Sessions/Rhodes/Mays: Pro Arte String Quartet with Samuel Rhodes


Pro Arte Quartet

with Samuel Rhodes, viola

Roger Sessions


Samuel Rhodes


Walter Mays

Quartet for Strings

Pro Arte Quartet

Acclaimed by the San Francisco Chronicle as “one of the great quartets of our times,” the Pro Arte Quartet has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as one of the most enduring string quartets in existence. Founded in Brussels in 1912 by violinist Alphonse Annou and violist Germain Prevost, the Pro Arte became the court quartet to Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. Its world reputation soared with a European tour in 1919, earning the group such outstanding acclaim that many composers — including Bartok, Milhaud, and Honegger — composed new works for the Pro Arte. In 1940, stranded in the United States by the outbreak of World War II, the University of Wisconsin-Madison offered the Quartet the position of Artist-in-Residence, which continues to the present day.

Current members, David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violins, Sally Chisholm, viola, and Parry Karp, cello, have continued the Pro Arte legacy. Together they have performed at the White House, toured Japan, have performed the Bartok String Quartet Cycle, and have commissioned the Ralph Shapey Quartet No. 9, the Tamar Diesendruck Quartet No. 3, the Brian Fennelly String Quartet No. 2, and the Walter Mays Quartet in G Minor. The Pro Arte perform a celebrated series of radio braodcasts Live From the Elvehjem Museum, conduct numerous chamber music master classes, and continue to tour extensively throughout the United States.

Roger Sessions

In addition to being recognized as one of the more outstanding careers among American composers, that of Roger Sessions has the added distinction of being one of the longest; his first piece dates from 1912, and he was still composing shortly before his death in 1985 — an impressive span of nearly 75 years.

Perhaps Sessions' role in the overall context of twentieth-century music can best be viewed as that of a traditionalist. During the last century, whose main aesthetic preoccupation has been an extension of the Serialism developed by the Second Viennese School, the field of musical composition has seen the conception of many fads and new ideas: electronic, aleatoric, minimalist, and other experimental music have each seen their day. In the face of all this, however, Roger Sessions held fast to his own techniques and ideas of melody, harmony, and counterpoint, continuing to write music in the more traditional style. In this way, Sessions can be compared to Johannes Brahms, whose music also clearly reflects the influence of his contemporaries that was fashionable at the time. The other comparisons that can be drawn between the music of Sessions and Brahms are striking: the strict adherence to logical, often traditional formal schemes, the liberal use of articulations and espressivo indications, the use of syncopation, hemiola, and complex counter-rhythms, and perhaps most notably, the incredibly long phrases and melodic lines.

String Quintet

The String Quintet, composed in 1958, was commissioned by the Music Department of the University of California-Berkeley and was dedicated to Albert Elkus, chairman of the department at that time, and a close personal friend of Sessions. The medium of the string quintet was likely chosen because of Sessions' affinity for the String Quintets of Mozart. The first two movements of the work (the third movement was not completed in time to be included in the first performance) were premiered in 1958 in Berkeley by the Griller Quartet with violist Ferenc Molnar, and the piece was first performed in its entirety in New York in 1959 by the Griller Quartet. In a review following the New York premiere, critic Paul Henry Lang wrote that “The first thing that attracts the listener is the true chamber music quality of the work. The conversation between instruments is intimate, interesting and urbane. It is a very significant work, perhaps Sessions' most immediately appealing, readily accessible, and delightful.” The first movement is a sonata-allegro, followed by an aria-like fantasia and a brisk, energetic movement in sonata-rondo form bringing the Quintet to a close.

Samuel Rhodes

Samuel Rhodes is a consummate artist, well known as a recitalist, soloist with orchestra, recording artist, composer and teacher. His artistry has become well recognized and his playing has received international critical acclaim. The New York Times has called him “a remarkably sensitive violist”; the Washington Post has described him as a “master of the viola fit to stand with the instrument's greatest;” the Boston Herald wrote, “the texture of his sound in itself is a wonder”; in London they praised his “stunning range of color”; and in Paris he was called “a violist of the very first rank.”

Mr. Rhodes has been a member of both the Juilliard String Quartet and the faculty of the Juilliard School since 1969. He has been a participant of the Marlboro Music Festival since 1960 and is a faculty member of the Tanglewood Music Center. His solo appearances have included several recitals at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and an unaccompanied recital at the Juilliard School highlighted by world premieres of works by Milton Babbitt and Arthur Weisberg as well as recitals at Weill Hall in New York, and the Casals Hall in Tokyo, Japan.

Mr. Rhodes, a native New Yorker, studied the viola with Sydney Beck and Walter Trampler. He has a B.A. from Queens College of the City University of New York and an M.F.A. from Princeton University, where he studied composition with Roger Sessions and Earl Kim.

