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Release: Oct. 22, 1999

Resident string quartet at UI School of Music will open its 1999-2000 concert series Nov. 7

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Maia String Quartet, the resident quartet at the University of Iowa School of Music, will present the first of three concerts scheduled on the UI campus during the 1999-2000 academic year at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 7, in Clapp Recital Hall.

Additional concerts in the season series will be at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 11 and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 9. All performances will be in Clapp Recital Hall, and will be free and open to the public.

The members of the Maia String Quartet -- Amy Kuhlmann Appold and Timothy Shiu, violins; Elizabeth Oakes, viola; and Amos Yang, cello -- are visiting assistant professors at the UI School of Music. This is their second year as UI quartet in residence, but the first year that they will be on campus full time. Last year, during their first season as the UI’s resident string quartet, they also served as quartet-in-residence with the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra of Lafayette, La., visiting the UI campus three times during the year for concerts, workshops and outreach programs.

Founded in1990, the Maia Quartet has established itself nationally with performances in major concert halls including Alice Tully Hall in New York, the Kennedy Center Terrace Theatre in Washington, D.C., and Harris Hall at the Aspen Music Festival. In April they gave a concert at the German Embassy in Washington, in honor of the Czech Republic’s entry into NATO. In recent years they have collaborated with other leading chamber musicians around the world, and they have had summer teaching engagements at the Interlochen Arts Academy, the Austin Chamber Music Festival, the South Carolina Governors School for the Arts and the Cedar Rapids Symphony School.

For the Nov. 7 concert, the Maia Quartet will combine works from the standard string quartet repertoire -- the String Quartet in B-flat major, op. 71 no. 1, by Joseph Haydn and the Quartet in B-flat major, op. 130, of Beethoven -- with a prize-winning String Quartet written in 1974 by music faculty member Michael Eckert.

Eckert wrote his String Quartet as his thesis composition for a master’s degree from the University of Chicago, where he was studying with the distinguished composer Ralph Shapey. In 1975 the quartet won the Joseph Bearns prize from Columbia University, and it was subsequently published by Columbia University Music Press.

Eckert has written the following description of his score: "String Quartet lasts about 10 minutes. The six-note idea stated initially by the first violin is the basis for four contrasting episodes. The last and most agitated of these breaks off at a high point into a lyrical duo between the viola and cello, followed by a series of canons in which the four instruments imitate each other, sometimes in contrary motion or with altered note values."

Haydn wrote six string quartets, published as op. 71 and op. 74, between his two concert tours to London in 1791-92 and 1794-95. The high points of Haydn’s international fame, these trips also exposed the composer to a new approach to chamber music. In London, he learned, chamber music performances were often given in large concert halls -- in contrast to the intimate parlor settings he was accustomed to. With this in mind, he wrote the quartets of op. 71 and 74 to be played before a large audience. Consequently, they are more like his symphonies than his earlier quartets, using broader thematic statements and more overt gestures. For example, the Quartet in B-flat major -- the first of the series -- opens with five declamatory chords designed to announce the beginning of the performance and call a noisy and disorderly audience to attention.

At the end of his life, Beethoven wrote a series of string quartets that are regarded as one of the greatest sets of creative work in European history. They were highly original, complex, deeply personal and expressive, and they have been a great source of inspiration for composers, string players and audience members alike.

Of the five late quartets, the Quartet in B-flat has the most complicated history. It consists of seven movements that span a wide range of emotional expression, reaching an expressive peak in the sixth movement, a Cavatina (little song) that Beethoven once described as "the crowning achievement of his quartet writing." After such a sublime movement, Beethoven had difficulty writing a satisfactory finale. His first solution was an enormous fugue, nearly as long as the rest of the quartet, but it proved baffling to the quartet’s first audiences. Beethoven then separated that movement, known as the "Grosse Fuge" (Large fugue) and wrote a much shorter, and more light-hearted, finale that proved to be his last composition.

The Maia Quartet was founded in 1990, when the four members were students at the Cleveland Institute of Music. The members were subsequently awarded fellowships at the Peabody Conservatory and the Juilliard School. They have also been awarded summer fellowships to the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival and the Aspen Center for Advanced Quartet Studies, where they worked with the Emerson, Tokyo, Cleveland and American string quartets. At Juilliard they worked closely with the Juilliard Quartet and served as their teaching assistants.

The quartet has gained wide recognition for its educational outreach activities. It has participated in a three-year project in partnership with the Aspen Music Festival under a grant from the Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Foundation aimed at building adult audiences. The members of the quartet have shared their love of music with children under the auspices of Young Audiences, Inc., and the Midori Foundation, and they have given performances for families with children at Lincoln Center and the U.N. School in New York. Prior to coming to Iowa, they also taught on the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory.

Eckert joined the music theory/composition faculty of the UI School of Music in 1985. Before coming to the UI he taught at Colorado State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Tulane University and Antioch. He holds a master’s degree in music history and theory and a doctorate in composition from the University of Chicago, where he studied with the distinguished composer Ralph Shapey.

As a composer Eckert has received a Charles E. Ives Scholarship from the National Institute of Arts and Letters and an NEA fellowship, and he was the Music Teachers National Association Distinguished Composer of the Year in 1983. In 1986 he received a Fulbright Junior Fellowship to Italy and a National Endowment for the Humanities travel grant for research on the music of Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola.

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