The Demeter Quartet was founded in 2019 and consists of members Laura Liu, Justyna Bidler, Lucja Koczot, and Hrafnhildur Marta Guðmundsdóttir. On Sunday, May 10 they present their program “A Spring Day” with masterworks by Benjamin Britten, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Maurice Ravel in Norðurljós Concert Hall at Harpa. The program celebrates the exuberant return of Icelandic spring with music that invokes feelings of vigor, warmth, sentiment, and passion.
Born and raised in Plano, Texas, Laura Liu has frequently performed as soloist and concertmaster with orchestras and ensembles across North America and China. She holds degrees from New England Conservatory and Rice University, where she was the recipient of the Hodder Classical Music Scholarship and Larry J. Livingston Violin Prize. Prior to joining the Iceland Symphony in 2018, she held artist residences with the Takács Quartet and New York Philharmonic, among others. She is a certified yoga instructor and enjoys traveling and art.
Before moving to Iceland, Justyna Bidler worked with Gorzów Weilkopolski Philharmonic Orchestra and Orchestra Sinfonia Varsovia. She is from Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland and studied with Marcin Baranowski at the Ignacy Jan Paderewskiego Academy of Music in Poznan, Poland. She frequently plays with Iceland Symphony, Iceland Opera Orchestra, and North Iceland Symphony. Justyna loves chamber music and participated twice in the Princess Daisy International Festival in Poland, performing with renowned musicians from around the world. She also enjoys traveling, literature, and cooking in her spare time.
Lucja Koczot was was born and raised in Katowice, Poland. As a viola player she has collaborated with the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonia Varsovia, Sinfonietta Cracovia, Sinfonia Iuventus, Baltic Neopolis Orchestra, and Gran Teatre de Liceu. From January 2019 she is a member of ISO, and has collaborated with Sinfonia Nord and Iceland Opera. Recently she played in Festival Castel Peralada in Spain. Lucja is also passionate about chamber music. As a member of chamber music groups she played in Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and China. She enjoys sports, traveling and eating good food.
After her studies in Iceland, cellist Hrafnhildur Marta Guðmundsdóttir studied with Morthen Zeuthen at the Royal Danish Academy of Music and Brandon Vamos at Indiana University, Jacobs School of Music, where her string quartet served as string quartet in residence. As a member of the Kuttner quartet, she also won a residency at the Beethoven Haus in Bonn in 2018. Hrafnhildur has performed as a soloist with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and the North Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and has recorded both chamber music and orchestral music for Naxos. She has earned numerous prizes for her playing, such as the Rotary Music Prize, recognition from Minningarsjóður Jean-Pierre Jacquillat, the Thor Thors Fellowship and the Leifur Eiriksson Fellowship.
“A Spring Day”
Benjamin Britten Three Divertimenti for String Quartet (1936)
I. March:Allegro maestoso
III. Burlesque: Presto
Ludwig van Beethoven String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 74 “Harp” (1809)
I. Poco adagio – Allegro
II. Adagio ma non troppo
IV. Allegretto con Variazioni
Maurice Ravel String Quartet in F major (1903)
I. Allegro moderato – très doux
II. Assez vif – très rythmé
III. Très lent
IV. Vif et agité
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) Three Divertimenti for string quartet
A bright, outdoors mini-suite, the Three Divertimenti have strong echoes of the Phantasy Quartet, Op. 2, and in turn a compelling harmonic connection to Frank Bridge. Each movement is melodically strong and enjoyably fresh. The open fifths of the first movement could be seen as defying some of the rules of composition Britten learned from John Ireland, and they work well as raucous fanfare. The waltz is more graceful and a little nostalgic, but the final burlesque moves quickly and demonstrates Britten’s facility for fast music, athleticism, and virtuosity.
The Three Divertimenti represent just a part of what the composer intended to be a suite of character portraits of school friends, called Go play, boy, play. They were first performed by the Stratton Quartet in Wigmore Hall, London in February 1936. Britten became depressed by their reception; they were received with ‘sniggers and in a pretty cold silence’ he wrote. He withdrew them from publication, and they only reappeared after his death.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) String Quartet Op. 74 “Harp”
On account of the special pizzicato notes in the first movement, this work received the nickname Harp Quartet relatively soon after it was written, The allusion to that romantic instrument is in keeping with the entire quartet, which is one of the most emotional Beethoven ever composed. The work dates from the summer and fall of 1809, when Beethoven was madly in love with Therese Malfatti, to whom he would soon propose marriage, only to be turned down. Haydn had died earlier that year, a few weeks after Napoleon’s troops invaded Vienna. These were turbulent times indeed, even if Beethoven had just entered a lucrative agreement with the Archduke Rudolph and the Princes Kinsky and Lobkowitz, in terms of which he would receive from them an annual sum that would guarantee him a comfortable life for the next few years. The quartet was dedicated in gratitude to Lobkowitz, who had received the dedication of the Op. 18 quartets a decade earlier.
The Harp was the first Beethoven quartet to be published by itself, with an opus number that did not contain six works as in Op. 18, or even three as in Op. 59. This remained the standard for all later quartets, each of which was too individual to be lumped together with others in a single publication.
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) String Quartet in F major
Ravel was 28 years old when he wrote his first and only string quartet. He was still, at least nominally, a student as he was auditing Gabriel Fauré’s composition class at the Paris Conservatoire. Ravel’s string quartet-dedicated “to my dear master Gabriel Fauré” – is clearly modeled on Debussy’s celebrated Quatuor from 1893, yet Ravel displays a sense of color and melody that is all his own. To both composers, the string quartet as a medium demanded adherence to classical tradition. Yet nothing was farther from them than academicism of any kind. The defining moment of both works is precisely the tension that exists between the classical forms and a positively non-classical sensitivity that is manifest at every turn.
Melody, harmony and rhythm are usually thought of as the most important ingredients of music. Ravel‘s string quartet, written at the beginning of the 20th century, was nothing less than prophetic in the way it added a fourth element, sound, as a factor of equal importance. The alternation of playing techniques (pizzicato, con sordino, arpeggio, bow on the fingerboard) is as crucial to the unfolding of the piece as the alternation of themes. Their succession, especially in the second and third movements, creates a musical form of its own, entirely non-traditional this time.