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A Total Beethoven Immersion by Jan Jezioro

The Pacifica Quartet performs all Beethoven’s string quartets in four days

Starting this Thursday evening, the members of the Pacifica Quartet, Simin Ganatra and Austin Hartmann, violins, Guy Ben Zion, viola, and Brandon Vamos, cello will perform all sixteen of the Beethoven string quartets at Slee Hall, on the University at Buffalo Amherst Campus, as part of the now venerable Slee Beethoven Quartet Cycle, over the span of four days. The last time that all the Beethoven quartets were performed locally over such a brief time span was almost 50 years ago, by the now legendary Budapest String Quartet.

Pacifica Quartet cellist Brandon Vamos, who studied at the Eastman School of Music with Paul Katz, the cellist of the fondly remembered Cleveland Quartet which had close ties to UB, explains how the Pacifica Quartet first started playing the Beethoven quartets as a complete cycle: “We first performed the entire Beethoven cycle in Napa Valley at the Music in the Vineyards Festival in, I believe 2005”, says Vamos. “Our idea to perform them in a weekend was conceived because we were interested in an experience where the whole cycle and Beethoven’s development can be heard in a short amount of time, rather than over the course of a year. We first did this in Tokyo and it was both a wonderful experience and a journey, not to mention a marathon for us and the audience. We had practiced running the cycle the week before, to see what the endurance would be like, and we found that we enjoyed the experience.”

One of the most beloved local examples of the never-ending beneficial results of the generosity of far-sighted musical patrons is the annual performance of the Slee Beethoven Quartet Cycle at the University at Buffalo. Frederick Slee and his wife Alice established a tradition of presenting the performance of the entire cycle of all sixteen Beethoven string quartets, in a specified order on a yearly basis, initially in their home on Saybrook Place, off Delaware Avenue near Forest Lawn Cemetery. Frederick left instructions, and funding, in his will that the performance of the entire Beethoven string quartet cycle should be presented on an annual basis by the then the University of Buffalo, now the State University of New York at Buffalo, and it was left to his widow Alice to implement his wishes. Mrs. Slee honored the wishes of her late husband, and it is through the generosity of the Slee’s that their fellow Buffalonians have continued to enjoy the unique opportunity to enjoy the complete performance of what is universally considered to be the pinnacle achievement in the string quartet genre for almost sixty-five years, a privilege that no other city on the planet has had the opportunity to experience.

“Frederick and Alice Slee wanted the Beethoven cycle to be scheduled over the course of a week every June”, says Philip Rehard, who has been Concert Manager at Slee Hall for the last twenty-five years, “but the Music Department has resisted that notion since doing it that way would mean that our students wouldn’t get to experience it. Since its formation in 1994, the Pacifica Quartet has performed on the Slee Cycle during three seasons: 2004/5, 2007/8 and 2009/10. I believe that they performed only one concert during each of those seasons, and our audience and Department were quite taken with them”.

Formed in 1994, the Pacifica Quartet quickly won chamber music’s top competitions, including the 1998 Naumburg Chamber Music Award. In 2002 the ensemble was honored with Chamber Music America’s Cleveland Quartet Award and the appointment to Lincoln Center’s CMS Two, and in 2006 was awarded a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant. Also, in 2006 the Quartet was featured on the cover of Gramophone and heralded as one of “five new quartets you should know about,” the only American quartet to make the list. And in 2009, the Quartet was named “Ensemble of the Year” by Musical America.

“When Musical America named them Ensemble of the Year”, says Rehard, “the demand for the Pacifica increased significantly, as did their performance fee. We simply couldn’t afford them any longer, which happens when some of the stellar young quartets do so well. Fortunately for us, the Pacifica, known for its commitment to various cycles by different composers, has promoted their idea of an ‘Immersive Beethoven Cycle,’ which they have performed in Ravinia, Japan, and other places. Because of our history with them and the significance of the Slee Cycle in the chamber music world, we all agreed that it would be terrific to feature their Immersive idea on our series. Due to their interest in the project, as well as the efficiency of presenting the Cycle this way (i.e., minimizing travel expenses, hotel costs, etc.), we were able to work it out. UB and the Pacifica are thrilled to see these pieces come together this way”.

On Thursday, February 16 at 7:30pm the program includes the Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 127, the Quartet in F Major, Op. 18, No. 1 and the Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3. Friday evening’s concert at 7:30pm includes the Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 74 (“The Harp”), the Quartet in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2 and the Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131.

The Saturday afternoon at 3pm includes the Quartet in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3, the “Grosse Fuge,” Op. 133 and the Quartet in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1. The Saturday evening concert at 7:30pm includes the Quartet in F minor, Op. 95 (“Serioso”), the Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6 and Quartet in A minor, Op. 132.

The series wraps up on Sunday, when the 3pm concert will include the Quartet in A Major, Op. 18, No. 5, and the Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 130. The final event in the cycle at 7:30pm includes the Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4, the Quartet in F Major, Op. 135 and the Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2.

Tickets: Advance: $15 to $19; at the door: $22. Advance for seniors, UB faculty, staff, alumni/non-UB students: $10 to $14; at the door: $17. UB students: free. Information: (716) 645-2921 or rehard@buffalo.edu

 

 

 

 


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