Dali Quartet and Wister Quartet

Mount Gretna, PA, United States

Mt. Gretna Playhouse

7:30 PM

The fabulous Wister Quartet joins with the Dalí Quartet for Mendelssohn's exuberant octet.

7:30 pm First Listen performance at 6:45 pm. Doors open at 6:30 pm.  Open Seating.  We ask you to be mindful of other people’s space, leaving empty seats between your group and others.  There will be plenty of room to spread out in the playhouse for this concert.

String Quartet in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Adagio cantabile
Scherzo: Allegro
Allegro molto quasi presto

String Quartet in A Major, Op. 18, No 5
Ludwig van Beethoven
Andante cantabile


String Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Allegro moderato ma con fuoco
Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo

Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2


The G major, the briefest and seemingly least ambitious quartet of Op. 18, emerges as a charming and witty work, very close in style and temperament to the best examples of eighteenth-century Rococo chamber music. Despite its apparent light, happy character, though, Michael Tree of the Guarneri Quartet, among many other musicians, considers it the most difficult of al Beethoven quartets to perform. And Beethoven’s notebooks reveal that the lightness was achieved only after a lengthy and arduous struggle, covering thirty-two notebook pages, to blend many disparate elements into a smooth, artistic creation.


The subtitle the quartet is sometimes given, “Compliments,” comes from the opening of the quartet in which a series of short, balanced phrases of supple elegance conjure up, as described in Theodor Helm’s 1885 book on the Beethoven quartets, an “eighteenth-century salon, with all the ceremonious display and flourish of courtesy typical of the period…with bows and gracious words of greeting.”  A gruff bridge passage, starting with a repeated note, leads to a second subject and a closing theme that are attractive, but not particularly distinctive. The development is devoted exclusively to the melodies of the first subject and the bridge. The original themes are brought back in the recapitulation, but this time they are treated with greater vehemence and more freedom.


The Adagio cantabile features the solo violin at first, with the other instruments playing secondary roles.  Before long, though Beethoven takes the closing, cadential figure of this section, quadruples its tempo, and sends the music scurrying off in a parody-like Allegro interruption to the serious business at hand. Ending on a climactic note, the slow, gentle strains of the Adagio cantabile return, now in variation and shared by all players.


The two violins gleefully toss back and forth the melodic flourish of the Scherzo tune until the other instruments join in to introduce a more sober note. But the cheerful idea is not to be repressed, and in the trio that follows the two contrasting moods, playful and serious, are expanded. In the transition back to the repeat of the Scherzo, the cello plays a descending scale line, and the violins, unable to contain their enthusiasm, anticipate the repeat of the first section.


Beethoven referred to the last movement, which continues the high spirits and good humor of the Scherzo, as “Aufgeknopft” (“unbuttoned”), connoting a free, informal character. Starting with perfectly symmetrical, four-square phrases, it goes on to an impish second theme with a syncopated start and a delightful counter melody.  Rollicking along lightheartedly, it builds to a brilliant conclusion.


Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet in A Major, Op. 18, No. 5

Beethoven’s sixteen string quartets reflect an entire creative life. The earliest — the six of Op. 18 — were composed in Vienna between 1798 and 1800; Beethoven’s last string quartet (Op. 135) appeared one year before his death. The Op. 18 quartets were dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz, with whom Beethoven had become acquainted through a friendship with the tutor of the prince’s children, Karl Amenda. The two of them had become inseparable friends at a time when Beethoven was already established as one of the greatest pianists of his age and struggling to make his way as a composer. When Amenda was obliged to return home in 1799, Beethoven presented a draft of the first of the Op. 18 quartets to him as a going-away present. The formal dedication came later, with the publication of these quartets in 1801.

In the Op. 18 quartets, the young composer is influenced by models in which “the clarity and freshness of Haydn are found linked with the grace of Mozart.” Both composers had also published string quartets in groups of six, first Haydn and the Mozart in homage to Haydn.

Now Beethoven, while adhering to the principles of classic Viennese tradition, would begin extending the range of instruments and expanding the technical possibilities in a form which would challenge him throughout his life.

