Aizuri String Quartet

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Aug 19, 2023

The Aizuri Quartet Announces 2023-2024 Season

Introducing Violist Brian Hong and Cellist Caleb van der Swaagh

11th Season Introduces New Touring Program, Community, Exploring Human Connection Through Works From Mendelssohn to Reena Esmail

Cleveland Quartet Award Brings Second Season of Honors, Including 
Smithsonian Concert, Chamber Music Detroit, Friends of Chamber Music
Kansas City Residency, and the World Premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Azure Waves
Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society

KRONOS Five Decades,
a 50th Anniversary Celebration  of the Kronos Quartet, at Carnegie Hall

Ensemble-in-Residence at the New York Youth Symphony and University of Iowa
“These limber and luminous performances by the Aizuri Quartet… proves that the 250-year-old string quartet formula remains vibrant and vital.” – NPR

New York, NY (August 10, 2023) – The GRAMMY®-nominated Aizuri Quartet is “a quartet of expert collaborators who cogently traverse a range of repertoire staples and modern works” (The New York Times). Now embarking on its 12th season, the Quartet has established a unique position within today’s musical landscape, infusing all of its music-making with infectious energy, joy, and warmth, cultivating curiosity in listeners while inviting audiences into the concert experience through its innovative programming and the depth and fire of its performances. Today, Aizuri opens a new chapter with the 2023-2024 season, announcing its two new members: cellist Caleb van der Swaagh and violist Brian Hong. 

Handpicked by Aizuri violinists Emma Frucht and Miho Saegusa to succeed departing members Karen Ouzounian and Ayane Kozasa, the new arrivals complete the quartet in time to open a season highlighting a brand new program – Community – and a world-premiere commission, Jennifer Hidgon’s Azure Waves, as well as a return to Carnegie Hall for a performance alongside the Kronos Quartet. The Quartet performs with several notable collaborators including Seth Parker Woods and Kirsten Docter at Chamber Music Detroit, Kim Kashkashian and Marcy Rosen at Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh at Chamber Music Concerts in Ashland, Oregon. They also take on a University of Iowa Chamber Music Residency and serve as Ensemble-in-Residence for the inaugural season of New York Youth Symphony’s Crescendo program.

In recognition of the Cleveland Quartet Award (CQA), the Quartet performs at Chamber Music Detroit, Market Square Concerts, Friends of Chamber Music Kansas City, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, and Buffalo Chamber Music Society, where Aizuri will perform the world premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Azure Waves, written for the Quartet in celebration of the series’ 100th anniversary season. Last season as part of the CQA, Aizuri performed at Carnegie Hall, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, and Texas Performing Arts in Austin.

Audiences will get their first look at the Aizuri Quartet with its two newest members. Brian Hong is a faculty member at Bard College Conservatory of Music, where he teaches viola and chamber music. For the past five years, he has served as co-Artistic Director of NEXUS Chamber Music Chicago, an artist-driven collective of musicians with a mission to make classical music culturally relevant through live concerts and multimedia content. A Carnegie Hall Ensemble Connect alum and a Kovner Fellowship recipient, Hong studied violin with Laurie Smukler and Catherine Cho at Juilliard. He is the Programming Director of Project: Music Heals Us, a nonprofit providing musical education, access, and healing to isolated and marginalized communities.

Also an alumnus of Carnegie Hall’s Ensemble Connect fellowship program, Caleb van der Swaagh has performed with The Knights, A Far Cry and Orchestra of St. Lukes, among others. A champion of contemporary music, he is a member of counter)induction and Ensemble Échappé. Additionally, he has performed with top New York City-based new music groups including Talea Ensemble, Argento New Music Project, and Hotel Elefant. He is currently a Professor of Cello at SUNY Purchase.

