Ésme Quartet with Pianist Yekwon Sunwoo | February 20, 2024 | House Program

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FEBRUARY <strong>20</strong>, <strong>20</strong>24 AT 7:30 PM<br />




FEBRUARY <strong>20</strong>, <strong>20</strong>24 AT 7:30 PM







Wonhee Bae, Violin I<br />

Yuna Ha, Violin II<br />

Dimitri Murrath, Viola<br />

Yeeun Heo, Cello<br />

WITH<br />

<strong>Yekwon</strong> <strong>Sunwoo</strong>, Piano<br />



String <strong>Quartet</strong> in E Flat Major,<br />

“The Joke,” Op. 33, No. 2<br />

Allegro moderato<br />

Scherzo<br />

Largo e sostenuto<br />

Finale<br />

String <strong>Quartet</strong> in E Flat Major<br />

Adagio ma non troppo<br />

Allegretto<br />

Romanze<br />

Allegro molto vivace<br />


JOHANNES BRAHMS Piano Quintet in F Minor, Opus 34<br />

Allegro non troppo<br />

Andante, un poco adagio<br />

Scherzo: Allegro – Trio<br />

Finale: Poco sostenuto – Allegro<br />

non troppo – Presto non troppo


The string quartet that opens tonight’s concert is<br />

remarkable for the joyously light character that<br />

pervades much of the music. Its nickname, “The<br />

Joke,” is certainly well deserved for two reasons:<br />

first, instead of a Minuet, Haydn writes a faster<br />

Scherzo which includes a Trio that makes great<br />

use of surprising glissandos (or slides) into<br />

pitches; and second, for the way in which the<br />

last movement ends <strong>with</strong> a coda that keeps<br />

interjecting silences that generate a series of false<br />

endings before the final cadence whispers away.<br />

For the vast majority of women musicians and<br />

composers, life and posterity have not been kind,<br />

<strong>with</strong> a clear case of such gender injustice found<br />

in the career and music of Fanny Mendelssohn<br />

(1805-1847). Felix’s older sister by three years,<br />

Fanny was by all accounts just as precocious as<br />

her younger brother, and despite being provided<br />

<strong>with</strong> the same musical tutors as Felix, was<br />

expected to marry and run a family household.<br />

She followed this domestic path, marrying the<br />

Berlin court painter Wilhelm Hensel in 1829, which<br />

coincidentally, was the same year that she began<br />

sketches for a piano sonata that in 1834 she<br />

adapted into her only string quartet. Beyond this<br />

scant information, little more is known of this work<br />

until the music was published in 1988 by Breitkipf<br />

& Härtel, a long-standing publisher of Felix’s<br />

music. The work has since gained considerable<br />

popularity <strong>with</strong> modern audiences for the way it<br />

demonstrates its own unique originality. This can<br />

be immediately heard in the fantasy-like opening<br />

movement that starts expressively in C minor, and<br />

only towards the end settles into the work’s home<br />

key of E flat major. The second movement returns<br />

to C minor in the fast, filigree-like outer sections<br />

that are offset <strong>with</strong> the vibrant fugal writing of<br />

the C major Trio. The Romanze in G minor, displays<br />

subtle fluidity in the melodic writing such that the<br />

music never seems to cadence but is continually<br />

spun into new sections. The final movement, <strong>with</strong><br />

its clear Rondo design and emphasis on exciting<br />

two-part counterpoint doubled at the unison or<br />

in octaves, rounds off the work quite triumphantly<br />

in E flat major.<br />

Many composers seem to have followed Robert<br />

Schumann’s model of writing only one piano<br />

quintet during their careers and making this work<br />

almost symphonic in design and length. Brahms<br />

(1833-1897), whose early career received much<br />

encouragement from Robert Schumann, likewise<br />

composed only one piano quintet. Curiously,<br />