Beethoven had just undertaken a change in the way he worked during these years: he began organizing his sketches in notebooks, which reveal the depth of his struggles to capture his music. Even his fair scores, presented to his publishers, were filled with revisions — not just corrections — and showed the extent of Beethoven’s self-consciousness with his writing.

It is interesting to observe that the German romantic ideal (originally literary) of the artist as hero embraced Beethoven even as early as this time. The perception of his struggles with his art, as well as his lack of success in finding an enduring romantic love and his later deafness elevated the composer to nearly mythical status. Unlike his Op. 18, No. 4 quartet, which ironically seems to have been the last of the six Op. 18 quartets he composed and has more heroic substance, this quartet is quite light-hearted in comparison.

The first movement opens with a graceful unfolding in a very Classical manner. The beautiful inventiveness of harmony and counterpoint give this movement its luster. The Menuetto likewise opens conventionally but eventually picks a fight with itself. The Trio section is one of his great miniatures, filled with good humor and unconventional accents.

The variation movement opens most innocently. Beethoven treats it alternately whimsically and lyrically, breaking at one point suddenly into an over-the-top parody of a march, which is suddenly interrupted as we are returned without warning to the chaste  music of the opening. A windswept and playful Allegro completes this sparkling, good-natured quartet.


Felix Mendelssohn, String Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20

Felix Mendelssohn was a master of just about every musical form and genre. He wrote well in all mediums, from great symphonic works, concerti, oratorios, to the finest chamber music, lieder and piano solo works.  His life spanned the most fertile period of the fruition of the Romantic Period, from the last years of Beethoven and Schubert to the onset of Liszt, Schumann and all the other masters of the first half of the 19th century.

Mendelssohn was the child of an educated family that fully supported his talent. At the age of 12 he became close friends with the 72-year-old Goethe, who was in part the inspiration for this Octet. Mendelssohn completed his octet in October 1825, when he was 16. It is certainly one of the finest of his early works. It is expertly crafted — not an easy balancing task for a string octet, which can approach orchestral dimensions. It shows technically polished technique and is a masterwork filled with the sheer exhilaration of youth.

Around 1815, concerts intended for public rather than for privately invited audiences began to proliferate along with the democratic tendencies tolerated in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. One preference the general public shared with aristocratic audiences of earlier times was for the “latest” music and a disdain for music already heard once or twice. Music of the great Baroque and Classical composers was not well know; even Beethoven’s earlier compositions were among the many musical gems neglected because of the ready supply of attractive new music. Mendelssohn’s octet was surely among the new favorites. Later in life Mendelssohn worked to bring back many of the older works, Baroque and Classical and the early Romantics to give an antidote to the public’s fickle taste in “only the newest music.”

“My favorite of all my compositions,” said Mendelssohn of his octet. “I had a most wonderful time in the writing of it.” Who has not had a wonderful time listening to this astonishing work by a sixteen-year-old? In his book The Mendelssohns, Herbert Kupferberg describes his own happy experience of coming upon “the ever-fresh and delectable Octet in E-Flat played by eight bearded and blue-jeaned young musicians in the nave of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.”

The Mendelssohn family home in Berlin was famous for Sunday morning musicales. At one of these occasions the young man produced the octet, a birthday present for his violin and viola teacher, Eduard Rietz.

There is wonderful energy in the opening movement, a great sweep of temperament. All eight voices interact easily before it culminates in a grand climax drawn from the opening theme.

The second movement is based on a simple melody announced by the lower strings and then sung by the four violins. The gentle theme becomes more animated as it develops, and the accompanying voices grow increasingly restless.

Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny wrote of the Scherzo movement, “To me alone he told his idea: the whole piece is to be played staccato and pianissimo . . . One feels so near the world of spirits, carried away in the air, half inclined to follow the aerial procession. At the end the first violin takes flight with a feathery lightness — and all has vanished.” The last phrase is a reference to Goethe, to Walpurgisnacht, which she knew was Mendelssohn’s source of inspiration. He apparently had in mind the final lines of the description of the marriage of Oberon and Titania:

Clouds go by and mists recede,

Bathed in the dawn and blended;

Sighs the wind in leaf and reed,

And all our tale is ended.

