An exceptional ensemble bound together by the passion for George Enescu
On October 14, 2021, as we were slowly getting back to in-person events, we were happy to re-launch our popular chamber music series, the Enescu Soirees of New York, with a concert offered by Kismet String Quartet, formed by Metropolitan Opera Orchestra musicians Ming-Feng Hsin (violin), Katherine Fong (violin), Dov Scheindlin (viola) and Julia Bruskin (cello), bound together by their passion for the music of Romania’s greatest composer. The program featured Enescu’s 1st String Quartet, which was played for the first time exactly 100 years ago, paired with the String Quartet by Gabriel Fauré, Enescu’s composition teacher and one of the most important influences in his career.
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924): String Quartet in E minor, Op. 121
George Enescu (1881-1955): String Quartet No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 22
Allegretto scherzando, non troppo vivace
Gabriel Fauré is rightfully considered the most advanced French composer of his generation. His highly personalized musical style, reflected in soulful modal melodies and a colorful harmonic language, greatly influenced subsequent generations of composers. He became Professor of Composition at the Paris Conservatoire in 1896, teaching among others, Maurice Ravel, Georges Enescu and Nadia Boulanger. And when he was appointed as director of the Conservatoire in 1905, he eagerly reformed the curriculum of this most prestigious musical institution in France. For much of Fauré’s compositional career, music for and with the piano had taken center stage. However, for his final composition— the String Quartet Op. 121 completed in 1924— the composer turned away from his favorite instrument and instead wrote music for the prototypical ensemble genre of Classical Music. The opening Allegro provides a quiet and contemplative beginning that is bathed in Fauré’s typically ethereal harmonic and melodic language. A quiet musical dialogue between the first violin and the cello dominates much of this movement, if not the entire composition. Brief intensifications of the musical language aside, with the cello urging the musical conversation, this movement never deviates from a state of restrained emotionality. The contemplative musical aesthetic introduced in the first movement is further magnified in the slow Andante, as Fauré provides an instrumental choir of lament. In the concluding Allegro the cello sings an urging melody, accompanied by pizzicato upper strings. In fact, the pizzicato accompaniment provides the musical pulse for much of the movement, only allowing for a singular emotional outburst in the final measures of the piece.
George Enescu's String Quartet No.1 in E flat major was started in 1916, using some earlier material, continued in 1918, and completed at the end of 1920. It was dedicated to the Flonzelay Quartet, an ensemble established in 1902 by the banker Edward J. De Coppet and devoted exclusively to quartet performance. It was this quartet that gave the first performance of the work in 1921. The string quartet is a highly original and complex composition, in spite of the apparent simplicity of its opening, with a theme that is marked sotto voce and tranquillo, leading to a secondary theme in G minor. There are moments of great delicacy in the central section, which eventually builds to a dynamic climax with reminiscences of the first theme and motifs from the secondary theme. This leads to a much abridged recapitulation, when the first theme returns in a high register, marked delicatamente, reappearing once more as the movement draws to a close. There is a meditative mood in the second movement, as the direction Andante pensieroso suggests, and here, as elsewhere, there are clear thematic connections to the preceding movement. A predominant motif of this B major movement, in which the original key is soon modified, includes the interval of an augmented fourth, part of the opening theme, which is developed and varied as the movement proceeds. Mutes, which had been used in the hushed final section of the second movement, are removed for the scherzo, which, while it lacks a formal trio, brings a relaxation of tension and no direct return of the opening material. The last movement develops earlier motifs, at times contrapuntally, before moving to a theme and a series of variations, followed by a song-like melody that is to appear in various guises before the quartet ends. (Keith Anderson)
A native of Taiwan, Ming-Feng Hsin served as first violinist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for 24 years before retiring in 2018. Now he balances his time between solo violin, chamber concerts, teaching and conducting engagements. He recently joined the violin faculty at the Mannes School of Music. A protégé of Yehudi Menuhin, Ming's career began as violin soloist after winning Glasgow International Competition and soloing with Scottish National and BBC orchestras. In his early twenties, Mr. Hsin’s career as a violinist was interrupted due to a hand injury from an accident. This injury has since gradually healed, but in the many years away from the violin, Mr. Hsin actively pursued conducting. He holds advanced degrees in orchestral conducting from the Juilliard School (with Otto Werner Mueller) as well as Rice University in Houston, and was a student of Charles Bruck at the Monteux School for Conductors for five summers.
