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Alexander String Quartet marks Mondavi anniversary with Schubert series

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From page A13 | October 02, 2012 | Leave Comment

That’s the ticket

What: Alexander String Quartet

When: 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: Vanderhoef Studio Theatre at the Mondavi Center

Tickets: $54 general, $27 students, www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787

The Alexander String Quartet — a regular visitor at the Mondavi Center since the venue was dedicated in fall 2002 — takes up the string quartets of Franz Schubert for the group’s 10th season of concerts in Davis.

The first program will be Sunday. The 2 p.m. performance will feature the group with noted lecturer and author Robert Greenberg; the 7 p.m. performance will include a post-concert discussion, with the members of the quartet fielding questions from the audience.

The music will be the same at both performances: Schubert’s String Quartet No. 12 in C Minor, D. 703 (“Quartettsatz”); the String Quartet No. 13 in A Minor, D. 804 (“Rosamunde”); and the String Quartet No. 8 in B-flat Major, D. 112.

Schubert produced a phenomenal amount of music during a life cut short by illness at age 31.

“In his all-too-brief life, Schubert created a body of music the size and quality of which leaves us shaking our heads in wonder,” Greenberg says. “In the last 16 years of his life, from the age of 15 to 31, Schubert produced, among other works: nine finished and “unfinished” symphonies; 10 orchestral overtures; 22 piano sonatas; six masses; 17 operas; 637 songs; over 1000 works for solo piano and piano four-hands; around 145 choral works; and 45 chamber works, including 15 string quartets and one string quintet.”

Greenberg added “The tiny (about 5-foot-1), pudgy, bespectacled Schubert was a compulsive composer. He rather innocently described his routine this way: ‘I work every morning. When I have finished one piece I begin another.’

“Schubert was a workaholic, one who combined the amateur’s pure joy of music-making with a professional’s discipline and technical abilities. To paraphrase Sir Charles Barkley, Schubert was ‘a small round mound of profound sound.’ ”

Paul Yarbrough, viola, noted that this first program includes the comparatively obscure String Quartet No. 8, dating from 1814, when Schubert was still in his teens: ”Conventional wisdom has it that these early works are hardly worthy of consideration as Schubert’s compositional skills were still too nascent. So much for conventional wisdom.”

This year is the first time the four members of the Alexander String Quartet have performed the Quartet No. 8, and Yarbrough said “we all found it surprising in many ways, not least in terms of the difficulty of playing this music, which was composed for Schubert’s own family quartet (amateurs) to play. (The music is) enchanting and often profound, not what one expects from a teen.”

Also on the program is the String Quartet No. 13 (“Rosamunde”), which is famous. Sandy Wilson, cello, said, “The ever-popular ‘Rosamunde’ has at various times been a staple in our regular repertoire” — many consider it to be Schubert’s finest piece for two violins, viola and cello.

“But the String Quartet No. 8 from 1814, and the C minor ‘Quartetsätz’ from 1820, are completely new to us all. The delight in discovering and playing (these unfamiliar pieces) is what really bemuses and entertains me personally. It’s hard to play these pieces without smiling, and the potent influence of witty Haydn and ingenious Mozart adds an intoxicating perfume to the process. Add to that Schubert’s own inimitable song-smithing, and the mix is irresistible.”

Both of Sunday’s performances are in the Mondavi Center’s Vanderhoef Studio Theatre. Tickets are $54 general, $27 students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787. Although the 2 p.m. performance is listed as “sold out,” a handful of turned-back tickets usually materialize at the box office and go on sale during the 30 minutes prior to the performance.

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