David Stock - Three String Quartets
Mexico City, December, 8 - 11, 1999. Six individuals inhabited the Blas Galindo of the Centro Nacional de las Artas: The Three Bitran brothers, Saul, Aron, Alvaro and Javier Montiel, who comprise Cuarteto Latinoamericano; Bogdan Zawistosky, a producer and recording engineer of great sensitivity, and David Stock, tireless champion of American music, a man of overwhelming energy whose infectious fervor defines the spirit of American music. What happened in the wee hours on these four dates may be summed up by the composer: "It was one of the great musical experiences of my life to hear these wonderful musicians give their all." Mr. Stock is referring to the glorious recordings made of his second, third, and fourth string quartets. The spirit presided. The Blas Galindo became a fortress protecting the work of art. This demands our attention.
There is something inherently transcendent about the combination of four stringed instruments. This is not a genre which welcomes the frivolous into its fold. If one is going to tread this terrain, it is wise to be in unison with one's artistic vision. Technique is but syntax: useful - but given to diction without substance.
The 20th Century introduced us to a lexicon which brought forth notions of didacticism and other conceptions which deviated from our comfort zone of understanding. The string quartet medium was especially resonant with these sensibilities. One needn't rehash this rich legacy. But what I wish to pose is that we look at the three string quartets composed in the late 20th Century by David Stock in terms of directness. Is the communication process direct? Is the medium itself direct?
Mr. David Stock considers himself, first and foremost, an orchestral composer. He has provided major contributions to this literature via the New York Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, and other carriers of the orchestral torch. But he has a lifelong relationship with the intimate medium of the string quartet. His first string quartet was a student work, and, far from disclaiming it, he fondly acknowledges the first as a meaningful introduction to the discipline. The fact that it had a positive reception at its Paris premiere - with no less than Alfred Cortot in attendance - has something to do with this. But the blossoming of his craft fully emerged with the creation of the string quartets two, three and four (1981-97). These sum up his belief that this intimate medium ultimately opens up the possibility for the personal.
This disc presents us with three very different personal expressions. Each encompasses a wide range of emotions. Let us visit them in the order of presentation - String Quartet No. 3, No. 2, "Speaking Extravagantly," and No. 4.
Breckenridge, Colorado sounds secluded. It is secluded, which is why David Stock and his wife Celia took refuge there during the summer of 1994. It was here that he completed the String Quartet No. 3. Written with a composer's fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, it was premiered in Pittsburgh, September 7, 1996 by the brilliant Cuarteto Latinoamericano. Is this a personal work? Well, to begin, it was dedicated to the composer's mother. This alone resonates with profound meaning.
The first two movements introduce us to a Stock who wishes to dazzle. Albeit, in different ways. The first movement, marked Obsessive, is obsessively resplendent. But Mr. Stock knows that this aura of resplendency is more than icing. What might on the surface seem merely vivid coloration hides other shades of wonder. It is transformed into the rapturous second movement, Reflective. This is more than a dramatic contrivance designed to play upon our emotions. It conjures up and presents to us a myriad of feelings and emotions. The third movement, Manic, is, well - relentless. This Scherzo - Trio has a nice little sidebar. In 1992, Mr. Stock composed a "Happy Birthday" variation for his wife's 50th birthday. It was designed to be performed by the Kronos Quartet as a surprise at a concert with the composer and his wife in attendance. Kronos was unable to prepare this and it did not materialize. But the Quartet offered in its place "Foxy Lady," surprising the birthday girl. Well, Mr. Stock, not to forsake a good birthday tune, later incorporated it into the Trio of this movement. Listen closely. The Quartet concludes with a movement marked Intense. Cuarteto Latinoamericano plays with great duende, leaving us with a better understanding of the personal nature of this work.
His second string quartet is titled "Speaking Extravagantly," which comes from the Charles Ives quote in Essays Before a Sonata, "Perhaps music is the art of speaking extravagantly." Written in 1981 and commissioned by the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society for the Concord String Quartet, it was premiered by this illustrious ensemble in 1982. The Ives reference leads us to anticipate an adventure. A not too cautious darting in and out of ideas with a nod to that quirky New England mix of the transcendental, the pragmatic, and some ineffable force which contradicts each of these disciplines. It's Ives, of course. And if his spirit is going to permeate something, it is going to be a peripatetic journey.
The opening movement almost overwhelms us with extreme tempi variation. But there is a quality which reminds us that Mr. Stock is very much an American composer, and an inherent logic will not permit a journey without knowing the destination. There is some exquisite playing from Cuarteto Latinoamericano which brings to life the chordal writing in this movement.
