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Winter Warmer I:
Bartók and Beethoven

Thursday, March 7, 2024  |  7:00 PM

Hannaford Hall, USM  |  Portland

Our musical adventure opens with two masterworks brimming with kaleidoscopic colors, rollicking rhythms, and harmonic daring. Bartok’s String Quartet No. 5 is an avant-garde marvel blending folk motifs with modernist sophistication, written in just one month with the composer at the peak of his creative powers. The first of Beethoven’s six legendary "late quartets," which comprise his final and perhaps greatest musical achievement, Op. 127 is a profoundly emotional sonic exploration. Astonishing, innovative, and filled with magical moments, this landmark work blends sublime beauty with superhuman virtuosity.

Béla Bartók String Quartet No. 5 (1934)
Ludwig van Beethoven String Quartet No. 12 in E-flat Major, Op. 127 (1825)

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program notes

Doors open at 6:30 PM. Program run time is approximately 90 minutes including a brief intermission. Immediately following the concert there will be a Q&A with the artists.

Did you know? Bartók’s String Quartet No. 5 was commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, one of America’s greatest patrons of chamber music. She also commissioned the original chamber versions of Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Stravinsky’s Apollo ballets, and modern works by American composers as diverse as Samuel Barber, Milton Babbitt, George Crumb and John Corigliano.

Meet The Borromeo Quartet

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Nicholas Kitchen


Kristopher Tong

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Melissa Reardon

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Yeesun Kim

Each visionary performance of the award-winning Borromeo String Quartet strengthens and deepens its reputation as one of the most important ensembles of our time. Admired and sought after for both its fresh interpretations of the classical music canon and its championing of works by 20th and 21st century composers, the ensemble has been hailed for its “edge-of-the- seat performances,” by the Boston Globe, which called it “simply the best.”

Inspiring audiences for more than 25 years, the Borromeo continues to be a pioneer in its use of technology, and has the trailblazing distinction of being the first string quartet to utilize laptop computers on the concert stage. Reading music this way helps push artistic boundaries, allowing the artists to perform solely from 4-part scores and composers’ manuscripts, a revealing and metamorphic experience which these dedicated musicians now teach to students around the world. As the New York Times noted, “The digital tide washing over society is lapping at the shores of classical music. The Borromeo players have embraced it in their daily musical lives like no other major chamber music group.” Moreover, the Quartet often leads discussions enhanced by projections of handwritten manuscripts, investigating with the audience the creative process of the composer. And in 2003 the Borromeo became the first classical ensemble to make its own live concert recordings and videos, distributing them for many years to audiences through its Living Archive, a music learning web portal for which a new version will soon be released.

Passionate educators, the Borromeos encourage audiences of all ages to explore and listen to both traditional and contemporary repertoire in new ways. The ensemble uses multi-media tools such as video projection to share the often surprising creative process behind some works, or to show graphically the elaborate architecture behind others. This produces delightfully refreshing viewpoints and has been a springboard for its acclaimed young people’s programs. One such program is MATHEMUSICA which delves into the numerical relationships that under-pin the sounds of music and show how musical syntax mirrors natural forms. CLASSIC VIDEO uses one movement of a quartet as the platform from which to teach computer drawing, video editing, animation, musical form and production processes to create a meaningful joining of music and visual art.

The BSQ has been ensemble-in-residence at the New England Conservatory and Taos School of Music, both for 25 years, and has, for over two decades, enjoyed a long-term relationship with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum where it continues to regularly appear. It is quartet-in-residence at the Heifetz International Music Institute, where first violinist Nicholas Kitchen is Artistic Director. The quartet was also in residence at, and has worked extensively as performers and educators with the Library of Congress (highlighting both its manuscripts and instrument collections) and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. The ensemble joined the Emerson Quartet as the Hittman Ensembles in Residence at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, and was recently was in residence at Kansas University, the San Francisco Conservatory, and Colorado State University, where it regularly appears.

