a concert – with people!

This past Saturday we played a small program of Mozart and Dvorak for a neighborhood audience in the Sellwood-Moreland area of Portland. Coming on the heels of having played at Providence Milwaukie Hospital last Monday, it was our first week of playing live concerts since March 7th. It felt very good to be playing together again, and to bring live music to audiences that are starved for it! Many thanks to David Stabler (retired classical music critic and cycling buddy) for arranging the concert and providing delicious snacks and beverages for us afterward!

salem camerata musica concert this sunday

This Sunday, April 14th brings our customary visit to the Salem Camerata Musica series at the Salem Public Library. We love playing for their enthusiastic and knowledgable audiences! The concert is free, and starts at 2:30pm. Find more information here. We hope you can join us!

This year’s program consists of two quartets by Mozart and one by Arriaga. The two Mozart quartets are from his final set of three quartets known as the “Prussian” quartets, due to their being dedicated to the King of Prussia, King Friedrich Wilhelm II, who was himself an amateur cellist. He must have been a cellist of no small amount of skill considering that the works feature that instrument prominently and with no small amount of technical challenge. Haydn also wrote a set of six “Prussian” quartets, his Op. 50, for the King in 1787. Mozart’s set of three was premiered and published shortly after his death.

The D major Quartet, K. 575 is perhaps the best known of the three, and is firmly in the mature Mozart camp. No surprises here, just sheer perfection in form and expression.

The F major Quartet, K. 590, his last, is a slightly different animal. I often wonder if Beethoven may have been exposed to this quartet at some point, as it has germs of what Beethoven would later take on in his later quartets – expanded chromaticism, the use of singular rhythmic/melodic motifs, and brief sections of almost chaotic (for the time) rhythm and harmony, particularly in the last movement finale. It also has one of the most gem-like and perfect slow movements in all of the string quartet literature. It’s tied for my favorite with Haydn’s famous F-sharp major slow movement from his Op. 76, no. 5 “Largo” quartet.

Members of the Emerson Quartet talk about Mozart’s Prussian Quartets.

Juan Crisostómo Arriaga was a Spanish composer who became known as “the Spanish Mozart” due to several factors: he shared Mozart’s birthday, was a performing and composing prodigy, and died at a tragically young age: just 10 days shy of his 20th birthday. His three string quartets, written when he was 16, are three gems of the classical repertory. They are not at all commonly performed these days, which is unfair to both the composer’s legacy and to today’s audiences! I have known about his quartets since my grad school days, when I was working with the Guarneri Quartet, who championed and recorded these quartets throughout their storied career. We’ll be performing his charming Quartet No. 1 in D major. There are not many idiomatic Spanish cues in this quartet, but there are a few. There are bits of a fandango rhythm in the last movement, and some brief ornamental flourishes that do betray his country’s musical heritage.

Music from Angel Fire performs Arriaga’s First Quartet in D major.

season opening house concert march 2nd

The gracious home of Dr. Peter Joseph Zisa will open for our first concert of the season, Saturday, March 2 at 7:30 p.m. in NE Portland. Our program will consist of works by our two featured composers this season, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga. Mozart is well known because, well, he’s Mozart! Arriaga is not as nearly well known, even though he has the nickname “The Spanish Mozart”. He died tragically young at the age of 19, but left three delightful quartets that hold their own against those by the masters of the period – Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Had he lived, he may have become one of the great composers of the 19th century. Thankfully, he left us three delightful string quartets.


W.A. Mozart (1756-1791) – Adagio & Fugue in C minor, K. 546
W.A. Mozart – String Quartet in D major, K. 575
Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (1806-1826) – String Quartet No. 1 in D major

Tickets & Info:

RSVP casadellazisa@gmail.com or call 503-307-4907
$20 seat; $15 for PGS members, senior citizens, and students

we’re back!

Photo: Rachel Hadiashar

Our hiatus is over, and we’re back for a few concerts this season. Our repertoire this season will be the final three string quartets of W.A. Mozart, and the three quartets of the “Spanish Mozart”, Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga. Great music in great, intimate spaces, that’s what we have in store this year. We hope to see you there!

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Our major concert will be in Salem, Oregon at our favorite local series, Camerata Musica on April 14, 2019 at 2:30pm. We’ve got a house concert planned, and a few other surprises as well.


upcoming performances & guest cellist

We’ve got two wonderful performances coming up that we think you’ll enjoy very much! The first is on Sunday, January 22nd at 2pm at the Chapel at Mary’s Woods in West Linn. If you haven’t been there, you really owe it to yourself to experience music performed in this amazing acoustic, which is also visually stunning as well. We’ll be playing David Ludwig’s celestial composition, String Quartet No. 1 “Pale Blue Dot”, which was inspired by the journey of the Voyager spacecraft out of our home solar system. It involves a bit of choreography on the part of the quartet, which also makes it a very unusual piece! It is written in an accessible, tonal style, and audiences have loved it when we’ve performed it previously. The remainder of the program is taken up by Dvorak’s last string quartet, the Quartet No. 14 in A-flat major, Op. 105. It is a gorgeous quartet that is inexpliably not played all that often. Tickets and information about the Mary’s Woods concert series is available here: http://maryswoods.org/music-in-the-woods/

The following weekend (Sunday, January 29th at 2:30 pm), we’re in Salem, performing our nearly annual concert for the Camerata Musica series, which we absolutely love. We’ll be playing Anton Webern’s early Langsamer satz (slow movement), which is written in a highly Romantic style, before he began his experimentation with atonality and the 12-tone method of composition. After that, we’ll be playing two big quartets: Beethoven’s C-sharp minor quartet, Op. 131, and the Dvorak Op. 105. Two very different quartets from two great composers at the tops of their compositional games. Camerata Musica concerts are free admission for all. Info is available here: http://www.cameratamusica.org/series.html

Finally, our regular cellist, Heather Blackburn is unable to perform these two concerts with us, but we were able to secure a splendid substitute that may be familiar to some of you.


