During the 2012–13 season, pianist Jonathan Biss, in response to the suggestion and encouragement of San Francisco Performances (SFP) President Ruth Felt, presented a four-part concert series entitled Schumann: Under the Influence. While the program was initiated by SFP, it toured both North America and Europe with performances at major venues such as Carnegie Hall and Wigmore Hall. This season Biss will return with another four-part series, this time entitled Late Style. The plan will be to examine the final works of major composers over a broad span of music history with Carlo Gesualdo at one end and György Kurtág at the other. (Kurtág is still alive; but he has specialized in writing “memorial” compositions.)
The first two concerts will be given at the middle of this month. The first of these will consist entirely of music by Ludwig van Beethoven, applying the adjective “last” to three of his genres of composition. This first of these is the last sonata that Beethoven composed for piano and violin (his preferred ordering), Opus 96 in G major. Composed in 1812, this piece is usually classified as part of Beethoven’s “middle period.” This will be followed by the last piano sonata, Opus 111 in C minor. Composed in 1822, this is definitely “late period” music; but Beethoven still had much more to write before his death on March 26, 1827. The program will then conclude with the Opus 135 string quartet in F major, which is generally regarded as the last substantial work that Beethoven completed. It was written in October of 1826, less than half a year before his death. For this program Biss will be joined by the Brentano String Quartet of violinists Mark Steinberg and Serena Canin, violist Misha Amory, and cellist Nina Lee; and Steinberg will join Biss for the performance of the Opus 96 sonata.
The Brentano will also join Biss for the second concert, whose historical scope is far broader. They will perform transcriptions of selected madrigals by Gesualdo. There will also be selections from Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Art of Fugue (BWV 1080), whose completion was interrupted by Bach’s death. Many of these pieces can be played on the piano; but there are some in which the counterpoint is clearer when played by separate instruments, such as those of a string quartet. (Bach did not specify instrumentation for this music.) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart will be represented by his K. 614 string quintet in E-flat major, his last major piece of chamber music, completed on April 12, 1791, the year in which he would die the following December. The second viola part will be taken by Hsin-Yun Huang. The twentieth century will be represented by Edward Elgar’s Opus 84 piano quintet in A minor. Elgar completed this in 1919, and he would not die until February 23, 1934. However, this was his last significant effort in writing chamber music.
Both of these concerts will begin at 7:30 p.m. The first will take place on Saturday, October 15, followed by the second on Wednesday, October 19. Both concerts will be held in Herbst Theatre at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Ticket prices for each concert are $40, $55, and $60. Tickets are available online from City Box Office with separate event pages for the first and second concerts. In addition, because these are the first concerts of the series, there is also an event page for subscribing to all four concerts. Prices for the full series are $140, $200, and $245. Further information may be obtained from SFP by calling 415-392-2545.