The BSQ’s presentation of the cycle of Bartók String Quartets as well as its lecture “BARTÓK: PATHS NOT TAKEN,” both of which give audiences a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear a set of rediscovered alternate movements Béla Bartók drafted for his six Quartets, has received accolades. Describing a Bartók concert at the Curtis Institute, the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that the quartet “performed at a high standard that brought you so deeply into the music's inner workings that you wondered if your brain could take it all in ... The music's mystery, violence, and sorrow become absolutely inescapable.”

Also noteworthy in the BSQ repertory are its dramatic discoveries within the manuscripts of the Beethoven Quartets, and its performances of the COMPLETE CYCLE; the BEETHOVEN DECATHLON (four concerts of Beethoven’s last ten quartets, all with pre-concert lectures exploring his manuscripts); and single BEETHOVEN TRYPTICH concerts (one concert including three quartets). Its expansive repertoire also includes the Shostakovich Cycle and those of Mendelssohn, Dvořák, Brahms, Schumann, Schoenberg, Janáček, Lera Auerbach, Tchaikovsky, and Gunther Schuller.


The Quartet has collaborated with some of this generation’s most important composers, including Gunther Schuller, John Cage, György Ligeti, Steve Reich, Aaron Jay Kernis, Osvaldo Golijov, Jennifer Higdon, Steve Mackey, John Harbison, Sebastian Currier, and Leon Kirchner, among many others; and has performed on major concert stages across the globe, including appearances at Carnegie Hall, the Berlin Philharmonie, Wigmore Hall, Suntory Hall (Tokyo), the Concertgebouw, Seoul Arts Center, Shanghai Oriental Arts Center, the Incontri in Terra di Siena Chamber Music Festival in Tuscany, Kammermusik Basel (Switzerland), the Prague Spring Festival, and the Haydn Festival in Eisenstadt.


The group recently premiered new works written for it by Sebastian Currier and Aaron Jay Kernis at recitals at Carnegie Hall, Shriver Concerts, and the Tippet Rise Art Center. The ensemble continues to perform violinist Nicholas Kitchen's transcriptions of Bach’s Goldberg Variations and the Well-Tempered Clavier Bk. I, the latter of which the BSQ recently released an acclaimed premiere recording which hit the billboard charts.

“Nothing less than masterful” (, the Borromeo Quartet has received numerous awards throughout its illustrious career, including Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Career Grant and Martin E. Segal Award, and Chamber Music America’s Cleveland Quartet Award. It was also a recipient of the Young Concert Artists International Auditions and a prize-winner at the International String Quartet Competition in Evian, France.

Meet The Composers

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Béla Bartók

Béla Bartók was a Hungarian composer, pianist, and ethnomusicologist. Through his collection and analytical study of folk music, he was one of the founders of comparative musicology, which later became ethnomusicology.

Bartók's fifth string quartet represents a mellowing of the composer's quartet idiom; the sounds are less dissonant and less harsh than in his previous quartets. As he often did, Bartók uses an "arch" form, with a central scherzo sandwiched between two slow movements, which are in turn bookended by energetic fast movements. In the opening movement, with its banging rhythmic motifs and sinewy melodic phrases, this mirror idea is carried out on a smaller level, with the melodic material at the end of the movement consisting in large part of earlier themes in mirror image (i.e. played backwards or upside down).

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Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist, and remains one of the most admired composers in the history of Western music. His works rank among the most performed of the classical music repertoire and span the transition from the Classical period to the Romantic era in classical music. His career has conventionally been divided into early, middle, and late periods.

String Quartet No. 12, Op. 127 is the first of Beethoven's late quartets, and was commissioned by the wealthy Russian prince Nicolas Galitzin, an enthusiast of Beethoven's music. A cellist himself, Galitzin strove to play Beethoven's music, waiting impatiently for him to compose at whatever price he saw fit. Galitzin's commission brought Beethoven back to composing in the string quartet genre after a 10-year absence, and suspended his financial woes with a commission fee of 50 ducats for three quartets: Op. 127, 132, and 130.

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