The Ulysses Quartet at the BCMS
Photo by Lauren Desberg
Mary Seaton Room, Kleinhans.
Joseph Haydn’s Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 33, No. 2, is the second in a series known as the “Russian” quartets; it’s also known by its English nickname, The Joke. The joke is that the composer wrote the finale in a way that makes it difficult for the listener to discern when the piece ends. After several apparent endings, the opening phrase is finally played pianissimo. Hilarious. As in the Surprise Symphony (No. 94) and other compositions, the brilliant and playful Papa Haydn is at it again. On December 10, the Ulysses Quartet plays The Joke on the Buffalo Chamber Music Society audience in the Mary Seaton Room at Kleinhans. Founded in 2015, the Ulysses Quartet includes violinists Christina Bouey and Rhiannon Banerdt, violist Colin Brookes, and cellist Grace Ho.
Pavel Haas, who died at Auschwitz at age forty-five, was a Czech composer who incorporated elements of folk music and jazz into his music. His song cycles and string quartets are particularly admired and the Ulysses Quartet has programmed the String Quartet Op. 7, No. 2, titled From the Monkey Mountains. This was the Czech nickname for the Moravian Highlands, a popular tourist destination. The Quartet’s four movements are entitled “Landscape;” “Coach, Coachman and Horse;” “The Moon and I;” and “Wild Night.”
For lovers of contemporary music, perhaps the most exciting selection on the program is Rhapsody, a string quartet written in 2018 by the young American composer Paul Frucht. Growing up in Danbury, Connecticut, Frucht was made aware of the importance of the music of Charles Ives and often passed Ives’s house on his way to school. Frucht was a co-founder of the Charles Ives Concert Series in Danbury and, although Rhapsody doesn’t sound like Ives, his free musical spirit is inherent. Paul Frucht is also tapped to deliver the talk preceding the concert.
The evening closes with a performance of the Quartet in F Major by another innovative composer, Maurice Ravel, who completed the piece in 1903 at the age of twenty-eight and dedicated it to his friend and teacher, Gabriel Fauré. Although it was described a few years later by a London critic as “chiefly remarkable for vagueness of significance, incoherence, and weird harmonic eccentricities,” it has nonetheless assumed a place as one of the most popular works in the chamber repertory.