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Classical Music

People Are Talking: UMS presents The Hagen Quartet at Rackham Auditorium

Posted: 2/23/12 -- 8:00 am

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avatar by Mark Jacobson

Tell us what you thought! This is the place to comment on the performance and talk to other people about what you saw and heard.  Don’t forget to click the option to be notified when new comments are posted.

Last night’s encore: Haydn Quartet, Op. 33, No. 2, ii “Largo”

Mark Jacobson has been a staff member of the UMS Programming Department since 1998.

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  • avatar

    More fun than two spoons and a quart of Hagen Das! The Monday Night School has been helpful in understanding the shows this semester. Thanks to the dept. Musicology for the pro bono work. Best of all the roads were fine when we got out. Beethoven Rules!!

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    Does anybody know which Haydn the encore was?

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    WOW & Encore was wonderful too!

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  • Haydn Quartet, Op. 33, No. 2, ii “Largo”

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    I liked everything about this concert. Unlike some other quartets, this group plays discreetly, almost reticently at times. Nice blend of tone. Subtle execution. Some stunning pianissimos. The tempi a bit brisk at times but plausible. Really most enjoyable.

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    A very enjoyable concert! I was especially impressed with togetherness with tempi, entrances, and especially dynamics! Wonderful!

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    As this very enjoyable concert was included in the “Maverick” series, I’d like to have heard Beethoven quartets that filled the bill better. The F Major one was extremely familiar, played often on the radio, beautiful but not in the “maverick” category. The E-flat Major one was, to me, one of his less interesting ones. The F-Minor one, “Serioso,” did fit fine: fascinating, gnarly, risk-taking, a real pleasure musically speaking. This one was heading toward the great late quartets. Why not have included one of those, a true “maverick”?

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      I agree wholeheartedly, Judith. My husband and I were mulling over this very point as we left the show last night. My reservations about the program prompted me to seek out this discussion board.

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        My educated guess: The Hagen Quartet was offering a small selection of programs on their tour, and UMS decided to cram this one into their “Mavericks” concept. I’d bet just about anything that the program offered by the quartet had nothing whatsoever to do with the maverick theme.

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          But, I hasten to add, I think it was one of the highlights of the season thus far, regardless of how it fit into UMS’s marketing strategy.

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          • Perhaps one creative artist can be many things all in one: a maverick, a conservative, a radical, a reinforcer, an experimenter, etc. Sometimes even within the same work. I continued to be challenged by the notion that one has to be one thing. I actually like the fact that the program showed many sides of LvB constant and driving creative impulse, changing over time, reinforcing formal tradition, breaking with it, experimenting within it, respecting and revolting, all at once. The point of it not being an “all maverick” program is well taken…but maybe the label is applied more to the artist and his oeuvre than to any one component part.

  • The concert was wonderful! Great balance and expressive playing. The maverick Beethoven came clearly out in the E Flat major quartet where Beethoven brings his crazy Scherzo. Also in the F minor quartet with a lot of interesting harmonic progressions. The quartet op.18 was maybe less maverick and stood still under the traditional classical influence of Haydn. And idea probably would have been the finish the concert with the Great Fugue where Beethoven is completely a maverick.

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  • Sheer perfection! I thought I knew these quartets really well, but the Hagen showed me I only knew the music, the framework that Beethoven’s incomparable mind used to show itself and seek companionship. The imagination, immersion, verve and discipline the Hagen bring to their reading and performance allows Beethoven to stand above all the music he created and bring us past it, closer to the world he alone inhabited. Incredible to think the Hagen Qtt hasn’t been here for 14 years. How long will we have to wait again?

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  • avatar

    Absolutely wonderful! It was fantastic to see a very inspiring performance of these quartets. I’ve seen many performances of these pieces and none have been more exciting and musically fulfilling than the Hagen’s performance last night. Great quartet and truly great music!

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    Words fail!

    I only wish that Op. 95 had been last in the program.

    A wild, ferocious masterpiece, admirably played.

    The final “high C” (1st violin) was a breathtaking shooting star –

    similar to the heart-stopping “Dir” (“ich danke Dir dafur, toward the end of Schubert’s “An die Musik”) that Elisabeth Schwarzkopf provided us at Rackham 35 years ago. The Ann Arbor News reviewer commented on it.

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  • A truly wonderful performance! Very well executed and impecable blend and intonation! Though I am always a bit dismayed at concerts that program only one composer… eventually during the course of the concert that composer’s “voice” gets a bit stale for me. I was aching to hear some Bartok or Debussy by the end. But, that doesn’t change the very high quality of the performance by any means! Bravo!!

