String Quartet No. 10 ... The Berkshires (2006)

Thomas Oboe Lee

About this work:

Commissioned by Carl & Claudia Shuster.

Premiere performance by the Hawthorne String Quartet in Lenox, Massachusetts, October 13, 2006.

"String Quartet No. 10 ... The Berkshires" was commissioned by Carl and Claudia Shuster.

In my discussions with the Shusters about the commission, they thought it might be a good idea for me to write a work celebrating the beautiful Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. I agreed wholeheartedly, for three reasons.

One, the Shusters love the Berkshires and are fulltime residents in Lenox, Massachusetts - home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood.

Reason number two: I have been in love with the Berkshires since the summer of 1976 when I was a Tanglewood Fellow at the Berkshire Music Center.

Reason number three: Since 1997 Mark Ludwig has involved me in many events with MusicWorks in the Berkshires, formerly Richmond Performance Series.

These activities often involved commissions for new works, many of which were premiered by the Hawthorne String Quartet, or educational outreach programs in Lenox, Richmond, Great Barrington and Pittsfield. Consequently I feel very at home in the Berkshires; it is my home away from home.

After much thought and reflection, I came up with the idea of a 24-hour cycle of a day in the Berkshires in four movements.

I. Morning on the Appalachian Trail

II. Afternoon at Jacob's Pillow

III. Night Falls on the Housatonic River

IV. Dawn over Stockbridge Bowl

I. The Appalachian Trail traverses the western part of Massachusetts from Sages Ravine near the Connecticut border to North Adams and eventually to Vermont. Since the Trail is a favorite haunt for hikers, I decided a marching theme would be a perfect idea for the first movement.

II. I have been an avid student of dance and ballet since I met my ballet teacher, now my wife, Kristin Beckwith in the summer of 1988. Every summer we travel to Becket, Massachusetts, to see dance at Jacob's Pillow. The fast and agitato scherzo second movement is my homage to the spirit of Ted Shawn and Ruth St, Denis - the modern dance couple who founded Jacob's Pillow.

III. One of the most beautiful little towns in the Berkshires is West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Housatonic River flows quietly through the middle of it. It is night, and in my imagination's eye, I see a full moon over the top of the small buildings. The moonlight leaving sparkling reflections on the surface ripples of the running water. The "moonlight" music I wrote has a little Spanish tinge to it. It is perhaps more like the Portuguese Fado - the song of the melancholy moon against the dark sky, drifting clouds and ...

IV. Ah ... Stockbridge Bowl, right next to the grounds of Tanglewood. During that happy summer in 1976, all the Fellows congregated there to swim and party. For "Dawn over Stockbridge Bowl" I wanted to find a musical idea that would capture the essence of something that is quiet, soothing, serene and reassuring as the morning mist and fog creep over the lake. Earlier this spring I went to see a New England Conservatory of Music production of the Mozart opera, "Così Fan Tutte." One aria got stuck in my brain: "Soave sia il vento." The undulating string accompaniment was perfect for what I was looking for: the serene, the quiet, the soothing, the longing, etc.

Thanks, Wolfgang. I owe you one.

Year composed: 2006
Duration: 00:19:00
Ensemble type: Unspecified Instrument(s):Ensemble
Instrumentation: 2 Violin, 1 Viola, 1 Cello
Instrumentation notes: String Quartet

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