Check it out
Who: Alexander String Quartet
When: 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Vanderhoef Studio Theatre, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts
Tickets: $54 general, $27 students; www.mondaviarts.org, 530-754-2787
The new year will get off to an early — and substantial — musical start Sunday, as the Alexander String Quartet continues its yearlong Schubert series with two performances in the Mondavi Center’s Vanderhoef Studio Theatre.
The focus of the concerts is Franz Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major, D. 956. It was composed in the summer of 1828, the final year of Schubert’s brief life, and it is the final instrumental piece that he completed.
Unlike most other string quintets (typically scored for the conventional string quartet lineup — two violins, a viola and a cello — plus a second viola), Schubert chose instead to add a second cello. As a result, the Schubert Quintet affords abundant opportunities for rich musical exchanges in the lower registers between the two cellos, in addition to the exchanges between the two violins that often occur in the conventional string quartet lineup.
The Schubert Quintet has four movements, several of them lengthy, and the complete piece runs a little over 50 minutes in performance. And while the quintet was completed only about two months before Schubert’s death, much of the music conveys a sense of contentment and serenity — some music historians have commented on the “golden glow” generated during a successful performance.
Schubert apparently never got to hear it. The score went unperformed for more than 20 years after his death, and was only published in 1853. The Schubert Quintet is now regarded as one of the greatest masterworks in all of chamber music, though it continues to be performed less often than some of Schubert’s other string quartets, in part because a performance of the quintet involves recruiting an additional cellist to perform with the standard foursome.
The Alexander String Quartet has appeared regularly at the Mondavi Center since the center opened in the fall of 2002, including concert series that covered the complete string quartets of Beethoven and Shostakovich, as well as shorter series focusing on Dvorak, Mozart and others.
The Alexander String Quartet formed in 1981, and for more than 25 years has made the San Francisco Bay Area its home base, appearing regularly on the San Francisco Performances series, as well as at the Mondavi Center, and also at Baruch College in New York.
Joining the quartet will be Bay Area cellist Eugene Sor, who has enjoyed a variety of musical endeavors since earning his master of music degree in cello performance from UCLA in 1996. Sor has played in several orchestras in the San Francisco Bay Area, including six seasons as principal cellist in the Stockton Symphony and nine seasons as a cellist in the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra.
His wide range of chamber music experience includes extensive work with the Chamberlain and Volta String Quartets and the Adorno Ensemble.
He is also in demand as a conductor, and currently serves as director of the Crowden Center for Music in Berkeley, resident conductor of the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra and conductor of the Preparatory Chamber Orchestra at San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
The 2 p.m. performance will include the Schubert String Quintet and remarks on Schubert and this piece in particular by Robert Greenberg, a lecturer, composer and music historian who has been appearing with the Alexander String Quartet over the past 10 seasons at the Mondavi Center.
The 7 p.m. performance will pair the Schubert String Quintet with the String Quartet No. 23 in F major, K. 590, by W.A. Mozart. Composed in 1790, it is one of the group known as the “King of Prussia” Quartets, though some music historians dispute whether Mozart actually wrote them on commission for a royal patron.
Featuring four movements, and running about 24 minutes in performance, the music is by and large sunny and upbeat, and the piece is somewhat akin to the string quartets being written around the same time by Mozart’s somewhat older friend, the composer Franz Joseph Haydn.
The two composers occasionally played string quartets together — Haydn taking one of the violin parts, Mozart on the viola — and Mozart later dedicated a set of new string quartets to Haydn.
Tickets are $54 general, $27 for students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787. The 2 p.m. concert is officially sold out, but typically a few turned-back tickets materialize at the box office a half-hour before the performance.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at email@example.com or 530-747-8055.