San Francisco Performances (SFP) has a tradition of devoting a special concert every season to the winner of the international competition for soloists and chamber ensembles sponsored by the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation. This program is offered free of charge to SFP subscribers and donors, with any remaining tickets sold to the general public, all at the same price. This season the concert is of particular interest because the 2016 winner is the Telegraph Quartet, based here in the Bay Area. The quartet, whose members are violinists Eric Chin and Joseph Maile, violist Pei-Ling Lin, and cellist Jeremiah Shaw, was formed in 2013; and the following year the group took home the Grand Prize in the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. This season Telegraph gave its first post-Naumburg San Francisco recital a little over a month ago in the Old First Concerts series at Old First Church.
The program prepared for Old First will serve as a point of departure for next month’s SFP concert. Once again the program will conclude with Franz Schubert’s D. 810 quartet in D minor, known as “Death and the Maiden” for its variations on the D. 521 song of the same name. While the song had been composed in 1817, the quartet was written in 1824, when Schubert realized that the illness that he had contracted would eventually lead to his death. (“Eventually” turned out to be late in 1828; but, as this site has previously observed, as Schubert got closer to that year, not only his productivity but also his capacity for highly original innovation, just kept accelerating.)
The Schubert quartet will be paralleled by a two-movement quartet written in Vienna (like D. 810) almost a century later. The only piece that Alban Berg called a string quartet (his Opus 3) was composed in 1910 while he was still a student of Arnold Schoenberg. (His only other work for string quartet was his “Lyric Suite,” composed between 1925 and 1926, which has a particularly elaborate architecture across its six movements that makes the piece as a whole a far cry from the conventional “suite” of isolated movements.) The pairing of Berg with Schubert is particularly effective for the ways in which Berg’s rhetoric of darkness complements Schubert’s.
Berg’s quartet will be preceded by one of the pioneering compositions by a fellow student of Schoenberg, Anton Webern. The five short pieces for string quartet were composed in 1909, after Webern had completed his studies with Schoenberg; and Webern would publish them as his Opus 5. Each of these pieces stands as an excellent example of Webern’s microscopic sense of technique, through which he could endow even the shortest instant with intensely expressive rhetoric.
This elaborate balance of music from the Vienna of the twentieth and nineteenth centuries will take place on Tuesday, January 31, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, located on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue. All tickets for the general public are being sold for $40. Tickets may be purchased online in advance through a City Box Office event page. Additional information may be obtained by calling SFP at 415-392-2545.