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    • avatar

      I agree. A mix is better.

      The classification of Beethoven as maverick is indeed puzzling. If LvB is the stray, who’s in the mainstream?

      But, hey, there is an upside to this: if our Ludwig is a maverick, then maybe the modern composers will no longer be segregated into a special “risky” category to be dosed out spoon by spoon. Pretty soon, all concert music will be maverick, all in the same class. Come to think of it, isn’t that sort of where things stand in our age?

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      • Perhaps one creative artist can be many things all in one: a maverick, a conservative, a radical, a reinforcer, an experimenter, etc. Sometimes even within the same work. I continued to be challenged by the notion that one has to be one thing. I actually like the fact that the program showed many sides of LvB constant and driving creative impulse, changing over time, reinforcing formal tradition, breaking with it, experimenting within it, respecting and revolting, all at once. The point of it not being an “all maverick” program is well taken…but maybe the label is applied more to the artist and his oeuvre than to any one component part.

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    I thought the concert was wonderful and it was like hearing some of these for the very first time. The seemed to breathe together in ways that other quartets don’t. I was also wondering about the “maverick” title, but having listed to many Mozart and Hayden quartets, I could imagine that audiences in 1801 would be taken aback somewhat by the individuality of the voices, particularly the viola and cello.

    THank you UMS!!

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  • I think it’d be best for all if the m-word were dropped from the conversation as well as the concert series. It’s kind of patronizing – needlessly academic – especially when it comes to Beethoven, whose genius and accomplishments were really beyond classification and, in my opinion, beyond judgment. Performances like the Hagen’s only remind us of that.

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    What a great show! I was amazed how the four of them seemed to really feel the music together. It seemed like they were all drawing from very similar inspiration and it showed! Also very impressed by their precision and taste in transitions between contrasting parts. I feel this did display some of Beethoven’s maverick qualities in that there didn’t seem to be any rules in the music and hardly any organization but Beethoven does an excellent job of pouring his soul into the pages and taking the audience on a journey. The Hagen quartet did a great job of honoring that.

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  • Nothing like an impeccable performance of some Beethoven to add to a great night. It was a wonderful performance, with some really great playing and some really great music. Maybe not the most “maverick-ey” of Beethoven’s music, but still really great things in this. I, like Matt, almost wanted some variety by the end (would love to hear me some Ravel), but that in no way takes from the beauty and passion of these musicians, who clearly know how to make this music shine.

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    I realize that I may have sounded somewhat picky in saying that the quartets programmed lacked “maverickness.” Like some of you, I look for adventurous concerts, like the upcoming San Francisco Symphony series – which I am thrilled about – and usually purchase tickets accordingly. But Beethoven is in a class by himself, maverick or not, and it was a pleasure to see him perfomed so beautifully. This conert reminded me that there were several cycles of the quartets at Rackham over the years and I hope someone will do this again. The Hagen, maybe?

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    • UMS has presented a couple of complete Beethoven cycles within the past decade: The American String Quartet performed all of Beethoven’s quartets beginning in the 1997/98 season and continuing into early aughts, and, more recently, Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff performed all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas in eight recitals over the course of the 2007/08-2008/09 seasons at Rackham and Hill Auditoriums. -Mark Jacobson, UMS

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    The Hagen Quartet certainly played impressively, with great blend and ability to pass musical lines among the group (one of the greatest parts of these quartets, in my opinion). I will agree with previous posts, though, that it was a bit difficult to remain attentive during a concert of only Beethoven.

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    The Hagen Quartet put on a truly amazing performance. I was impressed by how many risks they took in their approach to playing such well known pieces. Their exaggeration of articulation and dynamics made the pieces much more visceral and dramatic, and avoided the overly perfect nature that we’ve become accustomed to in classical music. I agree that single composer concerts are not always the best of ideas, but I felt like there was enough variety in the quartets to keep it interesting.

