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Jonathan Biss
Brentano String Quartet

Wednesday, February 15, 2017 7:30 PM Zankel Hall
The “late style,” that mystical period when composers look to the ends of their lives, is the theme of this program. Bach never completed his The Art of Fugue, but what remains is a mind-stretching exploration of counterpoint that marks the pinnacle of his career. Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 32 explores the harmonic boundaries of his day, boldly crosses them, and says farewell to the genre with a transcendent finale. Kurtág’s Játékok (Games) contains allusions to last moments and expresses them with powerful gestures. In his final quartet, Britten invokes the memory of Shostakovich—who had just died at the time of composition—in a work that’s at turns tranquil, sardonic, and wistful.


Jonathan Biss, Piano
Brentano String Quartet
·· Mark Steinberg, Violin
·· Serena Canin, Violin
·· Misha Amory, Viola
·· Nina Lee, Cello


BACH Selections from The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080
·· Contrapunctus I
·· Contrapunctus VII
·· Contrapunctus IV
·· Contrapunctus XI

GYÖRGY KURTÁG Selections from Játékok, Book VII
·· "Un brin de bruyère à Witold (in memorium Witold Lutoslawski)"
·· "... and once again: Shadow-play"
·· "Hommage à Farkas Ferenc 90"
·· "Fugitive thoughts about the Alberti bass"
·· "All'ongherese"
·· "Geburtstagsgruss für Nuria [... etwas verspätet...]"

BRITTEN String Quartet No. 3, Op. 94

BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111

Event Duration

The printed program will last approximately two hours, including one 20-minute intermission.

This concert is made possible, in part, by an endowment fund for young artists established by Mr. and Mrs. Anthony B. Evnin and the AE Charitable Foundation.

At a Glance

In the first of three concerts devoted to the “late style,” Jonathan Biss and the Brentano String Quartet present valedictory works by four composers that span more than 250 years. Bach’s monumental The Art of Fugue, which the composer had not quite completed at the time of his death in 1750, was conceived as a didactic work illustrating Baroque contrapuntal technique. Its mood of otherworldly introspection anticipates Beethoven’s final Piano Sonata in C Minor, whose radiantly beneficent ending Thomas Mann described in Doctor Faustus as “the most moving, consolatory, pathetically reconciling thing in the world. It is like having one’s hair or cheek stroked, lovingly, understandingly, like a deep and silent farewell look.”

Britten’s Third Quartet, written just over a year before his death in 1976, is a profoundly moving meditation on themes that had preoccupied England’s foremost composer for many years. References to his operatic masterpiece Death in Venice, which explores the relationship between homosexual love and creativity, are embedded in the score, and each of the quartet’s five movements alludes to the opera, either directly or obliquely. Around the same time, Hungarian composer György Kurtág—who is still active at age 90—launched his ongoing series of playfully imaginative musical Játékok (Games) for one and two pianos. As explorations of piano sound and technique, Játékok belongs to a long tradition of pedagogical pieces in the keyboard literature, from Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier to Bartók’s Mikrokosmos.


Jonathan Biss

Pianist Jonathan Biss shares his talent, passion, and intellectual curiosity with classical music lovers in the concert hall and beyond. For more than two decades on the  ...

Pianist Jonathan Biss shares his talent, passion, and intellectual curiosity with classical music lovers in the concert hall and beyond. For more than two decades on the concert stage, he has forged relationships with the New York Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and many others.

This season, Mr. Biss continues his latest Beethoven project, Beethoven/5, for which The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has co-commissioned five composers to write new piano concertos, each inspired by one of Beethoven's piano concertos. The five-year plan began last season, when Mr. Biss premiered Timo Andres's The Blind Banister, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music; he will perform the piece with the New York Philharmonic in the spring of 2017.

In the 2016-2017 season, Mr. Biss examines, both in performance and academically, the concept of a composer's "late style," and has put together programs of later works by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Britten, Elgar, Gesualdo, Kurtág, Mozart, Schubert, and Schumann--both for solo piano and in collaboration with the Brentano String Quartet and tenor Mark Padmore. In addition to Carnegie Hall, he performs these programs at London's Barbican Centre, Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, and in performances in San Francisco and at the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. He also gives master classes at Carnegie Hall in connection with the "late style" project and publishes a Kindle Single on the topic in January.

Mr. Biss has a notable recording career with recent albums for EMI winning Diapason d'Or de l'année and Edison awards. In 2017, he will release the sixth volume of his nine-year, nine-disk recording cycle of Beethoven's complete piano sonatas.

Mr. Biss studied at Indiana University and the Curtis Institute of Music, where he joined the piano faculty in 2010. He led the first massive open online course (MOOC) ever offered by a classical music conservatory, Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas, reaching more than 150,000 people in 185 countries. His bestselling eBook Beethoven's Shadow, published by Rosetta Books in 2011, was the first Kindle Single written by a classical musician. 

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Brentano String Quartet

Since its inception in 1992, the Brentano String Quartet has appeared throughout the world to popular and critical acclaim. Since 2014, it has served as ...

Since its inception in 1992, the Brentano String Quartet has appeared throughout the world to popular and critical acclaim. Since 2014, it has served as quartet-in-residence at Yale University. The quartet also currently serves as the collaborative ensemble for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Formerly, it was ensemble-in-residence at Princeton University.

The quartet has performed in the world's most prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall in New York, the Library of Congress in Washington, Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw, Vienna's Konzerthaus, Tokyo's Suntory Hall, and the Sydney Opera House. The quartet had its first European tour in 1997, and was honored in the UK with the Royal Philharmonic Award for most outstanding debut.

The Brentano String Quartet is known for especially imaginative projects that combine old and new music. Among the quartet's latest collaborations with contemporary composers is a new work by Steven Mackey, One Red Rose, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Other recent commissions include a piano quintet by Vijay Iyer, a work by Eric Moe (with soprano Christine Brandes), and a new viola quintet by Felipe Lara (performed with violist Hsin-Yun Huang). In 2012, the quartet provided the central music (Beethoven's Op. 131) for the critically acclaimed independent film A Late Quartet.

The quartet has worked closely with other important composers of our time, among them Elliott Carter, Charles Wuorinen, Chou Wen-chung, Bruce Adolphe, and György Kurtág. It has also been privileged to collaborate with such artists as soprano Jessye Norman and pianists Richard Goode, Jonathan Biss, and Mitsuko Uchida.

The quartet is named for Antonie Brentano, whom many scholars consider to be Beethoven's "Immortal Beloved"--the intended recipient of his famous love confession.

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