Violinist Katherine Fong has been a member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra since 2000. A native of Amarillo, Texas, she began playing at age four. Katherine leads a multifaceted existence as an orchestral musician, chamber musician, soloist, entrepreneur, studio musician, and mother. She is founder and spokesperson for Luxitune, designing bejeweled fine tuners for string instruments, as well as an avid student of life, always learning new trades from studying sketch comedy to learning manuscript editing. Katherine received a Bachelor of Music from the New England Conservatory and continued her studies at the Juilliard School, where she received her Master of Music degree. She is proud mommy to Zeke (age 9), Lila (age 6), and is married to violist Dov Scheindlin.
Acclaimed by the New York Times as an "extraordinary violist" of "immense flair," Dov Scheindlin is a member of Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and an associate member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. He has also been violist of the Arditti, Penderecki and Chester String Quartets. His chamber music career has brought him to 28 countries around the globe, and won him the Siemens Prize in 1999. He has appeared as soloist with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Berlin, the Paris Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and the Munich Philharmonic. Mr. Scheindlin has recorded extensively for EMI, Teldec, Auvidis, Col Legno, and Mode, and won the Gramophone Award in 2002 for the Arditti Quartet's recording of Sir Harrison Birtwistle's Pulse Shadows. As a member of the Arditti Quartet, he gave nearly 100 world premières, among them new works by Benjamin Britten, Elliott Carter, György Kurtág, Thomas Adès, and Wolfgang Rihm. He plays a viola made by Gaetano Gadda in 1928.
Since her concerto debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at age 17, cellist Julia Bruskin has established herself as one of the premiere cellists of her generation. She performed Samuel Barber’s Cello Concerto with conductor Jahja Ling at Avery Fisher Hall and has also been soloist with the Nashville Symphony, Utah Symphony, Virginia Symphony, and Pacific Symphony among others. Her recent CD of music by Beethoven, Brahms and Dohnanyi was praised by Fanfare Magazine for its “exquisite beauty of sound and expression.” Julia Bruskin is a founding member of the critically acclaimed Claremont Trio, touring extensively. Julia Bruskin plays frequent recitals with her husband, Aaron Wunsch, and together they direct the Skaneateles Festival in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Ms. Bruskin has also performed at Chamber Music Northwest, La Jolla Summerfest, Caramoor, Saratoga, Bard and Norfolk and toured with the Musicians from Ravinia. She has taught at Juilliard Pre-College and Queens College. Julia Bruskin has been a member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra since 2014.
The Enescu Soirees is a permanent program of the Romanian Cultural Institute designed to showcase, cultivate and promote Romanian music in New York and other major cultural centers of the United States through chamber music concerts of highest quality featuring Romanian, American and international performers and a wide array of styles and genres. The namesake of the series honors Romania’s most prolific and revered musician, George Enescu (1881-1955), a genius composer, violinist, pianist, and conductor. The Enescu Soirees aims to present the integrale of Enescu’s chamber works (many of them recently discovered and completed), an endeavor never attempted before, together with other major creations of the Romanian and international classical music repertoire. During the pandemic, the Enescu Soirees continued online and starting this fall they will become a hybrid program, with all the events recorded and transferred on social media for a worldwide audience. Music advisor: Irina Muresanu.
On view at RCI's Brâncuși Gallery: RECOLLECTIVE - a photoexhibition by two-time Pulitzer winner Viorel Florescu.