Borromeo String Quartet

Nicholas Kitchen, violin
Kristopher Tong, violin
Mai Motobuchi, viola
Yeesun Kim, cello

Sunday, August 18, 2013, 4 pm


Fugue in E-flat major, BWV 552/2, “St. Anne” (1732) Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Arranged for string quartet by Nicholas Kitchen

String Quartet No. 8 in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2, “Razumovsky” (1806)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Adagio molto
Finale: Presto


String Quartet No. 13 in G major, Op. 106
Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904)

Allegro moderato
Adagio ma non troppo
Molto vivace
Finale. Andante sostenuto — Allegro con fuoco



next week

Saturday, August 24, 6:30 pm
Zuill Bailey, cello, and Robert Koenig, piano

Music of Eccles, Britten, Tchaikovsky, and Prokofiev

Sunday, August 25, 4 pm
Ensō String Quartet

Music of Mozart, Britten, and Verdi



Program Notes © 2013 by Miriam Villchur Berg*


The visionary performances of the Borromeo String Quartet (Nicholas Kitchen, violin; Kristopher Tong, violin; Mai Motobuchi, viola; and Yeesun Kim, cello) have established it as one of the most important string quartets of our time. The Borromeo is redefining the classical music landscape through the pioneering use of computers that enable each musician to perform entirely from four-part scores instead of individual parts—a revealing and transformative experience that has never before been possible. The group often features onstage projections of handwritten manuscripts—by composers including Beethoven, Schubert, and Bartok—to vividly illustrate the creative process hard at work, a practice that has excited audiences of all ages. Their use of technology when teaching and in virtual distance learning classes is helping to make classical music very relevant to students who are growing up in the digital age.

The ensemble makes its own concert recordings and videos while on tour, and in 2003 started the Living Archive, an on-demand recording project that makes it possible for listeners to experience many of the quartet’s concerts around the world.

The Borromeo has been the quartet-in-residence at the New England Conservatory of Music for more than twenty years, and collaborates extensively with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York and the Library of Congress in Washington. Their long-standing residency at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has been called “one of the defining experiences of civilization in Boston” (Boston Globe). They can be heard throughout the year on National Public Radio, and the group was ensemble-in-residence for NPR’s Performance Today in 1998 and 1999.

They have been heard in most of the great concert halls around the world, including the Suntory Hall, Dai-ichi Seimei Hall, the Concertgebouw, Wigmore Hall, Berlin’s Philharmonie, and the Opéra National de Paris-Bastille. In the United States the group is a favorite at the Library of Congress, Carnegie and Alice Tully halls, Jordan Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Kennedy Center. They have been invited to perform at music festivals around the world including the Spoleto Festival in Italy, the Orlando Festival in the Netherlands, the Stavanger Festival in Norway, Music Isle Festival in Korea, and in North America at the Rockport, La Jolla, Music@Menlo, Ravinia, Mt. Desert, Vancouver, and Tanglewood music festivals, among many others.

The Borromeo has collaborated with a wide range of artists, including Angélique Kidjo and Branford Marsalis; violinist Midori; pianists Christoph Eschenbach, Leon Fleisher, Gary Graffman, Menahem Pressler, and Peter Serkin; sopranos Dawn Upshaw and Audra McDonald; clarinetists Richard Stoltzman and David Shifrin; and cellist Bernard Greenhouse, as well as members of the Brentano, Guarneri, Juilliard, and Cleveland string quartets.

The Borromeo Quartet has received many awards throughout the group’s illustrious twenty-four-year career, including Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Career Grant, the Martin E. Segal Award, Chamber Music America’s Cleveland Quartet Award, the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, and top prize at the International String Quartet Competition in Evian, France.





In 1723, Johann Sebastian Bach left the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen to become the director of music at St. Thomas church in Leipzig, where he remained for the rest of his life. Since Prince Leopold was a Calvinist, the church music Bach had been writing had to adhere to strict rules of simplicity, including a prohibition on singing in church. In Leipzig, Bach was finally free to compose for voices. The St. John Passion, the St. Matthew Passion, the Magnificat, and the Christmas Oratorio come from this period. He did not neglect instrumental music, however, producing the Italian Concerto, the Goldberg Variations, The Well-Tempered Clavier, and The Art of the Fugue.

Throughout his career, and for almost a century after his death, Bach was famous as a great organist and improviser, not as a composer. He wrote the Clavier-Übung III (Keyboard Practice III) as a compendium of organ music in various styles, to be used by organists during the Mass. This extensive work ends with the Fugue in E-flat major, BWV 552/2, often referred to as the “St. Anne” fugue because of one theme’s resemblance to the first line of Isaac Watts’s hymn tune “St. Anne,” or “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” The resemblance is coincidental, since it is highly unlikely that Bach would have been familiar with that Anglican hymn.

