Contemporary Trends in String Quartet Composition

This is a 10-week seminar, starting on February 20, 2017.

Moderator:                Mike Brooks
Day and Time:         Monday 9:30-11:30AM
Location:                   Smith College, Dewey Hall Common, Northampton
(parking permit required; provided to participants by moderator)

The goal of this seminar is to assist the seminar’s participants in developing a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, the string quartet literature of the past 50 years.

Seminar participants will sample, and critically evaluate, prominent string quartets (usually featuring two violins, a viola, and a cello) composed within the past 50 years. Joseph Haydn is generally credited with originating the string quartet mode of classical music in the 1760’s; most major composers since that time have devoted at least some of their creative talents to the string quartet, resulting in a vast literature of music that can be complex, exciting–and sometimes challenging to performers and audiences alike.

A common practice among today’s string quartet ensembles is to offer programs featuring three works, two of them by well-known figures of the past–Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, etc.–and one by a more contemporary composer. It is probably fair to speculate that this third work is often greeted with a measure of apprehension by at least some listeners; we tend to respond more positively to those works and composers with which we are familiar. String quartet composition continues to flourish today, however, much of it worthy of our serious consideration. This seminar is intended to help us conquer our apprehensions by rendering us more knowledgeable about, and comfortable with, this body of contemporary classical music.

Role of participants:
Each participant will select a composer and present, usually via a CD, one of his/her string quartets (or some portion thereof) written since 1965. (A helpful but far from exhaustive list of composers will be provided.) The presentation will include relevant information about the life of the composer, influences on his/her compositional style, and the work’s place in the broader landscape of classical music. Group discussion will focus primarily on a critique of the work.

On-line and other resources will be identified as appropriate.

About the Moderator:
Mike Brooks has no professional musical experience, so he looks forward to learning with others in the seminar. He is a member of the Board of Valley Classical Concerts, which brings several prominent chamber groups to the Pioneer Valley each year.