As a member of the Juilliard Quartet, Mr. Rhodes has toured throughout Europe, North and South America, the Near East, Asia, Australia and New Zealand; the Quartet's recordings appear on CBS Masterworks, Sony Classical, Wergo and the CRI labels, and have won three Grammy Awards. Mr. Rhodes has been artist-in-residence at Michigan State University and has been awarded honorary doctorates by Michigan State, the University of Jacksonville and the San Francisco Conservatory.

Quintet for Two Violins, Two Violas and Cello (1968)

My Quintet was written while I was studying at Princeton Unviersity for my Master of Fine Arts degree. It was completed in 1968 shortly before I joined the Juilliard String Quartet. I was attracted to Princeton by the prospect of studying and having close contact with Roger Sessions whom I much admired. His influence is very much felt in the piece, particuarly in the first movement. My own style developed more and more in the second and third movements.

The main idea of the first movement is a longmelodic line floating above faster moving detailed accompanying voices. The second movement, which is slow, continues this idea in a different way and introduces the playful rhythmical complexities of four against five, and later three against five with cross rhythms within each of these subdivisions. There are two alternating tempi in the last movemnt, a brisk one and a moderate one, in the relationship of three to four. Each of the instruments in turn is featured in a solo variation designed to bring out its individual character. The basic flow of the movement consists of long melodic lines or harmonic progressions which very often recall the material of the two previous movements. The introductory, concluding, and transitional passages in between the variations consist of fine “special effect” fragments: pizzicato chords, col legno passages, ricochet rhythms, fast legato runs and glissandi. The mid-point of the movement is a free fantasy-like cadenza for the first violin accompanied by soft shifting harmonies in the four lower instruments. A description of the form of the movement would therefore be as follows: Introduction (faster tempo), Episode I (moderate tempo — five effect fragments only), Variation I (cello — herioc and declamatory), Episode II (faster tempo), Variation II (viola II — special effects, slightly sluggish in character), Cadenza (violin I — first moderate then faster tempo, free fantasy based on five fragments), Variation III (violin II - special effects but faster tempo), Episode III (faster tempo), Variation IV (viola I — wistful and nostalgic), Episode IV (moderate to faster tempo), Coda.

—Samuel Rhodes

Walter Mays

Walter Mays (1941-) received a D.M.A. at the University of Cincinnati, where he studied composition with Felix Labunski, Jeno Takacs, and John Cage. He also studied chamber music with Walter Levin and the LaSalle Quartet.

Various awards include the 1998 CBS Goddard Lieberson award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the 1996 NBA/Revelli Band Composition Award for Dreamcatcher, MTNA-Shepherd Distinguished Composer (1997) for Rhapsody for bassoon and piano, a Naumburg Recording Award, a Composers Award of the Martha Bair Rockefeller Fund for Music, and a Tanglewood Commission from the Fromm Musical Foundation at Harvard. His Six Invocations for Percussion Ensemble won first prize in the 1974 Percussive Arts Society National Composition Contest and has been performed by many percussion groups throughout the United States. In 1981 the oratorio, Voice from the Fiery Wind, commissioned by the Omaha Symphony was nominated for a Pulitzer prize. In 1998 Quartet in G Minor, commissioned by the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the Pro Arte Quartet was also nominated for a Pulitzer prize.

Dreamcatcher has been recorded by Eugene Corporon and the North Texas Symphonic Winds for Klavier Records. Dialogues for Horn and Piano has been released on the Summit label and Six Invocations and Concerto for Alto Saxophone appear on CRI recordings. He is currently “Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Music” at Wichita State University.

String Quartet in G Minor

String Quartet in G Minor was written for the Pro Arte Quartet on a commission from the University of Wisconsin-Madison during the summer of 1998. It is an emotionally dark work reflecting the composer's pessimism concerning the human propensity for violence. The harmonic language is a mixture of free atonality, polytonality and row techniques, with a strong turn toward the key of G Minor at important structural points.

The two movements, Allegro energico and Adagio, are played without pause. The first movement follows an ABACBA design. The A sections feature driving rhythms and short motives that gradually expand into longer melodic ideas. The B sections offer a contrast of static high register tones in the violins with mysterious knocking and murmuring sounds in the lower instruments. The C episode is a pizzicato passage that contrapuntally develops motives from the A material. The final A section begins with a clear return of the opening idea, followed by a simultaneous cadenza for all four voices, marked fff appassionato that serves as the climax of the movement.

The tone of the second movement is one of sadness and resignation. The first violin begins with a broad lament in f sharp minor that is then taken up by the other instruments. After a more agitated middle section, the first violin again takes up the lament and expands it into higher and higher registers, while the lower voices cadence ever more emphatically in g minor.

—Walter Mays

Recorded December 29-31, 2000, in the Purchase College Conservatory of Music Recital Hall, Purchase, New York.

Produced and engineered by Judith Sherman

Engineering and editing assistant: Jeanne Velonis