the Brahms piano quintet started out as a string<br />

quintet but was completed as a sonata for two<br />

pianos (a version that is performed today as Opus<br />

34B). At Clara Schumann’s urging, this two-piano<br />

work was adapted for piano and string quartet,<br />

and it is this arrangement that has become a<br />

favourite of chamber music performers and<br />

audiences. All four movements display melodies<br />

and musical textures that are immediately<br />

captivating while at the same time are organized<br />

to support the music’s larger structural form <strong>with</strong><br />

a high degree of controlled expansiveness.<br />

©<strong>20</strong>24 by John Burge for the Isabel<br />


At home in Germany, the Esmé <strong>Quartet</strong> is one of<br />

the most dynamic and multi-faceted string quartets<br />

of its generation, winning audiences and reviewers<br />

over <strong>with</strong> its infectious energy and immaculate<br />

ensemble playing. The four South Korean<br />

musicians’ ensemble was the first all-female string<br />

quartet to win the first prize and four special prizes,<br />

including the Mozart and the Beethoven Prize, at<br />

the <strong>20</strong>18 International String <strong>Quartet</strong> Competition<br />

at London’s Wigmore Hall: a sensational launch of<br />

an international string quartet career.<br />

This success in competition also proved the<br />

springboard for worldwide concert activities,<br />

ranging from the USA to Europe’s great musical<br />

centres and all the way to Asia, where they were<br />

celebrated during a prestigious residency at<br />

Seoul’s Lotte Concert Hall during the past season.<br />

Furthermore, innumerable concert tours and<br />

guest appearances have taken the Esmé <strong>Quartet</strong><br />

to festivals and concert halls such as the Lucerne<br />

Festival, the Verbier Festival, the Schleswig-<br />

Holstein Music Festival, London’s Wigmore Hall,<br />

the Flagey Musiq3 Festival in Brussels, L’Auditori<br />

in Barcelona, Teatro La Fenice in Venice, the<br />

Heidelberg String <strong>Quartet</strong> Fest and Hamburg’s<br />

Elbphilharmonie. In the summer of <strong>20</strong>18, they<br />

were also the <strong>Quartet</strong> in Residence at the<br />

Festival d’Aix-en-Provence.

In <strong>20</strong>19, the Esmé <strong>Quartet</strong> became HSBC Winner<br />

of the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, also taking first<br />

prize at the 55th Possehl Music Prize in Lubeck.<br />

The <strong>Quartet</strong>’s debut CD, featuring works by<br />

Ludwig van Beethoven, Unsuk Chin and Frank<br />

Bridge released in early <strong>20</strong><strong>20</strong> by Alpha Classics,<br />

won a 5-star review from Diapason d’Or and was<br />

named one of the best classical albums of <strong>20</strong><strong>20</strong><br />

by WQXR Radio in New York. In October of that<br />

year, the Esmé <strong>Quartet</strong> also received the Hans<br />

Gal Prize of the German Academy of Sciences<br />

and Literature in Mainz and the Villa Musica<br />

Foundation.<br />

Highlights of the <strong>20</strong>22/23 season included<br />

extensive tours of America and Japan as well as<br />

invitations to London’s Wigmore Hall, Stuttgart’s<br />

Liederhalle and the Teatro Vittoria in Turin, in<br />

addition to three concerts at the <strong>20</strong>23 Hong Kong<br />

Arts Festival. One of these concerts featured the<br />

solo concerto Absolute Jest for string quartet and<br />

orchestra by John Adams, accompanied by the<br />

venerable Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.<br />

The four musicians, who are bound by many years<br />

of friendship, have studied <strong>with</strong> Heime Muller<br />

(Artemis <strong>Quartet</strong>) in Lubeck and <strong>with</strong> Oliver Wille<br />