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    Branding

    Yesterday I heard Brahms’s German Requiem in a superb performance by the UMS Choral Union and the Detroit Symphony. In a warmup interview on WJR, I’d heard Jerry Blackstone, who conducts the Choral Union, compare Brahms to a “well-made German car,” and listening to yesterday’s concert, I realized he’s right. Even my little Passat has a weight and sturdiness—a gravitas, if you will—that Japanese and American cars lack, and there’s more than a touch of that same sobriety and earnestness to Brahms’s magisterial rumination on death.
    All of which got me to thinking about renegades. Because I can’t quite conceive of anyone using the term to describe Brahms, with his grandfatherly beard and girth, his sturdy repertoire. Which begs the question: why Beethoven and not Brahms? Could it be the hair?
    Last week’s concert by the Hagen Quartet—an exquisite rendition of three Beethoven quartets, plus a mysterious, and sublime, encore that even my musicologist husband can’t pinpoint, though he’s sure it’s late Haydn—was listed as part of UMS’s “renegade” series. On the one hand it makes all kinds of sense (Beethoven as the ultimate maverick, revolutionary, tormented genius, what-have-you), but on the other it gets you wondering what the term signifies. Or rather, what kinds of expectations it sets up in an audience? If you listen to Beethoven as Beethoven, is this a different experience from listening to him as a “change-agent” or renegade? Do you hear differently? Focus on different facets of the work? Think differently as you’re experiencing the music? Are you more aware of historical context? Do you say to yourself, for instance, “My, that Beethoven’s adventurous. So much more interesting than this Brahms guys who’s kind of predictable, like my Volkswagen.”
    A related question came up at last week’s Night School. Can a contemporary artist like Wayne McGregor truly merit the name “renegade,” and if so, what happens to him and his work? Does McGregor now feel the need to live up to that role? Does he change his work so that it pushes the bounds of the radical in ways that may be less genuine than if he were simply pursuing his work as before? What happens to his perception of himself? As someone asked on Monday night, “What do you do when you’re hired to break the mold?”
    The commodification of “maverick”: it seems worth revisiting the idea as we move forward with this series and contemplate the possibility of more such series in the future. UM is big into branding these days, and maybe UMS is too. Maybe it’s a helpful thing. But I wonder if this kind of slogan might not be a bit too glib. At the very least, it seems worth asking to whom, and to what effect, the term should be applied.

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    • avatar

      The wonderful encore was identified above as Haydn Quartet Op. 33, No. 2, mvt. iii “Largo”.

      As for the “maverick” label, I don’t really care one way or the other. I choose which concerts to attend by the program and the performers, not the name of the series (though “maverick” sounds silly to me). The interview below shows that quartet members do not agree with the word “renegade” either.

      http://www.annarbor.com/entertainment/hagen-quartet-preview/

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        I actually found it ironic in the annarbor.com preview that within two paragraphs Rainer Schmidt states that 1) Beehoven withheld publication of Op. 95 “being aware that this music would not be understood” by the concert -going public of the day and 2) Beethoven was not a renegade. I think there is something embedded in the word “renegade” that people reject…or simply don’t like in relationship to sacred Beethoven. However, at least for me, any art maker who is conscious of the fact that his/her output is too experimental to be accepted in its own time (so much so that it is withheld from public view) is certainly engaged in a ____________ act. (You fill in the blank.)

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    • Hi, Leslie, Thursday evening’s encore was indeed Haydn’s, Op. 33, No. 2, movement ii “Largo.” Thanks for taking the time to ruminate on the UMS Pure Michigan Renegade series; it certainly has provided “food” for thought for you and many of our dedicated patrons. -Mark Jacobson, UMS

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    • I thought the Choral Union sounded great in Orchestra Hall as well and the Brahms “Human Requiem” as it might better be known was a great pairing with Adams’s “Transmigration of Souls.”

      In terms of Brahms, he reasserts the traditions of absolute instrumental music and other traditional genres, such as the mass, very much running against the current of mid-19th century romanticism with it’s focus on Wagner and music having a poetic connection. Hegel was in the ascendent and Schopenhauer losing ground. In this sense, the mass is less radical compared to its contemporary milieu than the Second Symphony that we’ll hear Friday, but even the mass uses far from the normal Requiem text. Schoenberg himself labeled Brahms as “progressive.” The definition of Maverick / Renegade is a complex issue here, but one thing we have to remember is that tradition is not absolute but shifts over time, so what we understand as typical today is not what was typical in the past. That Beethoven the Maverick shifts the tradition and later becomes essentially the paradigmatic example of what a classical composer is may simply offer a vision of the Maverick triumphant .

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  • avatar

    An absolutely amazing performance. The sound was fantastic, and the playing executed with the utmost finesse. Opus 95 in F-minor, I found to be particularly impressive. The speed and precision, especially in the pianissimo sections, were astounding. I also very much liked the “Harp” section of Opus 74 in Eb-Major. The performers were expressive and fun to watch, making for a more moving experience.

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    This was the fastest I’d ever heard those quartets. It made the Guarneri recordings sound like child’s play.

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