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Escher String Quartet to perform Thursday at UH-Hilo

The Hawaii Concert Society’s second presentation of its 2013-14 season features a young ensemble that takes its name from famed Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher and draws inspiration from his use of individual components working together to form a whole.

The Escher String Quartet, recent winners of a $25,000 Avery Fisher Career grant and hailed by the New York Times for its “passionate elegance and deep feeling,” will perform a concert at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 10, at the University of Hawaii Hilo Performing Arts Center.

Within months of its inception in 2005, the Escher String Quartet was invited by both Pinchas Zukerman and Itzhak Perlman to be the quartet-in-residence at each artist’s summer festival, The Young Artists Programme at Canada’s National Arts Centre and The Perlman Chamber Music Program on Shelter Island, NY. The quartet has since collaborated with artists such as Andrés Diaz, Lawrence Dutton, Kurt Elling, David Finckel, Leon Fleisher, Vadim Gluzman, Benjamin Grosvenor, Wu Han, Gary Hoffman, Joseph Kalichstein, David Shifrin, Joseph Silverstein, and Pinchas Zukerman. The Avery Fisher Career Grant, designed to help young musicians build their careers, underscores that the Escher String Quartet is one of the world’s top young quartets.

The Oct. 10 concert by the New York–based group will begin with contrasting works by two 20th century Russian composers, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich.

The former’s “String Quartet No. 2,” containing folk tunes from the Caucasus, is a bright, optimistic, and instantly appealing work, with a lovely central movement based on an almost mesmerizing theme.

The Shostakovich “Quartet No. 8,” written in three days in 1960, after the composer was blackmailed into becoming a shackled “artist” for the Communist Party, is one of those compositions he intended “for the desk drawer.” Written as a musical autobiography it wears its heart on its sleeve and contains no empty sentimentalisms like those found in the pages of his public works. The work is incredibly compact and all five movements blend into each other, transforming the piece into a dramatic stream of consciousness.

Shostakovich’s modeled this quartet on the anguished late quartets of Beethoven. The Hilo audience will be able to directly compare the works of the two masters as the Escher String Quartet performs Beethoven’s “Quartet in A minor, Op. 132.”

Beethoven’s last few string quartets are full of deep inward exploration. The forebodings of his illness, frustrations of his deafness, and anxiety about his nephew Karl, together with his advancing age all contributed to new forms of expression and went far beyond what musicians or audiences were ready for at that time. One musician of the time commented that “we know there is something there, but we do not know what it is.”

Opinions of Beethoven’s late quartets have changed considerably from the time of their first bewildered reception.

Their forms and ideas have inspired countless listeners, musicians, and composers. The achingly beautiful third movement of Op. 132, titled “Song of Thanksgiving to the Deity from an Invalid,” is the core of this five-movement piece.

Tickets for the concert by the Escher String Quartet are $20 general admission, $16 for seniors, and $10 for students are are available at the Most Irresistible Shop, Book, Music Exchange, the UHH Box Office, and the East Hawaii Cultural Center. Remaining tickets will be available at the door starting at 6:45 p.m.

For additional information, call 935-5831.


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