The Los Angeles-based Lyris String Quartet performs Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Mondavi Center’s Vanderhoef Studio Theatre — part of the group’s current visit to UC Davis as artists-in-residence in the music department.
The Lyris String Quartet was founded in 2008. The group members are violinist Alyssa Park (who shot to fame in 1990 when she became the youngest medalist in the Tchaikovsky Competition, winning the Bronze at age 16); violinist Shalini Vijayan (who came up through the New World Symphony in the late 1990s, serving as concertmaster under conductor Michael Tilson Thomas); violist Luke Maurer (a member of the Pacific Symphony in Orange County); and cellist Timothy Loo (who performs at the Jacaranda concert series in Santa Monica, which presents a good deal of contemporary music).
The program will feature two 20th Century works, and one favorite from the Classical era.
French composer Henri Dutilleux’s string quartet “Ainsi la nuit” (“Thus the night”) was written over a period of five years in the 1970s. The piece is organized in an unusual manner — seven movements, with four “parentheses” that come between the first five movements. Dutilleux studied the angular music of composers like Alban Berg and Anton Webern from Second Viennese School as preparation for writing this quartet, but in addition to their influence, many listeners find a certain linkage between some of Dutilleaux’s melodies and patterns found in Gregorian chant (something the composer acknowledged in his remarks about the piece).
Also on the program will be the String Quartet No. 3 by Dmitri Shostakovich. Written in 1946, right after the conclusion of World War II, this quartet was written when the composer was 40 years old, and had completed nine symphonies. This quartet is thought to express the composer’s anxiety and increasingly dark outlook as the war’s end led into purges within the Soviet Union. Shostakovich apparently felt his musical expressions of nervousness and gloom were best expressed in the more private setting of his chamber music, rather than the larger and more public symphonic works. He would turn to the form of the string quartet again and again in years to come — he wrote only three string quartets during the first 40 years of his life, but he wrote a dozen string quartets between 1947 and passing in 1975. The String Quartet No. 3 was one of his favorites.
The program also includes fifth out of the six string quartets from Josef Haydn’s Opus 76, written in the late 1790s, a few years after the composer’s celebrated visits to London (where he received great acclaim), and at around the same time he turned his attention to writing the oratorio “The Creation,” which was one of the highlights of the later portion of his career. The Opus 76 quartets find Haydn expanding the form of the string quartet (still relatively new at that point) and pushing the music in directions he hadn’t explored in his earlier chamber music. Opus 76 No. 5 is sometimes known as “the one with the Largo,” because of the majestic, slow second movement — the longest of this quartet’s four movements, and the one which many listeners regard as cornerstone of this piece.
Tickets for the Saturday 7 p.m. concert are $20 general, $8 students, www.mondaviarts.org or (530) 754-2787.