Bandstand Chamber Festival and St John's Waterloo present:
CAVATINA Chamber Music Trust (sponsors of Community Tickets scheme)
The Neville Abraham Foundation
The Carne Trust (sponsors of the Solem Quartet’s performance on 11 December)
Dasha Shenkman OBE
Peter Bull (sponsor of Mozart Clarinet Quintet, performed by the Maxwell Quartet & Anthony Friend)
With thanks to
Maggini Quartet Charitable Fund
Thomas and Megan Tress
St John’s Waterloo
Please follow social distancing protocol and wear a mask at all times.
There are no public toilets available at St John’s Waterloo. The nearest toilets are in Waterloo Station. Please do not film the concerts.
Spotlight Chamber Concerts
From 7 - 19 December, Spotlight Chamber Concerts brings some of the world’s finest classical musicians to the safely socially-distanced interior of one of London’s landmark churches, St John’s Waterloo. With dramatic lighting centred only on the performers, the audience is invited to focus solely on the immersive experience of live music in this series of concerts and recitals set to lighten up the winter months ahead. Tickets are strictly limited, so subscribe below to be the first in line.
This series was founded by Anthony Friend in 2020, and is an initiative of the Maggini Quartet Charitable Fund.
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7 December 2020
Roderick Williams & Susie Allan
with Momentum artists Kathryn Rudge, mezzo soprano and Edward Hawkins, bass
11 December 2020
13 December 2020
Maxwell Quartet & Anthony Friend
18 December 2020
19 December 2020
Friday 18 December 2020
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Suite No. 1 in G, BWV 1007
5. Menuett I
6. Menuett II
William Turner Walton (1902-1983)
Edward Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Suite No. 3, Op. 87
1. Introduzione: Lento
2. Marcia: Allegro
3. Canto: Con Moto
4. Barcarolla: Lento
5. Dialogo: Allegretto
6. Fuga: Andante espressivo
7. Recitativo: Fantastico
8. Moto perpetuo: Presto
9. Passacaglia: Lento solenne
Thomas Adès (b. 1971)
The Four Quarters (2010), Adès’ second string quartet, describes the twenty-four hour-period in which the earth completes its rotation on its own axis – not, conventionally speaking, ‘a day’, but an expanse of time. As in many of his instrumental works, the movements’ poetic titles carry evocative connotations, without creating a ‘programme’ for the music.
Nightfalls begins with the two violins playing in their high register. Clean, clear and cold, they map out constellations of twinkling stars. Far below, the viola and cello’s earthy groans reveal that we are not up in space amongst them, but on the ground and looking up; their weary minor-mode harmonies are heavy and melancholic. Eventually the gravitational pull of the harmony is too much; the starry figures darken and draw nearer, now played by the second violin and viola, while the cello and first violin’s groans grow to a roar. With the quartet united in powerful dissonance, it feels as though the heavens have crashed down into the earth. Nocturnal, organ-like counterpoint slowly climbs until the violins are restored to their original position high above us.
Serenade: Morning Dew begins with pizzicato figures in thorny rhythmical counterpoint, each snap of a plucked note like pinpricks of moisture on blades of grass. Joyful vigour emanates from the periodic moments of arrival when all four instruments land on a chord together, or find themselves dancing to the same tune in perfect unison. When pizzicato turns to bowing in the movement’s central section the music takes on the liquid, golden quality of morning sunshine.
In the monotony of the second violin’s rhythmic ostinato, Days reflects the rhythm of life, unrelenting and repetitive. Yet this rhythm is articulated across shifting bar lines in the music’s notation; for the musicians of the quartet, their perspective on the musical material is constantly changing. Events are marked in the sighing cadences of the other instruments; no day is quite the same. The ostinato grows to a shout by all four players, spread over four octaves with each instrument playing three notes simultaneously, before dissolving into feathery, delicate whispers.
In The Twenty-Fifth Hour, the days and hours into which we divide our lives become the units of musical notation, bars and beats. Yet in a twisted rhythmic game, we can no more easily divide twenty-five beats into a manageable rhythm than we can fit an extra hour into our day. Adès subdivides the bar into 8+3+8+6, and asks the quartet to play Alla marcia, dolcissimo (‘like a march, as sweetly as possible’) and ballabile, cantabile (‘dancingly, like a song’). The refined beauty of the instrumental sounds conceals an internal struggle in the rhythmical complexity of the music. Wisps of harmonics give way to full-throated string sonorities, the cello leaping from chord to chord underneath, its roughness and heaviness giving the music an ancient-sounding quality. The harmony drives forwards as the violins reach upwards, before, abruptly, they find what they were looking for; the music comes to rest on a hushed D major chord.
Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat, Op. 130 is one of five quartets known as the ‘late quartets’, and which form part of a larger body of work that collectively define his ‘late style’. The context in which this style arose, namely Beethoven’s total deafness, is so commonly repeated that it has become a cliché, diluted through repetition. Understanding this extraordinary and uncomfortable reality – one of the greatest pianists and composers of the age having to communicate through conversation books and to attend inaudible premieres of his pieces – is worth our imaginative effort. Richard Wagner (1813-1883) claims that Beethoven’s late works seemed to be ‘a revelation from another world’, their greatness coming thanks to (not in spite of) his deafness, which forced him to live in his inner world. Yet his inner world would have reverberated with tinnitus, and moreover Beethoven had to contend with plenty of worldly concerns – from fractious relationships with his family and custody battles over his nephew, to repeated bouts of ill-health.