(Kuss <strong>Quartet</strong>) in Hanover. They also received<br />

important artistic impulses from Gunter Pichler<br />

(Alban Berg <strong>Quartet</strong>), Alfred Brendel, Eberhard<br />

Feltz, Andras Keller (Keller <strong>Quartet</strong>), Christoph<br />

Poppen and Jonathan Brown (Cuarteto Casals).<br />

In its concerts, the Esmé <strong>Quartet</strong>, whose name<br />

is derived from medieval French and means<br />

“beloved,” is celebrated for its spellbinding<br />

dynamics, stylistically assured interpretations and<br />

perfect ensemble playing, which has also aroused<br />

the interest of many renowned guest artists—as<br />

demonstrated most recently by their collaboration<br />

<strong>with</strong> Eckart Runge, the long-time cellist of the<br />

Artemis <strong>Quartet</strong>.<br />


<strong>Yekwon</strong> <strong>Sunwoo</strong> has been hailed for his<br />

“unfailingly consistent excellence” (International<br />

Piano) and celebrated as “a pianist who<br />

commands a comprehensive technical arsenal<br />

that allows him to thunder <strong>with</strong>out breaking<br />

a sweat” (Chicago Tribune). A powerful and<br />

virtuosic performer, he also, in his own words,<br />

“strives to reach for the truth and pure beauty<br />

in music.”<br />

The first Korean Gold medallist of the Van<br />

Cliburn International Piano Competition,<br />

<strong>Yekwon</strong>’s 23/24 season includes appearances<br />

<strong>with</strong> the Macao, Armenian, Kalamazoo & Victoria<br />

Symphonies, Slovak Philharmonic, Orchestre<br />

de Chambre de Paris as well as a US tour <strong>with</strong><br />

the Esmé String <strong>Quartet</strong>.<br />

In previous seasons, he has performed as soloist<br />

<strong>with</strong> the Munich Philharmonic and Valery Gergiev,<br />

Royal Danish Orchestra <strong>with</strong> Thomas Søndergård,<br />

Fort Worth and Tucson Symphonies, Washington<br />

Chamber Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony<br />

Orchestra, Houston Symphony, National Orchestra<br />

of Belgium, Sendai Philharmonic and Royal<br />

Scottish National Orchestra amongst others.<br />

Recital appearances include Carnegie Hall,<br />

Wigmore Hall, Elbphilharmonie, Salle Cortot,<br />

Hong Kong Arts Festival and a tour of Japan. An<br />

avid chamber musician, <strong>Yekwon</strong>’s collaborators<br />

include Benjamin Beilman, Linus Roth, Andrei<br />

Ionita, Sebastian Bohren, Isang Enders, Tobias<br />

Feldmann, Gary Hoffman, Anne-Marie McDermott<br />

and the Jerusalem and Brentano <strong>Quartet</strong>s. He has<br />

also toured Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama<br />

<strong>with</strong> the Kumho Asiana Cultural Foundation and<br />

performed at Chamber Music of Lincoln Center’s<br />

Inside Chamber Music Lectures.<br />

In addition to the Cliburn Gold Medal, <strong>Yekwon</strong><br />

won first prizes at the <strong>20</strong>15 International German<br />

Piano Award, the <strong>20</strong>14 Vendome Prize held at<br />

the Verbier Festival, the <strong>20</strong>13 Sendai International<br />

Music Competition and the <strong>20</strong>12 William Kapell<br />

International Piano Competition.<br />

Born in Anyang, South Korea, <strong>Yekwon</strong> began<br />

learning the piano at the age of 8 and made<br />

his recital and orchestral debuts in Seoul at 15.<br />

His teachers include Seymour Lipkin, Robert<br />

McDonald, Richard Goode and Bernd Goetzke.<br />

In <strong>20</strong>17, Decca Gold released Cliburn Gold<br />

<strong>20</strong>17 two weeks after <strong>Yekwon</strong> was awarded<br />

the Gold Medal and includes his awardwinning<br />

performances of Ravel’s La Valse and<br />

Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Sonata. In <strong>20</strong><strong>20</strong><br />

<strong>Yekwon</strong> went on to release his first studio album<br />

for Decca Universal Music Korea featuring an all<br />

Mozart programme. His second album featuring<br />

Rachmaninov solo works was released in<br />

September <strong>20</strong>23.

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