Pansy Chang was once a member of the cello section of the Oregon Symphony, and who subsequently joined the Portland band Pink Martini and had a university teaching career in Ohio for over a decade. It’s quite a task to learn and re-learn repertoire with a substitute player, but Pansy is more than up for the challenge (as are we) and we’re happily working up these two concerts for you!

Here is some more information about Pansy:

Pansy Chang, violoncellist, has performed in North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East as a soloist, chamber, and orchestral musician.  She has appeared with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Chamber Music Northwest, on Bob Sherman’s “Listening Room” – WQXR New York, and in both the Yale University Spectrum Series at Weill Hall and the Yale Faculty Artist Series in New Haven.

Associate Professor of Violoncello at Miami University of Ohio from 2001-2016, she has recently returned to the Portland, Oregon area.  Prior to joining the Miami University music faculty, she served for two years as Assistant to Professor Aldo Parisot and Lecturer in Violoncello at the Yale University School of Music, and for four years as a member of the Oregon Symphony.

Concerto appearances include performances with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC, the Oregon Symphony, and many regional orchestras in the Washington, DC and Portland metropolitan areas.  Ms. Chang also performs with the Portland, Oregon-based band, Pink Martini, whose appearances with orchestra include performances with the Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

An avid pedagogue, she has given master classes at the Beijing Conservatory in China and Yale School of Music, and has served on the faculties of the Marrowstone Music Festival and the Chicago Suzuki Institute.

Ms. Chang was awarded a Fulbright Grant for study in the United Kingdom, and was a semi-finalist in the Leonard Rose International Cello Competition.

Ms. Chang earned her Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees at the University of Southern California and Yale University School of Music, respectively, and principal teachers include Aldo Parisot, William Pleeth, Eleonore Schoenfeld, Evelyn Elsing, and Susan Kelly.

Pansy Chang can be heard on the Pink Martini albums, as well as on recordings of works by Ezra Laderman and Martin Bresnick, released by Albany Records, and works by Ben Wolfe, released by Amosaya Music and Planet Arts Recordings.

beethoven’s greatest quartet?

This week and next, we’re taking on Beethoven’s Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, op. 131. This seven movement quartet – played without pause from beginning to end – is thought to be Beethoven’s own favorite quartet, and it was performed for Schubert (at his request) on his deathbed. It’s a work that demands so much of an ensemble, and starting the slow, melancholy fugue that begins the work is much like being strapped into an inexorable amusement park ride – once you start, you can’t stop. Not until you reach the double bar at the end.

Many performers think that the op. 131 quartet is Beethoven’s greatest composition for string quartet (as did Richard Wagner). I’m not going to dispute that assertion. It is clearly his most experimental and fantastic quartet (he wrote that it had “less lack of imagination than before”). Understatement of the year, by Herr Beethoven! There are many reasons for this admiration and respect, and I’ll share some of mine here.

Emotional range. This quartet starts with a slow fugue that has as its subject a musical motive that might be best described as despairing. It bravely tries to rise by three notes, then heavily sags down in defeat. It has all the intellectual rigor you’d expect of a fugue, but none of that matters. The air of sadness pervades the movement. It’s immediately followed by the first of two scherzos in the quartet, and it couldn’t be any more different, cleverly set up by a unison C-sharp that evaporates into the a most effervescent D major. The massive set of variations that makes up the third movement encompass an entire world of emotion in its pages. Perhaps most stunningly, the final movement takes us from C-sharp minor to C-sharp major, with a breathtaking coda that somehow manages to convey triumph, resignation, and fierce defiance all at once – while still bringing back the basic materials of the fugue that opened the quartet over 30 minutes earlier. Amazing!

Difficulty. This is one of the supreme tests of a string quartet. Intonation is tested by the keys which allow very little use of open strings, and so provide little resonance to the harmonies. Part writing is intricate and constantly shifting – no one plays an entire melody in the piece, melodies start in one instrument and end in another, often passing through several instruments in succession before their conclusion. There are, as in many of Beethoven’s compositions for strings, many passages which just don’t work well for the instruments. Beethoven says: Too bad!

Risk and reward. It pays to try to take things to their utmost with this quartet. The quality of sound shouldn’t be sacrificed, but passages like the beginning of the last movement should just rage like a wild animal. It’s that pitting of elegance against brutality that really gets to the heart of what Beethoven is playing with in his last compositions. It went on to profoundly influence Shostakovich (who wrote 15 quartets of his own) and Bartók, to name just a few.

Please join us at the University of Portland Mago Hunt Recital Hall on Wednesday, November 2 at 12:30 pm for our free concert of Webern and Beethoven. [map]

classical up close with arnica

We’re excited to play on the Oregon Symphony musicians’ series Classical Up Close for the first time this year, and we’re bringing David Ludwig’s Pale Blue Dot with us!

Here we are in our refresher rehearsal for the piece earlier this week (click photos to enlarge).

Photo: Rachel Hadiashar
Photo: Rachel Hadiashar

Photo: Rachel Hadiashar
Photo: Rachel Hadiashar

We hope to see you there!

May 3, 2016 at 7:30 p.m., Lake Grove Presbyterian Church 4040 Sunset Dr, Lake Oswego.

Free admission and open to the public! #upclosepdx