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A Mostly Family Affair

The Munich-based Henschel String Quartet wraps up the Slee Beethoven Cycle

The 55th annual Slee Beethoven Quartet Cycle concludes this Friday evening, April 1, at 7:30pm, in Lippes Concert Hall, in Slee Hall, on the UB Amherst campus with a performance by the Henschel Quartet.

One of the most difficult things to do for a musical series that has lasted for any length of time is to reinvent itself as the years roll on. The challenge is even greater for a series that has lasted the half-century-plus life that the annual Slee Beethoven String Quartet Cycle has enjoyed. Of course, one of the reasons that the Slee Cycle series has been so successfully received by its audiences for so long is that Beethoven’s string quartets are at the very pinnacle of any music ever composed and so can be successfully interpreted in many different ways.

During the previous 2009-2010 academic year, the Slee Cycle featured six of the very best young American string quartets. That memorable cycle enjoyed the added prestige of having those same six string quartets perform their programs as a part of the Lincoln Center chamber music series in New York City. They also performed the quartets at Lincoln Center in the identical order specified in the 1955 bequest of Frederick and Alice Slee, as a mark of respect to our long-standing series. That very generous bequest by the Slees of over $755,000, equivalent to more than $6 million currently, is the reason that several generations of Buffalo music lovers have enjoyed the opportunity to hear every Beethoven string quartet performed annually.

Meeting the high standard of last season’s Slee Cycle was a challenge that the series organizers faced head-on when they selected six internationally based string quartets to perform this year. The Vancouver-based Borealis Quartet opened the series last September, followed by the Czech Talich Quartet, a Buffalo audience favorite due to its appearances on the Buffalo Chamber Society Mary Seaton Hall series in October. The month of March provided a bonanza with the memorable first ever Buffalo appearances of the Paris-based Ysaÿe Quartet and the German Leipzig Quartet, while the Berlin-based Vogler Quartet, the only quartet in this season’s series to perform previously at UB, demonstrated why they were engaged for an encore performance. In a break with the tradition of the series, not only did the Vogler Quartet perform a “prelude” to their Beethoven performance—the initial contrapunctus from Bach’s Art of the Fugue—they also performed two rare encores: an excitingly rhythmic scherzo, from a string quartet by concentration camp victim Erwin Schulhoff, as well as a lyrical piece by Dvorak.

Violinists Christoph and Markus Henschel, who are twins, and their older sister, violist Monika Henschel-Schwind, grew up in a village near Stuttgart and as children played in a quartet with a cellist who is now a member of the Bamberg Symphony. The siblings never thought of forming a professional string quartet, until they took part in a summer course with the legendary Amadeus Quartet in 1989. Early attempts to find a compatible cellist were frustrating. The group tried out over thirty cellists until finally engaging Mathias Beyer-Karlshøj, who had only determined that he wanted to be a member of a string quartet after taking a course with the Vogler Quartet, coincidentally the last previous quartet to play on this year’s cycle. The Henschel Quartet was launched, taking prizes in 1995 at the Evian, Banff, and Salzburg competitions and winning the gold medal at the 1996 Osaka International String Competition.

The twins both play Stradivarius violins: Markus has a 1727 violin and Christoph the 1721 “Cobbett,” both “bought by their father at a time when they were still affordable by private musicians.” Henschel-Schwind plays a Gasparo da Salò viola, while Beyer-Karlshøj plays a 50-year-old Hjorth cello, “because I love the tone, and it’s not so sensitive to weather changes, which is important for touring.”

In addition to their evening concert, the Henschel Quartet will present a master class at 10am on Saturday, April 2 in Baird Recital Hall. It is free and open for public observation.

Tickets are $12 in advance, $20 at the door; $9/$15 for UB faculty, staff, alumni, and senior citizens; $5/$8 for students $5. For more information, visit

Persis Vehar’s New Opera Eleanor Roosevelt Scores a Big Success

The premiere of a new opera based on the life of Eleanor Roosevelt by Persis Vehar, Canisius College’s long-standing composer-in-residence, drew near capacity crowds to a pair of performances at the Carrier Theater in Syracuse last weekend. In the title role, soprano Bridget Moriarty vividly recreated the character of one of the most significant American women in the 20th century, as brought to life in the libretto by Gabrielle Vehar, and in the wonderfully melodic and transparently orchestrated score, by composer Persis Vehar, in which every word of the text was intelligible. This powerfully moving work deserves a production in the composer’s hometown.

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