The fugue is full of numerological significance, specifically use of the magical number three (the trinity). The three sections have thirty-six, forty-five, and thirty-six measures—all numbers divisible by three times three. All of the time signatures are divisible by three. These numerological correspondences run throughout the work, and were part of Bach’s devotional artistry. Today’s performance is an arrangement for string quartet by Nicholas Kitchen.

Beethoven’s three string quartets Op. 59 were commissioned by and dedicated to Count Andrey Kirillovich Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador to Vienna and one of Beethoven’s principal supporters. Beethoven had decided to accept and to defy his increasing deafness. His music was becoming highly individualistic and innovative, and he was developing his unique way of establishing a motive—a short musical phrase—and then developing large segments of a composition out of that motive. Beethoven’s motives were not just melodic, they also established distinct rhythmic patterns.

The String Quartet Op. 59, No. 2, in E Minor starts with two intense chords and a long, tense measure of rest. Beethoven is presenting the silences between the notes as integral parts of the whole. The movement (Allegro) is filled with rhythmic interest—dotted rhythms, syncopations, and dramatic pauses—in between long runs and melodic passages. Its 3/4 time signature gives it a dancing feeling, creating a contrast with the intensity of the musical gestures.

The second movement (Molto adagio) provides a dreamy respite. The composer Carl Czerny, a friend and pupil of Beethoven, wrote, “The Adagio, E major, in the second Razumovsky Quartet, occurred to him when contemplating the starry sky and thinking of the music of the spheres.” The first violin and cello are given especially lyrical lines. Chords of momentary angst interrupt, but the serene calm returns, and the final descending run is passed down from the violin to each instrument in turn.

The Allegretto is in the form of a scherzo, with the extra repeats of which Beethoven was becoming so fond. Here dotted rhythms and sustained syncopation predominate. In the trio section, marked Maggiore because it changes from E minor to E major, Beethoven introduces a Russian folk hymn called “Slava.” Some sources aver that Count Razumovsky asked Beethoven to use Russian tunes; this is unconfirmed, but the tune is clearly marked “Thème Russe” in the manuscript. Modest Mussorgsky used this same theme in his opera Boris Godunov.

The finale (Presto) continues the relentless dotted rhythms. The three lower instruments set up a galloping accompaniment while the first violin sings a tripping tune above them. Once again the motive is rhythmic as well as melodic. Near the end of the movement, Beethoven gives symmetry to the overall composition by inserting full measures of rest like the dramatic pauses at the opening of the first movement. The end is marked più presto (more quickly), and the galloping becomes a race to the finish.

In 1895, Antonín Dvořák returned from his successful sojourn in the United States, during which he wrote a quartet and a quintet for strings as well as his Ninth Symphony, From the New World. He composed two more string quartets on his return home, after which he concentrated on tone poems on Czech subjects for the rest of his life. The String Quartet No. 13 in G Major, Op. 106, was his penultimate chamber work.

The opening Allegro moderato presents a simple short, fragmentary motif—an upward leap (a major sixth) followed by a cheerful cascade of notes. The development takes it into various tonal territories, including minor keys, and turns a small gesture into a substantial theme. When Dvořák taught composition at the Prague Conservatory, he wrote that he saw composition as the ability “to make a great deal—a very great deal—out of nothing much.”
A second theme is playful, with a prancing triplet accompaniment, and its development becomes the basis of the final cadence.

Although Dvořák had greatly enjoyed the new experiences and the adulation he had received in America, he was also extremely homesick. After returning to his beloved Bohemia, he wrote of his great joy at being home, and of the ease of working on the G-major quartet. The slow movement (Adagio ma non troppo) alternates major and minor treatments of the theme, demonstrating the way contrasting emotions can coexist. Rich chords beneath a simple but mellifluous aria express deep contentment. When the melody moves into minor, the accompaniment takes on a poignant urgency.

The scherzo (Molto vivace) uses the cross-rhythms of the Czech folk dance known as the skočná. Instead of the usual ABA structure, this movement has two trios arranged in mirror fashion, making the outline ABACABA. Moods range from lively to lyrical, and keys travel as widely—from B minor to A-flat major to D major and back to B minor.

In the finale, a brief slow introduction (Andante sostenuto) leads into a fiery presentation of the theme (Allegro con fuoco). As with the scherzo, internal symmetry balances the movement, with recurring episodes as well as recurring rondo themes. To enhance the cyclic organization even further, the prancing theme and the upward leap from the first movement make brief appearances.

All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg. It is permissible to quote short excerpts for reviews. For permission to quote more extensive portions, or to copy,  publish, or make other use of these program notes, please contact her at