Calling it an evening of firsts, the Abramyan String Quartet (consisting of Utah Symphony members Gerald Elias and Lynnette Stewart, violins; Scott Lewis, viola; and John Eckstein, cello) closes out the season tonight with a program of three works, all first endeavors.
"Our theme is first string quartets," Elias told the Deseret News.
Tonight's concert, which takes place at 7:30 in Libby Gardner Hall on the University of Utah campus, features Mendelssohn's String Quartet, op. 12, Tchaikovsky's String Quartet, op. 11, and a new work by local composer Jeff Manookian, written for the Abramyan Quartet, "Dances of St. Gregory."
"Jeff's work is dedicated to the Abramyan," said Elias, "and to Ashot." (Abramyan was a member of the Utah Symphony violin section until his death in 1992 and is the quartet's namesake.)
"Ashot was Armenian, as Jeff is, of course, and the musical language (of 'Dances') is the folk and church music of Armenia. It's almost like a modern day 'Polovtsian Dance Suite.' "
The Mendelssohn quartet, according to Elias, was written in 1823, when the composer was still in his teens, "but it's extremely well-written. This was no amateur composer but a composer who already had complete command of what he was doing. There is nothing weak about it."
Beethoven's string quartets were Mendelssohn's models, and Elias explained that, already as a teenager, Mendelssohn's music contained much that was innovative in regard to form and structure. "In his music, you don't see him developing as a composer, like you do with Mozart. With Mendelssohn, it was there from the start.
"I can just see him showing his mother something he had just written, and telling her, 'Look, Mommy, what I did today.' And his mother, saying, 'That's nice, Felix. Go show it to Daddy, then go out and play.' "
It was totally different with Tchaikovsky. The Russian composer developed his compositional skills gradually, but his knack for writing beautiful melodies was already evident in his earliest pieces.
"Tchaikovsky, like Dvorak, matured slowly," Elias explained, "but as they matured, they just got better and better. It showed the hard work and dedication they put into their music."
According to Elias, Tchaikovsky was in his 30s when he wrote his first string quartet; however, it's not as innovative as Mendelssohn's youthful work.
"But it's melodic. It's almost like one of his ballet scores. This quartet also has the famous 'Andante cantabile,' which is one of Tchaikovsky's most heartfelt pieces, and one of the more Russian choral sounding things he wrote."
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