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Dance Lessons for String Quartet

Alexander String Quartet to give the world premiere performance (Thursday, October 23, 2014) of Dance Lessongs for String Quartet by Victor E. Marquez-Barrios:


Dance Lessons is a series of short pieces attempting to replicate voluntarily and with sound, the kind of involuntary beat displacement evident in an untalented dancer’s movements. The pieces draw inspiration from personal foibles, as well as literary quotes referencing dance-related situations:

  1. The Upside-down Triangle: Based on a dance from my home state of Zulia, in Venezuela, this piece is inspired by an anecdote involving a stubborn father (mine), defending an imaginary triangle-shaped map in his head over the actual map held by his daughter (my sister), while totally lost driving during a family vacation.
  2. The Broken Pianola: “José Arcadio Buendía stopped his pursuit of the image of God, convinced of His nonexistence, and he took the pianola apart in order to decipher its magical secret. Two days before the party, swamped in a shower of leftover keys and hammers, bungling in the midst of a mix up of strings that would unroll in one direction and roll up again in the other, he succeeded in a fashion in putting the instrument back together. . . Those who were familiar with the piano, popular in other towns in the swamp, felt a little disheartened, but more bitter was Úrsula’s disappointment when she put in the first roll so that Amaranta and Rebeca could begin the dancing and the mechanism did not work… Finally, José Arcadio managed, by mistake, to move a device that was stuck and the music came out, first in a burst and then in a flow of mixed-up notes. Beating against the strings that had been put in without order or concert and had been tuned with temerity, the hammers let go. But the stubborn descendants of the twenty-one intrepid people who plowed through the mountains in search of the sea to the west avoided the reefs of the melodic mix-up and the dancing went on until dawn.” From One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
  3. Henry Could Fiddle: “As an amateur fiddler, [Henry] Ford had a special passion for the violin and – as one of the wealthiest men in the world – could indulge this passion by buying the finest violins… By January 1926, Ford had purchased a total of seven exquisite Italian-made violins, crafted by Cremona’s master violinmakers during the 17th and 18th centuries… Ford often played his classical violins for his own enjoyment, usually scratching out tunes like Turkey in the Straw.” Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life, The Henry Ford Museum.

—Victor E. Marquez Barrios

MusicWeb International on Gershwin & Kern

Alexander String Gershwin & Kern Cover ArtA new Brian Reinhart review for our Gershwin & Kern recording is now on MusicWeb International:

“Sometimes you need a little indulgence. Do as I did and pair [the Kern songs] with French chocolate. Or you could be more ambitious and put it on in the background at your next soirée, along with some candles, merlot and prosciutto-wrapped figs…I was surprised by how much I enjoyed [the Porgy and Bess arrangements]…[Carl Davis's] contributions are witty off-the-wall intros and outros to well-arranged Gershwin tunes. Joan Eric Lluna’s clarinet dances nimbly around the Alexander String Quartet, even brashly. It’s scored like a mini-clarinet concerto. Best is saved for last: Gershwin’s Lullaby, an authentic string quartet original that really sounds like it.” —Brian Reinhart, MusicWeb International

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KALW Interviews Robert Greenberg

Alexander String Quartet and Robert GreenbergYesterday, we told you about KALW’s upcoming broadcast of our San Francisco Performances, “Explorations in Music: Mozart in Vienna” series, and today we get to share an interview KALW did with Robert Greenberg about the Mozart in Vienna Series:

Mozart is often thought of as a “nice” composer, maybe even boring to the uninitiated. Do you hope to change that impression with the current season of lectures?

RG: Anyone who thinks that Mozart’s music is “boring” has to stop eating raw liver and cut back on their meth. The man was just about the most talented member of our species born within the last 300 years, and his music is filled with joy and pathos, exquisite lyricism and expressive power. The key, always, is to hear Mozart’s music within the context of his own time, and not filtered through the brain-addling, heart-stopping music composed since his death in 1791. Of one thing we can all be assured: Mozart’s contemporaries, who recognized his genius, found his music neither “nice” nor “boring.” Rather, in his own time, Mozart’s music was considered extravagantly complicated and expressively over-the-top.

Did Salieri really send a messenger to Mozart to mess with him like in the movie “Amadeus”?

