Chamber Music Series

FRIDAY September 18

SUNDAY September 20


Featuring composers who admired America or chose to immigrate here

Antonín Dvořák was influenced by Native American and Afro-American music for his American string quartet.

A work in the key of F Major, the "American" lends itself easily to a wind transcription. The fresh and vivid sound of the woodwinds brings out the melodic richness of Dvořák’s travels through America.


From 1892-1895, Dvořák served as director of the National Conservatory of Music in NYC. He had been interested in “American Music” and felt that Native American and Afro-American music could inspire an “American Music” distinct from European influences. He was influenced by Henry Thacker (aka Harry Burleigh), his student in New York and one of the first Afro-American composers.


Dvořák composed this string quartet in the summer of 1893 during his summer vacation in Spillville, Iowa. The vibrant Czech community of immigrants in Spillville provided a place where he could speak his native language and feel somewhat at home. Dvořák began the piece in early June that year, only three days after his arrival in Iowa, and finished it before the month was out.

The sonata-form first movement uses two main melodies that draw on pentatonic (five note per octave) scales, which are often found in American folk music, though they also are found in the music of other lands.

The poignant second movement offers a tearful theme. The movement’s central section is more impassioned than its opening, though it closes gently, much as it had begun.

For the third movement scherzo, Dvořák opted for light and danceable dotted rhythms, as reminiscent of his own Bohemian folk music as that of the United States. Here the usual contrasting theme of the central section is instead a slower, more-reflective treatment of the first scherzo theme.

Dvořák’s final movement is lively and exuberant. For contrast, there is an almost hymn-like tune that appears midway through the movement. However, Dvořák brings the movement full circle with a return of the exuberant theme from its opening section, and the work concludes with energy.

– Notes by Norman Menzales

Little Scenes from China is full of energy and hauntingly beautiful sonorities and harmonies.

Born in Nanjing, China, Soong Fu-Yuan (1933-2005) studied and composed music at a young age. When he was 18, he moved to America to study composition. At that time, the American new music was dominated by serialism and the avant-garde.


Though Soong composed many piano, chamber, orchestral and operatic works, his music could not find an outlet since he refused to adhere to these new styles which he thought were artificial. In 1989, Tchaikovsky Competition Laureate pianist Paul Rutman accidentally discovered Soong’s Poems for Piano. Astonished that these beautiful works had never been performed, he decided to record them.


Rutman’s CD received quick acceptance and praise after it was released in 1990, bringing many of Soong’s other works to recognition as well. The composer’s twin loves were Chinese poetry and Western classical music, which influenced many of his works, including Little Scenes from China.


Soong’s quintet in the style of traditional Chinese music is in five short, contrasting movements depicting various scenes of China, old and new. The movements are New Year’s Day, A Little Boat on the River Li, Fast Ride on the South Sea, In the Moonlight, Thinking of a Place Far, Far Away, and Flower Drum Song. The work is full of energy and hauntingly beautiful sonorities and harmonies.


– Notes by Paul Chinen


Chinook Winds

"...the entire ensemble is challenged to the limits of their technical abilities before bringing the piece to a fiery conclusion."

– Miguel del Águila

Wind Quintet No. 2 was written in 1994 and premiered the same year in Santa Barbara, CA by the Bach Camerata. In 1995, the work won Miguel del Águila the Kennedy Center Friedheim Award for Excellence in Chamber Music Composition.

The four movements are held together by an undisclosed program that takes the listener through four different places (movements), as would the four acts of a play. Back in Time has a primitive, ritualistic character. The flute, accompanied by chant, plays a simple, modal theme. The simple musical structure and melodic material are retained as the movement progresses. In Heaven is a delicate, relaxed, and stylized Caribbean dance. Extensive new performance techniques and effects are used in this movement, which at times makes the quintet sound like a delicate, distant percussion ensemble. Under the Earth is perhaps the composer’s darkest and most realistic musical depiction of death.  


Miguel del Águila wrote:

“The wind quintet is often thought of as an ensemble dominated by the high instruments with limited bass support. I tried to prove the contrary with this movement which explores not only the expressive depth of the wind ensemble but the extreme low registers of some of the instruments. Far Away takes us to a busy scene in the Middle East. Several Arabic maqams and oboe solos, combined with a didgeridoo sounding ostinato bass are used to create an exotic fabric in which the entire ensemble is challenged to the limits of their technical abilities before bringing the piece to a fiery conclusion.

Miguel del Águila was born in Uruguay in 1957 and began his musical studies in that country. Having immigrated to the United States in 1978, he later graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music before moving to Vienna to continue studies.


It was in Germany that Águila first began to receive wide critical acclaim and the responses have only intensified as his career has progressed. Miguel del Águila has worked with orchestras around the world and received countless honors and awards, including three Grammy nominations.


Once hailed as “one of the West Coast’s most promising and enterprising young composers,” his music has also been called “sonically dazzling” (Los Angeles Times), “with irresistible rhythms” (San Francisco Sentinel), “wildly exuberant…exquisitely imaginative… [and] absolutely mesmerizing” (Fanfare).


– Notes by Dorian Antipa