For the remainder of this year, the Amaranth Quartet, whose members are violinists Emily Botel and Abigail Shiman, violist Erica Zappia, and cellist Helen Newby, will give a series of concerts under the general title Music of Cultural Coexistence. The ensemble has committed itself to exposing divergent communities to the beauty of chamber music in the hope that the music can contribute to achieving that difficult goal of peaceful coexistence among those divergent communities. That goal resonates with their decision to include the music of Berkeley-based composer Gabriela Lena Frank in their repertoire. They have prepared Frank’s six-movement suite Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout, which Frank explains was inspired by “the idea of mestizaje … where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other.”
They will also perform the music of one of the major victims of such subjugation during the twentieth century. Erwin Schulhoff was a Czechoslovakian composer whose modernist approaches were labelled “degenerate” (entartete) by the Nazis. The Soviet Union had approved Schulhoff’s application for citizenship after the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, but he was arrested before he could leave the country. He died of tuberculosis in the Wülzburg concentration camp. His plight will be represented by a cycle of five short pieces he composed for string quartet that offer a healthy taste of his predilections for modernist expression.
Béla Bartók was more fortunate. Through his interest in ethnomusicology, he could think of himself as a citizen of the world. However, while he had an international reputation, Hungary was his home until the rise of the Nazis. He then moved to the United States, where he spent the rest of his life. Amaranth has prepared his fourth quartet, which he completed in 1929, well in advance of Adolf Hitler’s rise as a public figure. Bartók moved to the United States in 1940; and, while his life there was never easy, he enjoyed the fact that Columbia Records took a great interest in recording both his compositions and his performances.
The Amaranth repertoire also includes Claude Debussy’s only string quartet (Opus 10). While he tended to detach himself from world affairs, it is worth noting that one of his last compositions was a Noël for homeless children, scored for solo voice and piano. The quartet is a much earlier piece; but it was most likely known to both Schulhoff and Bartók, both of whom took a great interest in modernist influences from different European countries.
This repertoire will figure in two of the performances that Amaranth will give in San Francisco over the coming months; the specifics are as follows:
Friday, September 9, 6:30 p.m.: This will be a free concert hosted by the Community Music Center (CMC). The program will consist of Frank’s Leyendas, the five Schulhoff pieces, and the Debussy quartet. The performance will take place in the CMC Concert Hall at 544 Capp Street in the Mission between 20th Street and 21st Street and between Mission Street and South Van Ness Avenue.
Friday, November 4, 8 p.m.: The Amaranth Quartet will be the featured performers in the Old First Concerts recital series. Their program will open with Bartók’s fourth quartet, followed by the compositions by Schulhoff and Frank. The concerts in this series are held at the Old First Church, located at 1751 Sacramento Street, on the northeast corner of Van Ness Avenue. General admission is $20 with a $17 rate for seniors and $5 for full-time students with valid identification. Children aged twelve and under are admitted for free. There is a $2 discount for general admission and seniors tickets when they are purchased online, but the event page for this concert has not yet been posted. Tickets may also be purchased by calling Old First Concerts at 415-474-1608. Those planning to drive may be pleased to know that discounted parking is available at the Old First Parking Garage, just down the street from the church at 1725 Sacramento Street.
The final concert of the year is a joint project with the Pacific Edge Voices choir. The program will consist entirely of choral compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach arranged for mixed choir and string quartet. The San Francisco performance of this program will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 8. The venue will be the Green Room located on the second floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Information about tickets has not yet been announced, but City Box Office usually provides the tickets for Pacific Edge performances.