Elias String Quartet: Folk songs, Beamish and Schumann

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Folk Renaissance III: continuing our look at folk roots in the concert hall

Traditional: Scottish folk songs
Sally Beamish: String Quartet No. 4, “Nine Fragments” (2018) (U.S. Premiere)
Schumann: Quartet in A Minor, Op. 41, No. 1

Elias String Quartet (Sara Bitlloch, violin; Donald Grant, violin; Simone van der Giessen, viola; Marie Bitlloch, cello)

The internationally acclaimed Elias String Quartet captivated Da Camera’s audience with their encore of Scottish folk tunes when they appeared in 2017. Now they return with two distinct programs. Over two nights, the Elias Quartet traces the history of British music from Purcell to Britten to esteemed contemporary composer Sally Beamish. Anchoring their programs are two great masterpieces by Schubert and Schumann. Their Tuesday program is the second concert at the Menil pairing folk songs with a contemporary works.

Sally Beamish on her new quartet:

“This work arose from a commission from the Elias Quartet for a piece that would take as its starting point the first of Schumann’s three quartets, the A Minor. Schumann arranged the first performance of these quartets for his wife Clara’s 23rd birthday, and having a 23-year-old daughter myself, I couldn’t help being moved by the thought of this young couple who had fought to be allowed to marry, and of the great challenges they were to face in their married life. Clara’s distress at Robert’s mental illness, her struggle to support the family, and her grief throughout her widowhood – all these are elements that made their way into my own music. I was interested, too, in the idea that Schumann finished the A Minor Quartet last, and also that, later in life, he was troubled by a persistent high A ringing in his ears.

“My quartet consists of nine very short, fragmentary movements, each tilting a broken mirror towards a particular passage in the Schumann work. The first is a meditation on the strange and haunting chorale near the end of Schumann’s last movement. This is followed by a “musette” commenting on the bagpipe-like passage that precedes the chorale. As succeeding fragments reflect on the Schumann quartet, they work backwards through it, to arrive at a canon in eighth place that refers to the canonic opening of the Schumann. As a coda, the ninth fragment literally reflects the chorale by playing it backwards.”

“There’s something intoxicating about the Elias String Quartet…. Intensely absorbing, exquisitely considered….stunning.”– Philadelphia Inquirer

“Spectacular….a perfectly balanced mix of vitality, depth, formal elegance and that playful, flirtatious wit that makes all of Haydn’s quartets so impossible to resist….A bold, often thrilling performance.” — Washington Post