The Aizuri Quartet derives its name from a Japanese style of woodblock printing that features intricate detail and vibrant color—which perfectly describes the group’s charismatic yet meticulous musicianship. The quartet's credits include first prize at the Osaka International Chamber Music Competition in 2017 and third prize at the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition in 2015. Formerly in residence at Curtis, the Aizuri Quartet opens its Curtis Presents program by exploring a theme of isolation as experienced by four composers from four different centuries. For the second half the quartet joins forces with the imaginative and expressive pianist Jonathan Biss of Curtis’s piano faculty for Antonín Dvořák's chamber masterwork, the Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 81. Their dynamic collaboration is not to be missed.
Formed in 2012 and based in New York City, the Aizuri Quartet is the 2017–18 string quartet in residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Previously the quartet has held residencies at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts and the Curtis Institute of Music, where it was also featured throughout the Curtis-Coursera online course, The World of the String Quartet.
The Aizuri Quartet has performed throughout the United States, Japan, Latin America, Europe, and the United Arab Emirates. Praised by the Washington Post for “captivating” performances that draw from its notable “meld of intellect, technique and emotions,” the ensemble was awarded first prize at the 2017 Osaka International Chamber Music Competition in Japan and third prize at the 2015 Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition in London. The quartet has commissioned and premiered works by Lembit Beecher, Rene Orth, Yevgeniy Sharlat, Caroline Shaw, Gabriella Smith, Alyssa Weinberg, and Paul Wiancko.
The Aizuri Quartet draws its name from “aizuri-e,” a style of predominantly blue Japanese woodblock printing that is noted for its vibrancy and incredible detail.
Jonathan Biss has appeared as soloist with the world's foremost orchestras--including the New York Philharmonic; the Philadelphia, Cleveland, Philharmonia, and Royal Concertgebouw orchestras; and the Chicago, Boston, London, and NHK symphony orchestras--and has given recitals in such renowned venues as Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Théâtre du Châtelet, and the Berliner Philharmonie.
An enthusiastic chamber musician, Mr. Biss has collaborated with many of today's finest players, including Richard Goode, Mitsuko Uchida, Midori, Mark Padmore, the Elias String Quartet, and Miriam Fried. He is the recipient of the Leonard Bernstein Award, the Andrew Wolf Memorial Chamber Music Award, an Avery Fisher Career Grant, and the 2003 Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award, among other honors.
Mr. Biss is recording the complete Beethoven piano sonatas for Onyx Classics and previously made four CDs for EMI Classics, as well as one for Wigmore Hall Live. He is also a prolific writer and is the first classical musician to publish two Kindle Singles, A Pianist Under the Influence and Beethoven’s Shadow.
He studied at Indiana University with Evelyne Brancart and at the Curtis Institute of Music with Leon Fleisher. Mr. Biss joined the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music in 2011, where he holds the Neubauer Family Chair in Piano Studies.
In 2013 Mr. Biss launched a Curtis-Coursera course, Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, which had an initial enrollment of over 35,000 students. He continues to add lectures to the course periodically.
By the Aizuri Quartet
There are times when we find ourselves isolated from the world around us, as did all of the composers featured on this program. It may be because of vocation or employment (Hildegard, Haydn), psychological trauma (Gesualdo), physical impairment (Beethoven), or persecution due to political beliefs (Nancarrow).
For these five composers, isolation provided opportunities to funnel undivided energy into their craft, resulting in experimentation and uncompromising musical vision. We are lucky that they gifted the world with these astonishing works, which leave an indelible stamp with their intensity, imagination, and highly intricate and expressive writing.
We open with vocal works from the medieval and Renaissance periods arranged for string quartet by our dear friend Alex Fortes. Columba aspexit transcends plainchant with colorful text and ecstatic soaring lines, revealing Hildegard von Bingen the visionary. By comparison Carlo Gesualdo’s text painting reflects his tortured psyche: darkly expressive with startling juxtapositions of harmony.
The rest of our program offers a perspective on how Haydn, Beethoven, and Nancarrow took advantage of their isolation to experiment musically. Each took the concept of a fugue (traditionally an “orderly” or “academic” endeavor) and made it his own. Haydn wrote his six Op. 20 string quartets while working in seclusion at the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy. These early masterpieces elevated the art of string quartet writing, and the fugue finale of Op. 20, No. 2 illustrates Haydn's unmistakable tongue-in-cheek wit.
American-born Conlon Nancarrow moved to Mexico in 1940 to avoid the persecution that many people with similar leftist leanings faced during this time, and lived there until his death in 1997. He is best known for his player piano studies, written with the idea that automated components could produce complicated rhythmic patterns more quickly than live performers. His Third Quartet is at once zany and confounding: Each part is written in a different meter. Playing in four self-contained temporal states, the quartet has a wild balance to maintain: interaction vs. putting blinders on!
We will close with Beethoven’s monumental Grosse Fugue, which we feel encapsulates elements of all the other works on the program. Beethoven plays with the edges of chaos, looking for the physical and sonic limits that four players can reach, and yet also finds the sublime and generous nature of humanity.
The Curtis Presents season is sponsored by Blank Rome LLP.