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." http://slsq.com
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."