The Scherzo second movement is unabashedly Bartokian. This is a hard driving
reminder that the composer is a city boy, at ease with the urban soundscape.
The concluding third movement is the gem of the piece. Its slowness is
neither ponderous nor gushing. There are two subtle quotes - from Charles
Ives's setting of the Ninetieth Psalm ("God Be Merciful Unto Us") and the
opening from Carl Ruggles's Angels). Talk about referencing one's American
roots. Ives and Ruggles were, indeed, roots composers. And this is Stock's
persona. The intense harmonic material is brought to full force. The
culmination of meaning may be summed up in the composer's realization after
the fact that this work was composed in memory of his father, who died in
1967. He relates how after the premiere, a person who had been a younger
colleague of his father came up to him and said, "I know what that last
movement was about." The somber, emotional language is made apparent in two
wonderful solos - violist Javier Montiel and cellist Alvaro Bitran movingly
capture the mood of this rapturous piece.
The String Quartet No. 4 brings us up to 1996. Mr. Stock opted to confine
himself to a two-movement structure, played without pause to accentuate
their contrast. The nature of many works in this genre is that each movement
can stand-alone. This is very much the case here. Stock gives us two very
different voices, each an entity unto itself. The first movement is in
strict 12 Tone, which the composer had not done in fifteen years.
Interestingly, he found this "liberating." Usually the constraints of this
methodology imply anything but "liberating." But Stock's refreshing take on
this, in the guise of dangerously fast tempi, makes it sound fresh. A
dramatic shift occurs with the second movement. The 12 Tone approach is
abandoned for for a mournful, modal evocation of a lost friend. John
Ronsheim had been Mr. Stock's closest acquaintance in the years at Antioch.
His unexpected death prompted this moving statement. Cuarteto
Latinoamericano suggested that a string orchestra version of this would be
appropriate, much like Samuel Barber's Adagio. As it turned out, Mr. Stock
was in New York for the premiere of his composition A Little Miracle, when
someone asked if he had any chamber orchestra pieces which were Jewish in
nature. He didn't, but upon returning home retrieved the thought of this
movement, added a bass part, and it became Yizkor - Hebrew for remembrance.
It is a greatly ethereal movement, accentuated by Alvaro Bitran's probing
and thoughtful cello solo.
Most of this work was composed in Seattle when the composer, on sabbatical
from Duquesne University, immersed himself in orchestral performances with
that city's splendid orchestra. Not being a coffee drinker, his diversion
was writing the poignant fourth quartet. Cuarteto Latinoamericano presented
it before the public in September 1998.
Thus concludes three extraordinary works. As a guidepost, I would suggest we
keep in mind that the unifying spirit of each of these is remembrance. A
reflective spirit presides. The spirit, for David Stock, is multiple.
Ideally, to fully appreciate this, one should have rice with him, talk about
the National Football League or where to find the best Pho. Listen as he
effortlessly glides over each subject like the great bebop trumpet players
he so admires. It all seems very direct - much like the string quartet
medium itself. But is it?
Composer/Conductor David Stock is Professor of Music at Duquesne
where he conducts the Duquesne Contemporary Ensemble. He has been
Composer-in-Residence of the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Seattle
and is Conductor Laureate of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, which he
founded in 1976. He retired as Music Director of PNME at the end of the
1998/99 season, after 23 years of dedication to new music and the living
In November 1992, he was selected by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to
the Creative Achievement Award for Outstanding Established Artist.
many commissions are Kickoff, premiered by the New York Philharmonic
Kurt Masur during the Orchestra's 150th Anniversary; Violin Concerto,
premiered by Andres Cardenes and the Pittsburgh Symphony under Lorin
for that Orchestra's 100th Anniversary; and Second Symphony, premiered
Seattle Symphony under Gerard Schwarz.
Stock's compositions have been performed throughout the United States
Europe, Mexico, Australia, China, and Korea. He has recorded on CRI,
Northeastern, MMC, Ocean, and Ambassador.
Stock has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, five Fellowship Grants from
National Endowment for the Arts, five Fellowships from the Pennsylvania
Council on the Arts, and grants and commissions from Ella Lyman Cabot
the Paderewski Fund for Composers, the Koussevitzky Music Foundation,
Barlow Endowment, Boston Musica Viva, the Cincinnati Symphony, the
Symphony, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Richard Stolzman, Duquense
University, the Erie Philharmonic, and many others.