RG: Read my lips: Salieri had nothing — NIENTE — to do with Mozart’s death. Neither did Salieri have anything to do with the commission for the Requiem Mozart left unfinished at his death. The commissioner was a wealthy musical amateur named Franz von Walsegg whose MO was to commission works from professional composers and then pass them off as his own. “That movie” — Amadeus — is great entertainment but terrible history.

Is there any composer alive today who you might consider to be as talented as Mozart, and why don’t you do a series about him/her?

RG: Is there any living composer as talented as Mozart? Unlikely (that was a guarded way of saying HELL NO). And even if there were, that person will have to be dead and buried before a proper appraisal of his/her life and work can be made.

Robert GreenbergOne of the delightful aspects of your presentations is your use of humor and colloquialisms to engage the audience. It certainly makes them pay attention…

RG: There are sins and then there are SINS, and among the latter is rendering things that should be thrilling and life enhancing – things like music, food, and sex – boring. Music – like eating and that other thing – is a full-contact, full body-and-brain experience. To describe what is going on in a piece of music and its impact on the listener I require a complete verbal arsenal. Humor and colloquialisms are a big part of that arsenal. Audiences tend to over-pedestalize the dead, male, Euro-composers our programs focus on, which does the additional disservice of putting their music at arms reach. Among my jobs is to render these composers human and their music accessible. Humor and colloquial language go a long way towards doing just that. And no one can ever accuse me of being boring.

Our radio presentations are recorded from live performances in San Francisco and Berkeley under the auspices of San Francisco Performances. Among others, you’ve “explored” quartets of Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Kodaly, Bartok, and Schubert. Have you and the ASQ taken the shows “on the road” or are there plans to do so?

RG: We have taken our show on the road. We do an annual series at the Mondavi Center at UC Davis, and over the years we’ve appeared together at Merkin Hall in New York City; the Library of Congress in D.C.; and at the Center for the Performing Arts in Scottsdale, Arizona. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we’d love to do lots more
such performances, and if anyone out there reading this knows of a venue with scads of money to spend and a hunger for great programming, well then, send ’em my way.

It is very likely that our 2015-16 season will have a Beethoven focus. Each concert would feature a Beethoven quartet on the first half, and then a quartet by another composer that was inspired by the Beethoven or is, in some way, related to the Beethoven. We would, in the fairly near future, also love to build a program around the quartets of the so-called “Second Viennese School”: Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. These guys wrote GREAT music, music that is not nearly as daunting as audiences generally believe it to be. It would be a real privilege to present their music to our audience.

KALW Features Explorations in Music!

KALW will be broadcasting our San Francisco Performances series, “Explorations in Music: Mozart In Vienna” this October and November on Mondays at 9pm! Have a look at their schedule below:

10/6 String Quartet in G, K. 387 (1782)
10/13 String Quartet in D min, K. 421 (1783)
10/20 String Quartet in Eb, K. 428 (1783)
10/27 String Quartet in Bb, K. 458 (1784)
11/3 String Quartet in A Maj., K. 464 (1785)
11/10 String Quartet in C, K. 465 (1785) “Dissonant”
11/17 Piano Quartet in G minor, K. 478 (1785), with guest Sarah Cahill
11/24 Piano Quartet in Eb Maj., K. 493 (1786), with guest Sarah Cahill

Beethoven Große Fugue, Op. 133 Animated Score

Another fantastic Stepehn Malinowsky Music Animation Machine video for our Beethoven Große Fuge, Op. 133!


Alexander String Quartet Joins Music Animation Machine at Alte Oper Frankfurt

Music Animation Machine at Alte Oper FrankfurtStephen Malinowski’s Music Animation Machine presented a live video accompaniment and demonstration at Alte Oper Frankfurt this past weekend (Event information here), and featured our recording of Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 131 in the lobby as a demonstration (see photo)! Watch the video here:

Morrison Chamber Music Concert on Spotify

Stream tracks from this Sunday’s Morrison Chamber Music Center concert via Spotify:


September 28, 2014
3:00 pm
Morrison Artists Series
San Francisco State University
McKenna Theatre
San Francisco, California

Tel: (415) 338-2467

Mozart Adagio & Fugue in C Minor, KV 546
Kodály Quartet No. 2, Op. 10
Beethoven Grosse Fuge, Op. 133

Shostakovich Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 68


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