Aizuri Quartet shares, “We are thrilled to join forces with Brian and Caleb! Their experiences as dynamic performers, passionate teachers, and creative thinkers will be great assets in this next chapter for Aizuri. We are honored to welcome such thoughtful artists and beautiful humans into the quartet family. We look forward to powerful performances together, and we can’t wait to share our new dreams and vision with you all!”

The Aizuri Quartet carries its innovative approach to programming with programs creatively juxtaposing the canon and the contemporary. For the 2023-2024 season, The Aizuri Quartet unveils Community, a multifaceted exploration of our human bonds and shared experiences. Works selected for the first half of the program invoke the spirit of coming together – of voices coalescing in something greater than the sum of their parts. The program opens with contemporary Indian-American composer Reena Esmail’s “Fantasie (Bihag)” from her work Ragamala (2018), Esmail’s reflection on the magical togetherness of concerts in India – the sharing of sound and sensation among the performers and the audience. Esmail’s work is followed by Felix Mendelssohn’s No. 3 Capriccio in E minor, from Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81, defined by its fugue of four equal voices in fiery counterpoint. Concluding the program’s first half is Judd Greenstein’s Four on the Floor (2006), a grooving, joyous piece Greenstein wrote for a friend’s wedding, cunningly crafted to create the illusion of more than four players. 

The program’s second half explores the breadth of experiences, complications and subtle twists inherent in the idea of community. Silvestre Revueltas’ String Quartet No. 4, Música de Feria (1932) sets the tone with a musical depiction of a fairground, with sharp juxtapositions that express the joyful cacophony and disorder of a communal space where many things are happening at once. A more contemplative second movement captures a quiet moment of connection within the flurry of activity, while a third movement reignites the upbeat commotion of the first. A contrasting piece follows in Clara Schumann’s Die stille Lotosblume from Sechs Lieder, Op. 13 No. 6 (1844), a meditation on the intimate communion of a lone swan and a silent lotus flower. The program closes with Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s String Quartet in E-flat Major (1834), an unorthodox piece with thought-provoking and ironic reflections on the cultured community that molded the composer and her brother Felix. Rife with unexpected formal twists, romantic lyricism, and imitative counterpoint, the piece was never performed in public during Fanny’s lifetime – reflecting, on the one hand, the creative influences open to her, and on the other, the limited opportunities for a woman composer of her generation.

The Aizuris will perform Community on Saturday, February 24, 2024 as part of Chamber Music Detroit’s Oakland Winterfest series, the quartet’s metro Detroit debut, followed by a February 25, 2024 performance with cellist Seth Parker Woods; on February 29, 2024 at the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art; March 10, 2024 at Steeple Concerts in Westfield, NJ; and at the University of Iowa’s Voxman Recital Hall on April 4, 2024. A version of the program will appear in Aizuri’s annual Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concert on February 12, 2024 with guest violist Kim Kashkashian and guest cellist Marcy Rosen.

Among their other season highlights, the Aizuri Quartet will premiere Jennifer Higdon’s Azure Waves, a piece composed for the quartet in partnership with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society in celebration of the series’ 100th anniversary season. The premiere performance, also presented by the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, will take place Tuesday, October 23, 2023 at Buffalo’s Kleinhans Music Hall

In addition, the Aizuris carry over two acclaimed programs from previous seasons. In their collaborative touring program Music and Migration, featuring the quartet alongside Syrian-American clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh, the artists explore the theme of migration in the broadest possible terms, both as a physical journey and state of mind – a transition occurring either within or between countries. Stemming from a deep friendship between the Aizuris and Azmeh, the program was built around a new commission by composer Layale Chaker, Matrescence, made possible by the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program with generous funding provided by The Mellon Foundation, as well as additional works for string quartet and clarinet by Azmeh, Michi Wiancko and Wang Lu, among others. Azmeh will join the quartet for a performance of this program Friday, September 29, 2023 as part of the Chamber Music Concerts series at Southern Oregon University’s Oregon Center for the Arts. 

