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Release: Jan. 28, 2000

Maia Quartet to play works by Dvorak, Britten, Schumann Feb. 11

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Maia String Quartet from the University of Iowa School of Music will play works by Antonin Dvorak, Benjamin Britten and Robert Schumann in a free concert at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 11 in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

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. The Feb. 11 concert is the second in a series of three concerts they will present on campus during the current academic year. The final concert of the series will be at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 9 in Clapp Recital Hall.

Members of the quartet will also present solo recitals in Clapp Hall during the current semester: Yang at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 20, and Appold with pianist Ksenia Nosikova at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 26.

Although Dvorak, Britten and Schumann are among the most esteemed and well known classical composers, the three works selected by the Maia Quartet for the Feb. 11 program are among the less familiar works of the quartet repertoire. They will play selections from Dvorak's "Cypresses," Britten's String Quartet No. 2 in C major, and Schumann's String Quartet in A major, op. 41 no. 3.

Less familiar than Dvorak's numbered string quartets, the cycle "Cypresses" was based on a group of songs the composer wrote to console himself in 1865 when, as a young musician, he was rejected in love by one of his piano students. The 18 songs were never published as a group, although many of them did show up in later song collections.

In 1887, however, Dvorak arranged 12 of the songs for string quartet. The change of medium from voice to string quartet is quite unusual, and the "Cypresses" cycle was not published until 1921. Today it is regarded as one of Dvorak's most characteristic and successful works.

The Maia Quartet will play five of the 12 pieces in the original string quartet cycle. These pieces still carry the original song titles: "I know that on my love to Thee," "Death reigns in many a human breast," "The old letter in my book," "Thou only dear one, but for Thee," and "Never will love lead us to that glad goal."

Britten is best known for his operas and other vocal works in which he displayed a remarkable ability to set English texts with clarity, rhythmic subtlety and expressivity. However, he also wrote a number of successful instrumental compositions, in addition to the instrumental portions of his operatic and choral works. These include the ever popular "Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra," symphonies, concertos for piano, violin and cello, and four string quartets.

Since the first of the string quartets was not numbered, the Second Quartet is in fact the third in order of composition. It was written in 1945 at an important juncture in Britten's life. His
large-scale opera "Peter Grimes" had been premiered in London on June 7, providing Britten with his first great success, and the composer was about to embark on an ambitious project, writing and producing chamber operas to be toured throughout England. From this time on, opera and other vocal works were to be the primary focus of his career.

Before that happened, however, Britten completed his Second String Quartet. In a tribute to the 17th-century English composer Henry Purcell, the quartet culminates in a "Chacony" -- a final movement that is made up of variations on a repeating bass theme. This compositional form, common in Purcell's time, is used by Britten to create a tour-de-force of variation technique.

After intermission, the second half of the program will be devoted to a single Romantic work, the String Quartet in A major, op. 41 no. 3, of Robert Schumann. The product of a period when Schumann concentrated on chamber music, the set of three quartets Op. 41 was composed in 1842. In the same years, Schumann also composed a piano quartet, a piano quintet and a work for piano trio.

The quartets were written in a few weeks' time over the summer. The A Major Quartet is dominated by dreamy and tender moods, although sudden changes of style reveal the more turbulent side of the composer's personality.

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 1999 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. Prior to coming to Iowa, they also taught on the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory.

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.

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