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Jonathan Biss
Brentano String Quartet

Thursday, February 23, 2017 7:30 PM Zankel Hall
URL Copied
Four great composers that span the early Baroque to the Romantic eras contemplate their mortality. In Schumann’s Fünf Gesänge der Frühe, harmonies shift and dissonances arise in surprising places. Brahms’s Klavierstücke, Op. 118, is more conventional with rich lyricism and touches of melancholy. Mozart’s String Quintet in E-flat Major was his last chamber work and completed less than eight months before his death. Nothing in the quintet suggests impending tragedy; instead, Mozart’s music is high spirited and radiates good humor, especially in its flashy Rondo finale.


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

Hsin-Yun Huang, Viola


SCHUMANN Fünf Gesänge der Frühe
GESUALDO Selections from Madrigals, Book VI (arr. Bruce Adolphe)
·· "Deh, come invan sospiro"
·· "Beltà poi che t'assenti"
·· "Resta di darmi noia"
·· "Già piansi nel dolore"
·· "Moro, lasso, al mio duolo"
BRAHMS Klavierstücke, Op. 118
MOZART String Quintet in E-flat Major, K. 614

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

Schumann’s Fünf Gesänge der Frühe (Five Early-Morning Songs) may seem an incongruous way to introduce the second of three programs that focus on “the late style” of composers across the centuries. But these five dreamily poetic songs without words, written in the afterglow of Schumann’s late-life encounter with the young Johannes Brahms, are among the last works he completed before his deteriorating mental state forced him to seek treatment in an asylum. Gesualdo’s life was similarly haunted by demons. Although he was comparatively young when he wrote his Sixth Book of Madrigals (here arranged for string quartet), his avant-garde harmonies and text-painting helped change the course of music history.

Toward the end of his life, Brahms returned to the quintessentially Romantic genre of the instrumental character piece, a time-honored vehicle for distilling a particular mood or musical idea to its essence. Written in 1893, the six miniature masterpieces for solo piano that make up the Op. 118 Klavierstücke are among the composer's valedictory works. Of Mozart’s six string quintets, the last two—K. 593 and K. 614—are widely regarded as his supreme achievements in the field of chamber music. Scored for string quartet plus a second viola, the E-flat–Major Quintet was written just eight months before the composer’s death. His early biographer Hermann Abert characterized the music as “lighthearted and lovable.”


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 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. 

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 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.

Hsin-Yun Huang

Violist Hsin-Yun Huang has forged a career performing on international concert stages, commissioning and recording new works, and nurturing young musicians. Highlights of this season include performances for The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, 92nd Street Y, Chamber Music Columbus, and Seoul Spring Festival. Next season, she will perform solo under the batons of Osmo Vänskä and Josep Caballé Domenech in Taipei and Bogota; she will also be the first solo violist to be presented at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing. Ms. Huang has commissioned compositions from Steven Mackey, Shih-Hui Chen, and Poul Ruders. Her 2012 recording, Viola Viola, won accolades from Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine.

Ms. Huang first came to international attention as the gold medalist in the 1988 Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition. In 1993, she was the top prizewinner in the ARD Music Competition in Munich, and was awarded the highly prestigious Bunkamura Orchard Hall Award. A native of Taiwan and an alumna of Young Concert Artists, she received degrees from the Yehudi Menuhin School, The Juilliard School, and the Curtis Institute of Music. She now serves on the faculties of Juilliard and Curtis.

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