As guest conductor, he has appeared with Australia's Seymour Group,
Capella Cracoviensis and Silesian Philharmonic, Mexico's Foro
de Musica Nueva, Eclipse (Beijing), the Pittsburgh Symphony, the
Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music
Monday Evening Concerts, the Syracuse Society for New Music, the
Composers Forum, the American Dance Festival, Opera Theatre of
the New England Conservatory Contemporary Ensemble, the Chautauqua
the American Wind Symphony, and the Cleveland Chamber Symphony.
Mr. Stock has served as panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts
the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and as a host of Da Capo, a weekly
series on WQED-FM in Pittsburgh. His television credits include the
music for the award-winning PBS series Kennedy Center Tonight.
Celebrating its twentieth anniversary season, and described as a
"first-rate ensemble of passionate temperament" by the San Francisco
Chronicle, Cuarteto Latinoamericano has distinguished itself with
performances on radio, television and in concert around the world.
Composed of three brothers, violinists Saul and Aron and cellist Alvaro
violist Javier Montiel, it has been hailed as "a gem of a string
quartet" by the
Cuarteto Latinoamericano was formed in Mexico in 1981 and two years
awarded the prize of the Music Critics Association in Mexico. Since its
Cuarteto Latinoamericano has become a unique voice in classical music,
bringing the works of Latin American composers to the world.
Highlights of the quartet's recent seasons include performances in New
York, Teatro alla Scala Milano, Los Angeles, Toronto, Miami, Mexico
City, Paris and London. The Cuarteto Latinoamericano has been described
by The Times of London as "playing of a richness, a unanimity and an
instinct that surely places it in the first division of string
Despite a busy concert schedule, the quartet is credited with having
taught an entire generation of Mexican string players, and presently
holds two residencies: at the Centro Nacional de las Artes in Mexico
City, and at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University, where they have
recently celebrated their 14th season as Quartet in Residence. In
addition, the quartet teaches seminars regularly at many Conservatories
and Universities in the USA and Latin America. They have conducted
residencies at the Washington Performing Arts Society, St. Mary's
College in Los Angeles, Cornell University, Willamette University, and
at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, among others
Cuarteto Latinoamericano has recorded the most important string quartet
literature by Latin American composers, and currently has 25 CDs
available,with New Albion, Dorian and Elan labels. A premiere recording
of Julian Orbon's Concerto Grosso with the Orquesta Sinfónica Simon
Bolívar (Venezuela) under the direction of Eduardo Mata, was made in
November 1992 for Dorian. They have performed this work with the
National Arts Centre Orchestra in Canada, the National Symphony and the
Mexico City Philharmonic in Mexico, the Dallas and San Antonio
Symphonies, and the L.A. Philharmonic conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.
The Cuarteto has recorded the entire cycle of Villa Lobos' 17 string
quartets. Six volumes are currently available in stores. The Cuarteto
performed the 17 quartets in 5 concerts at the Cervantino Festival in
Mexico in October 1998 and again in Mexico City in May 1999.
Highlights of the 2001/02 season are performances with the L.A.
Philharmonic, the Mainly Mozart Festival in San Diego, concerts in
Caracas, Mexico City, and a tour of New Zealand in February 2002.
Cuarteto Latinoamericano has been featured in leading musical magazines,
such as The Strad, Chamber Music America, and received the1997,1999 and
2001 "Most Adventurous Programming" awards from ASCAP.
Cuarteto Latinoamericano is represented by Ann Summers International, in
Recorded: December 8-11, 1999 at the Blas Galindo of the Centro Nacional
de las Artes, Mexico City Recording Engineer: Bogdan Zawistosky Session
Producers : Bogdan Zawistosky and David Stock Editing and mastering:
SonicSolutions Workstation. Post Session Production: Bogdan Zawistosky
and members of the Cuarteto Latinoamericano
String Quartet No. 4
Written for Cuarteto Latinoamericano with a Fellowship from the
on the Arts
Dedication: For my Mother
Written in Pittsburgh and Breckenridge, Colorado; completed July 21,
Commissioned by the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society
in honor of its 21st Anniversary
for the Concord Quarte
with grants from the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Pennsylvania Council
Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts
Dedication: In Memory of My Father
First performance: The Concord Quartet, Carnegie Music Hall,Pittsburgh,
"Perhaps music is the art of Speaking Extravagantly"_ Charles Ives,
Before a Sonata"
With great extremes of expression
Completed: July 21, 1981, Pittsburgh
String Quartet No. 4
Dedication: In memory of John Ronsheim
Written in New York and Seattle: completed February 8, 1997
All works published by MMB Music (BMI)