And indeed, the music sparkles, trills, and swirls until all is just blown away at the end of this remarkable Scherzo, easily the musical high point of the octet. One year later, at the ripe old age of seventeen, Mendelssohn would compose his Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 

The last movement is marked Presto and features an eight-part fugato, demonstrating Mendelssohn’s contrapuntal skill already well developed at age 16. There are some wonderful touches here: one might hear a (chance?) quotation of “And He Shall Reign” from the “Hallelujah” Chorus of Handel’s Messiah, and near the end Mendelssohn skillfully quotes the main theme of the Scherzo as a countermelody to the finale’s polyphonic complexity. It is a musical masterstroke in a composition that would be a brilliant achievement by a composer of any age

Beethoven Op. 18, No. 2 note by Melvin Berger; Beethoven Op 18, No. 5 and Mendelssohn notes by Lloyd Smith

The Dalí Quartet brings its signature mix of Latin American, Classical and Romantic repertoire to stages and audiences of all kinds. The quartet’s passionate energy is poured into everything they do, generating audience acclaim for their Classical Roots and Latin Soul. Its tours include appearances for distinguished chamber music and cultural center series in the U.S., Canada, and South America. The Dalí Quartet’s engaging style reaches across the footlights for an experience which “leaves the audience almost dancing in the aisles.”

The Dalí Quartet is devoted to audience development and to reaching communities of all kinds through the group’s Latin Fiesta Workshops and Family Concerts. Trained by world-renowned artists, members of the Dalí Quartet are from Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the United States, and have studied at esteemed institutions such as the New England Conservatory, Cleveland Institute of Music, Juilliard, Indiana University Bloomington, and the Simón Bolivar Conservatory in Caracas, Venezuela. The quartet is based in Philadelphia, PA and serves at West Chester University Wells School of Music as the Quartet in Residence, as an Iris Orchestra Resident Ensemble and as a guest resident ensemble at Lehigh University.

For more information on the Quartet, visit www.daliquartet.com

The Wister Quartet has earned high praise from critics and audiences alike for its superb musicianship and memorable performances, including those with guest artists Yefim Bronfman, Alicia de Larrocha, Christoph Eschenbach, Wolfgang Sawallisch, and Yo-Yo Ma. Since its beginning in 1987, the Philadelphia-based Quartet was named to honor Frances Anne Wister, founder of the Volunteer Committees of The Philadelphia Orchestra. It has performed throughout the Eastern United States including concerts at Haverford, Swarthmore, Gettysburg, Ursinus, and Gloucester County (NJ) Colleges and has also appeared in concert in China, South America and Europe.

Frequently, the Wister Quartet appears on established series such as those presented by The Chamber Music Society of Bethlehem, the Laurel Hill Concerts by Candlelight in the historic Philadelphia mansion of that name in Fairmount Park, the Glencairn Museum, and Arcadia University. Since its earliest days, the Wister Quartet has been featured on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Chamber Music Series, and since 1991 in performances on the Lenape Chamber Players Summer Festivals and at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center chamber series.

In 1993 the Wister Quartet established its own Chamber Series of five Sunday afternoon concerts in the historic headquarters of the German Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. These feature the great quartet literature as well as unusual and rarely played works. The Quartet is also the core group of the popular Philadelphia chamber ensemble, 1807 & Friends.

Kellen Mikesell, violin
Byron Mikesell, piano

Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Opus 24 “Spring”
Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

  • Allegro

6 Airs Varies, Opus 89
Charles Dancla (1817-1907)

  • On a theme by Paccini
  • On a theme by Weigl
  • On a them by Mercadante

Banjo and Fiddle
William Kroll (1901-1980)

Kellen Mikesell is a 16-year-old energetic young musician from central Pennsylvania who studies with Kimberly Fisher, principal second violinist of the Philadelphia Orchestra and co-founder of the Philadelphia International Music Festival. Kellen began violin studies at the age of four with Alice Bish of the Harrisburg Symphony, and then the late John Eaken of the Grammy Award-nominated Eaken Piano Trio. A student at West Shore Christian Academy, Kellen is an accomplished pianist, vocalist, and trumpet player, who also enjoys playing soccer and running track.