One such bout of ill-health significantly held up the composition of the late string quartets. Prince Nikolai Galitzin commissioned three string quartets in 1822, and Beethoven began work in 1823, completing Op. 127 before an intestinal inflammation in 1825 rendered him unable to continue. He recovered enough to travel to Baden for spa treatment, staying there from May to October, but was still suffering: ‘I am still weak… and I spit up rather a lot of blood… Often it streams out of my nose, and there is no doubt that my stomach has become terribly weak.’
Nevertheless, Beethoven found time to compose. He began Op. 130 in June of 1825, and that year also managed to complete Op. 132 – the Quartet in A minor, with its ‘Heiliger Dankgesang’, or ‘Holy song of thanksgiving’, celebrating his return to relative good health – in time for a premiere in November.
The first two movements of Beethoven’s Quartet in B-flat, Op. 130 seem to have come to him easily, but the question of what should follow – how many movements, and what kind of music these should be – remained unresolved for over a year.
The first movements begins with a slow, sinister descending figure, sliding in semitones across all four instruments, that resolves harmoniously. The process is repeated, and a third resolution arrives triumphantly before giving way to a tender solo ‘cello line, passed upwards through the quartet in imitative counterpoint – meaning that one part copies another, and the combined effect is one of multiple voices speaking simultaneously, yet coherently. When the Allegro arrives, the first violin takes off in flights of semiquavers and the other instruments join, before an abrupt return of the slow introduction.
Sudden changes of mood and tempo, and use of dramatic silence, is emblematic of Beethoven’s late style. This style also grew alongside his increasing fascination with the contrapuntal music of Baroque composers Bach and Handel; this influence abounds in the Quartet in B-flat, as in the other late quartets. It reverberates through the constantly running semiquavers of the first movement, and it is no coincidence that Beethoven originally wrote a vast, complex and thorny fugue movement for the finale of the piece. When presented to an audience on 21 March 1826, the general bewilderment prompted Beethoven to write a more conventionally finale, which we hear tonight – a fittingly virtuosic conclusion to a work that was groundbreaking in both its compositional scope and the demands placed on its performers. The original was later published separately as the Grosse Fuge, Op. 133.
In between the first and last movements, four movements are found where in Beethoven’s previous quartets (and in the tradition established by Haydn and Mozart) we would usually find just two. For the second of the Quartet in B-flat’s six movements, a Presto stands in for a Scherzo, initially hushed and urgent but opening up into an astonishing display of first violin virtuosity. The third movement begins as if it were a more conventional, highly expressive slow movement, but is marked Poco scherzoso. Instead of continuing in the soulful vein of the opening two bars, the Andante con moto ma non troppo abandons its opening material and transforms into an elegant violin melody with gently bubbling staccato accompaniment. The fourth movement, Alla danza tedesca is a graceful dance, with pirouetting semiquaver figures and lilting, waltz-like rhythm. The fifth movement Cavatina is the emotional core of the work. Marked sotto voce, as though sung under one’s breath, it is a whispered aria for the first violin, heartbreaking in its intimacy and fragility; Beethoven was moved to tears whilst composing it, isolated and alone with his music.
Steven Isserlis, cello
Acclaimed worldwide for his profound musicianship and technical mastery, British cellist Steven Isserlis enjoys a uniquely varied career as a soloist, chamber musician, educator, author and broadcaster. He appears with the world’s leading orchestras and conductors, and gives recitals in major musical centres. As a chamber musician, he has curated concert series for many prestigious venues, including London’s Wigmore Hall, New York’s 92nd St Y, and the Salzburg Festival. Unusually, he also directs chamber orchestras from the cello in classical programmes.
He has a strong interest in historical performance, working with many period-instrument orchestras and giving recitals with harpsichord and fortepiano. He is also a keen exponent of contemporary music and has given many premieres of new works, including Sir John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil and many other works, Thomas Adès’s Lieux retrouvés, three works for solo cello by György Kurtág, and pieces by Heinz Holliger and Jörg Widmann.
Steven’s wide-ranging discography includes J S Bach’s complete solo cello suites (Gramophone’s Instrumental Album of the Year), Beethoven’s complete works for cello and piano, concertos by C P E Bach and Haydn, the Elgar and Walton concertos, and the Brahms double concerto with Joshua Bell and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
Since 1997, Steven has been Artistic Director of the International Musicians Seminar at Prussia Cove, Cornwall. He also enjoys playing for children, and has created three musical stories, with the composer Anne Dudley. His two books for children, published by Faber & Faber, have been translated into many languages; his latest book for Faber is a commentary on Schumann’s Advice for Young Musicians, and a book about the Bach suites will appear in 2021.
The recipient of many awards, Steven’s honours include a CBE in recognition of his services to music, the Schumann Prize of the City of Zwickau, the Piatigorsky Prize and Maestro Foundation Genius Grant in the U.S, the Glashütte Award in Germany, the Gold Medal awarded by the Armenian Ministry of Culture, and the Wigmore Medal.
Steven plays the ‘Marquis de Corberon’ Stradivarius of 1726, on loan from the Royal Academy of Music.
St John's Waterloo
St John’s, the church on the roundabout at Waterloo, was built in 1824 for Waterloo’s working people and rebuilt in 1951 as the church of the Festival of Britain: a beacon of hope and resilience. Today, more than ever, it is responding to the needs of London’s diverse communities as a church, a charity and a well-known music and arts venue, committed to being here for everyone.
St John’s Artistic Director Euchar Gravina said: “St John’s is a well-known music venue and runs the annual Waterloo Festival. In these challenging times, we’re finding new ways of bringing hope and new ways to serve through a year-round programme co-curated by artists and performers whose aim is to create stronger communities as well as creating art.”