver Hall in Baltimore, Haverford College in PA, Concerts at the Point in Westport Point, MA, and chamber music series in Chicago, Cincinnati, Ottawa, Austin, Hudson Valley, Wooster, Yellow Springs, and Williamsburg. International engagements take the Escher to the West Cork Festival in Ireland, Festival of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, and the Louvre Museum in Paris, with an extensive tour of China. This season, the quartet has been appointed as one of the BBC’s “New Generation Artists,” and as part of the program will record works by Beethoven, Haydn, Janacek, and Dvorak for Radio 3.

In Spring 2011, the Escher String Quartet will begin recording the complete Zemlinsky quartets for Naxos, supported by the Zemlinsky Foundation, with plans to record the complete Mendelssohn quartets for BIS. Their most recent recording for Bridge Records is Stony Brook Soundings, Vol. 1, featuring the quartet in the premiere recordings of five new works. Previous albums include 2008’s Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and 2007’s Bridging the Ages from Music@Menlo, featuring works by Boccherini, Mendelssohn, and Bottesini. Also recorded for Music@Menlo are works by Stravinsky, Purcell, Haydn, Shostakovitch, Gruenberg, and Hugo Wolf.

The Escher String Quartet has served as the Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence in Caramoor and from 2007 to 2009 joined the faculty of Stony Brook University as Visiting Artist-in-Residence in a unique relationship with the world-renowned Emerson String Quartet. The ensemble takes its name from Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher and draws inspiration from the artist’s method of interplay between individual components working together to form a whole.

With performances in the US, France, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Scotland, and the United Arab Emirates, bass-baritone Andrew Nolen has performed for the Edinburgh Festival, Santa Fe Opera, Opera Theater of St. Louis, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, American Symphony Orchestra, The Wooster Group, Festival Lyrique-en-Mer, Waverly Consort, Gotham Chamber Opera, Juilliard Opera Center, Seattle Opera Young Artists Program, Aspen Music Festival and the Music Academy of the West. He also appears as bass soloist in Naxos of America’s box set of Haydn’s complete masses with Jane Glover and the Rebel Orchestra.

As a member of the Emerson Quartet, violinist Eugene Drucker plays close to 100 concerts annually throughout North America and Europe, and is the recipient of nine Grammy Awards, including two for Best Classical Album. As a solo artist, Mr. Drucker has recorded the complete sonatas and partitas of Bach, as well as all the sonatas and duos of Bartók. Since 2002 he has been on the faculty of Stony Brook University, where four of the Shakespeare settings offered this evening were first performed in 2008. They were later recorded by tonight’s artists as part of Stony Brook Soundings, a 2-disc Bridge release of music premiered at the university. Mr. Drucker’s novel, The Savior, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2007.

+ About the Music

About Seven Sonnets and a Soliloquy

In these settings of seven sonnets and of a soliloquy from the first act of Hamlet, I have tried to imagine and notate the rhythms and pitch fluctuations of an expressive recitation. No syllable is prolonged beyond its speech value, and there are very few wide intervals between syllables. My understanding of the texts has served as my compass when choosing meter and harmony. The two most recent settings, of sonnets 60 and 27, were intended to round out the cycle and to deepen a sense of motivic coherence between some of the pieces. Since one of my original goals was to explore the borderline between speech and singing – to create musical readings of Shakespeare – I decided to cross that line and to include two sonnets to be spoken rather than sung.

The theme of sonnet 60 is the inexorable flow of Time, but the final couplet makes a brave attempt to counter Time’s ravages with its praise of the beloved. I have tried to mirror the opening image – of our minutes passing likened to waves breaking one after another onto “the pebbled shore” – with an evenly paced 12-tone row, played alternately by the second violin and viola, “each changing place with that which goes before.” As no two waves are exactly alike, there are slight variations of articulation and pitch order in this ostinato figure, which returns in the coda and eventually grinds to an inconclusive halt.

Sonnets 29 and 30 are plaintive and grief-stricken, but in the final couplet, each takes a turn toward a brighter view of things, paying homage to the dedicatee of the verse. Whether the sudden optimism was heartfelt or the mere fulfillment of a poetic convention is an interpretive matter; in a musical setting, this shift affords various possibilities for tone-painting. I move from dissonant harmonies toward an ambiguous tonality, following the change in mood but trying also to convey a modern, somewhat doubtful perspective on the happy ending.

Sonnet 81 promises immortality to the beloved through the power of its verse. The text seems to begin almost in mid-thought: “Or I shall live your epitaph to make / Or you survive when I in earth am rotten.” The view toward posterity is mediated by the death that will claim “all the breathers” of the poet’s own era. In a brief instrumental interlude before the triumphant final couplet, an insistent rhythmic motif in the cello is meant to evoke the passage of time and the fate that awaits us all.

Sonnet 27 chronicles the poet’s insomnia as he obsessively focuses his mind’s eye on the absent beloved. A slowly lilting accompaniment begins only in the third line of the poem, in an uneasy and ultimately futile effort to achieve the effect of a lullaby.

The jagged, violent portrayal of lust in Sonnet 129 has no happy turnaround in its final couplet, only a grim assessment of the difference between what people know and the way they behave. This poem forswears all lyricism; I have attempted to find a musical analogy to its pounding rhythms and stark imagery with a breathless pace and biting, dissonant harmonies. Sonnet 73, a melancholy, bittersweet meditation on the poet’s own mortality, concludes with a plea to be loved well in the face of the imminent separation that death will bring. I hope that the pacing, harmonies and choice of motivic material convey the autumnal mood of this farewell sonnet.

The 31-line soliloquy from the first act of Hamlet does not have the well-ordered structure that we find in the sonnets (three quatrains plus a final couplet). Instead there is a stream of consciousness in iambic pentameter, with frequent digressions and exclamations, representing the disordered thought processes of the grief-stricken hero. The atmosphere is brooding, dramatic, bordering on the hysterical. I have pared the string quartet down to a trio, with only occasional contributions from the viola, so that the voice is usually suspended in a no-man’s-land between the violin and cello. This setting is even less of a “song” than my rendition of the sonnets, and the overall musical structure will be less easily grasped as I follow and respond to the lurching lines of thought and feeling with which Hamlet expresses his torment.

—Eugene Drucker

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