In indie rock and metal, there is an old trope amongst uppity fans that goes something like, “I prefer their earlier work,” but when it comes to Beethoven, devotees largely seem to sway toward the late quartets. The good news is that no one has to choose, but for 2018/19, we’re making our first foray into Ludwig van’s final composition, the enigmatic String Quartet Op. 135.
This is definitely the quirkiest of the late quartets, and you might find yourself wondering how this squares with the typical notion of a classical composer of old penning his or her most profound or spiritually enlightened work on their deathbed. Not here. You’re going to hear buoyancy and levity, and of course, dramatic left turns.
Which brings us to the other two pieces on this program. We love connecting the dots across centuries, so we’re pairing Op. 135 with two recent works by Hans Thomalla and David Fulmer. Hans’s Bagatellen is a magical series of musical vignettes that at its heart is all about seemingly trivial bits of historic pieces, like say, unassuming eighth notes from a viola line in a Beethoven quartet. It has the entertaining effect of looking through a microscope from the wrong end, and often these historic references send you, the listener, on a tiny scavenger hunt.
David’s verse, verses, on the other hand, finds its connection to Beethoven by way of intense contrasts, which is pure LvB. Those that saw the world premiere of this piece at the Art Institute last season will remember polarized moments of loud and soft, consonance and cacophony, and languid and quick. You’ll need to be on your toes for this quicksilver number, which has been significantly expanded by the composer for this performance.