Robert Schumann’s String Quartet No. 1 appears on programs for the quartet’s Market Square Concerts performance in Harrisburg, PA on Wednesday, September 27, 2023 and during a University of Iowa String Quartet Residency. 

Also returning this season is the quartet’s Sunrise program, which traces a journey from darkness to dawn –  exploring how composers from the classical era to the present day have drawn inspiration from the atmosphere, psychological power, and political metaphor of nighttime. The program opens with Clara Schumann’s Ich stand in dunklen Traumen (“I stood in dark dreams”), followed by Bartók’s Quartet No. 4. In its second half, the program continues with Sivunittinni—by the Canadian Inuk composer and throat singer Tanya Tagaq—and concludes with Haydn’s “Sunrise” quartet. The Strad declared the program “fearless throughout … For the ensemble to switch so smoothly and effortlessly from Tagaq’s angular, socially conscious message to Haydn’s blissful flights of sunlight spoke volumes about the group’s chameleonic persona.” During the season, the quartet will perform this program on Tuesday, October 3, 2023 with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society and Thursday, October 19, 2023 at Florida State University College of Music.

Aizuri Quartet 2022-2023 Calendar

Saturday, September 23, 2023 at 7:30PM
Friends of Chamber Music Kansas City Presents Aizuri Quartet (CQA)
1900 Building (Parkway Room) | Mission Wood, KS

Wednesday, September 27, 2023 at 7:30PM
Market Square Concerts (CQA)
Temple Ohev Sholom | Harrisburg, PA

Friday, September 29, 2023 at 7:30PM
Oregon Center for the Arts Presents Music and Migration with Clarinetist Kinan Azmeh
Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall | Ashland, OR

Tuesday, October 3, 2023 at 7:30PM
Buffalo Chamber Music Society Presents Sunrise
Kleinhans Music Hall (Mary Seaton Room) | Buffalo, NY

Thursday, October 5, 2023 at 7:30PM
Chamber Music Society of Little Rock
St. Mark's Episcopal | Little Rock, AR

Thursday, October 19, 2023 at 7:30PM
FSU College of Music Presents Sunrise
Opperman Music Hall | Tallahassee, FL

Sunday, October 22, 2023 at 7:30PM
Chiarina Chamber Players Presents Aizuri Quartet: C. Schumann, Brahms, Bartók
St. Mark's Capitol Hill | Washington, DC

Friday, November 3, 2023 at 8:00PM
Carnegie Hall Presents Kronos Quartet: Five Decades
Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage | New York, NY

Monday, February 12, 2024 at 3:00PM
Philadelphia Chamber Music Society Presents Sunrise (with Kim Kashkashian and Marcy Rosen)
Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center | Philadelphia, PA

Saturday, February 24, 2024 at 8:00PM
Chamber Music Detroit Presents Community (CQA)
Varner Recital Hall | Rochester, MI

Sunday, February 25, 2024 at 3:00PM
Chamber Music Detroit Presents Oakland Winterfest: Seth Parker Woods, cello & Friends
Varner Recital Hall | Rochester, MI

Friday, February 29, 2024
Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Asian Art Presents Community (CQA)
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery | Washington, DC

Sunday, March 10, 2024 at 5:00PM
Steeple Concerts Presents Community (CQA)
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church | Westfield, NJ 

Thursday, April 4, 2024 at 7:30pm
University of Iowa School of Music Presents Guest Chamber Recital: Aizuri Quartet
Voxman Music Building | Iowa City, IA

Sunday, April 21, 2024 at 3:00PM
New York Youth Symphony Crescendo
Carnegie Hall (Zankel Hall) | New York, NY

More About Aizuri Quartet

Praised by The Washington Post for “astounding” and “captivating” performances that draw from its notable “meld of intellect, technique and emotions,” the Aizuri Quartet was named the recipient of the 2022 Cleveland Quartet Award by Chamber Music America, with other honors including the Grand Prize at the 2018 M-Prize Chamber Arts Competition and top prizes at the 2017 Osaka International Chamber Music Competition in Japan and the 2015 Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition in London. 

The Quartet’s sophomore album, Earthdrawn Skies, was released in 2023. Featuring music of Hildegard of Bingen, Komitas Vartapet, Eleanor Alberga, and Jean Sibelius, Earthdrawn Skies was praised by NPR Music as an album that “convincingly connects the dots in wildly diverse music stretching over eight centuries…arousing solemn contemplation, cosmic curiosity, folksy delight and introspective scrutiny.” Aizuri’s debut album, Blueprinting, featuring works written for the Quartet by five American composers, was released by New Amsterdam Records to critical acclaim (“In a word, stunning” —I Care If You Listen), nominated for a 2019 GRAMMY Award, and named one of NPR Music’s Best Classical Albums of 2018. 

Aizuri Quartet have previously performed in an eclectic variety of settings: In addition to the world’s great chamber music series, Aizuri opened five nights of performances with legendary Indie Rock band Wilco with quartets by Gabriella Smith, Paul Wiancko, Rhiannon Giddens, and George Meyer at New York’s United Palace Theatre. Aizuri appeared with Wilco on CBS’s The Tonight Show with Steven Colbert. With Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ken David Masur, Aizuri Quartet performed John Adams’s string quartet concerto Absolute Jest in 2022. During the summer of 2023, they appeared in Kronos Quartet’s Kronos Festival at SFJAZZ, where they played works commissioned by Kronos’s groundbreaking 50 For the Future initiative.

The Aizuri views the string quartet as a living art and springboard for community, collaboration, curiosity and experimentation. At the core of its music-making is a virtuosic ability to illuminate a vast range of musical styles through the Aizuri’s eclectic, engaging and thought-provoking programs. The Quartet has drawn praise both for bringing “a technical bravado and emotional power” to bold new commissions, and for its “flawless” (San Diego Union-Tribune) performances of the great works of the past. Exemplifying this intrepid spirit, the Aizuri Quartet curated and performed five adventurous programs as the 2017-2018 MetLiveArts String Quartet-in-Residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, leading The New York Times to applaud Aizuri Quartet as “genuinely exciting,” “imaginative” and “a quartet of expert collaborators.” For this series, the Quartet collaborated with spoken word artist Denice Frohman and shakuhachi player Kojiro Umezaki, and initiated several new commissions: new works by Kinan Azmeh, Michi Wiancko and Wang Lu, as well as new arrangements of vocal music by Hildegard von Bingen and Carlo Gesualdo paired with the music of Conlon Nancarrow, Haydn and Beethoven in a program focused on music created in periods of isolation.

The Aizuri believes in an integrative approach to music-making, in which teaching, performing, writing, arranging, curation, and the Quartet’s role in the community are all connected. In 2020, the Quartet launched AizuriKids, a free online series of educational videos for children that uses the string quartet as a catalyst for creative learning, featuring themes such as astronomy, American history, and cooking. These vibrant, whimsical, and interactive videos are lovingly produced by the Quartet and paired with activity sheets to inspire further exploration. 

The Aizuri Quartet is passionate about nurturing the next generation of artists, and is deeply grateful to have held several residencies that were instrumental in its development: the String Quartet-in-Residence at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (2014-2016), the Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts (2015-2016), and the resident ensemble of the 2014 Ravinia Festival’s Steans Music Institute. In early 2022, the Aizuri Quartet was named fellows to the Artist Propulsion Lab, a project of WQXR, New York City’s classical radio station. 

After signing with the prestigious artist-development management agency Concert Artists Guild, the Quartet joined the roster of Pink Noise Agency. Formed in 2012 and combining four distinctive musical personalities into a powerful collective, the Aizuri Quartet draws its name from “aizuri-e,” a style of predominantly blue Japanese woodblock printing that is noted for its vibrancy and incredible detail.

*Photo courtesy of the Aizuri Quartet.