By Bridgette M. Redman

Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer

 

The New Hollywood String Quartet is inviting its audiences to take a musical trip to Vienna.

From Dec. 17-19, it will host three concerts entitled “Vienna Holiday Concerts” that celebrate the music of Mozart and Schubert at the Rothenberg Hall, Huntington Library. The concerts are presented as a prequel to a much-delayed longer series that will take place next summer.

The concert series has its roots in the Brahms Festival the group held in July 2019, in which it presented all 25 of Brahms instrumental chamber music works in a series of eight consecutive concerts. 

“It was one of those things where people were looking at me as if I were crazy,” said Rafael Rishik, a founding member of the quartet. “We had eight sold-out performances and a review from the LA Times that was phenomenal.”

Because of the success of the concert, the quartet planned to do something similar — a Summer of Vienna in 2020. It would celebrate Beethoven and Schubert. But then — COVID-19. While the summer of 2021 started to see people returning to live concerts, they weren’t returning in large numbers, so the event got postponed to July of 2022.

Now, with a return to live performances, the orchestra is looking forward to the event that has been planned for so long.

“It is a precursor to what we’ll be doing in the summer,” Rishik said. “It fits the timeline and is our reasoning for it.”

The first concert takes place at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 17, and features Mozart’s “Divertimento in D Major K.136” and Schubert’s “Quintet in C Major D.956.” Joining the quartet will be Robert DeMaine on cello. Mozart’s divertimento is done in three parts usually coming in around 12 minutes. The Schubert piece is sometimes called the “Cello Quintet” because it calls for an extra cello instead of an extra viola. It was his final chamber work and wasn’t performed until 22 years after his death. There are those who hail it as not only Schubert’s finest chamber work but one of the greatest chamber music compositions of all time.

The second concert is also at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18. It features Mozart’s “Quartet in G Major K.387” and Schubert’s “Quartet in D Minor D. 810 Death and the Maiden.” This is another of Schubert’s pieces that was not published until after his death, though it did get a private performance while he was still alive. He composed it after suffering a serious illness and learning that he was dying. The Mozart quartet was one of six pieces he wrote after meeting Haydn and hearing his quartets. He dedicated them to the older composer.

The third concert is at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19. The quartet will play Mozart’s “Quartet in C Major K.465 Dissonance” and Schubert’s “Quintet in A Major D.667 The Trout.” The quartet will be joined by Fabio Bidini on piano and David Grossmann on contrabass. The Mozart quartet is another one of the six that the dedicated to Haydn, who, upon hearing him play them in Vienna, declared Mozart the greatest living composer he knew. The Schubert piece is written for piano, violin, viola, cello and bass. It has five movements, and he wrote it when he was 22, though it wasn’t published until after his death.

The programming was one designed to accommodate new realities with keeping artists and audiences safe. Most shows, Rishik pointed out, are now being done without intermission to reduce the amount of people mingling. 

“We had to come up with a program that was shorter because there would be no intermission,” Rishik said. “What we decided to do was three gigantic Schubert works … and pair them with shorter Mozart quartets. These Mozart pieces are short enough they could fit together with a Schubert and we wouldn’t have to do an intermission. They can come in together at an hour and 15 minutes total.”

While Mozart was born in Salzburg, he lived and composed in Vienna, fitting into the timeline for the concerts they are presenting.

“On a musical level, these works, especially the Schubert works, are some of the great works of chamber music,” Rishik said. “To have the opportunity to do them three nights in a row is a rare opportunity.”

While the quartet posted concert videos online during the pandemic, they are looking forward to once again playing before a live audience. Hearing music live is its own experience, Rishik said.

“The other thing is, we’re connecting with our audience,” Rishik said. “There are going to be a lot of people who were at our Brahms festival. We know a lot of them personally.”

He hopes that people are ready to come out and hear live music. The quartet has been performing in Pasadena and South Pasadena since 2006 and is ready to once again perform for lovers of classical chamber music.

He is grateful that donors Terri and Jerry Kohl have been willing to underwrite both the holiday concerts and the upcoming Summer Vienna Festival.

“None of this would be possible without the generosity of Terri and Jerry,” Rishik said. “It’s because of their donation and support that we’re even able to do these three concerts at the Huntington.”

To attend the concert, audience members must provide a photo ID and proof of full vaccination against COVID-19. The same will be required for musicians, guest artists, staff and venue personnel. All audience members and staff must be masked. Musicians on stage will not be masked.

“It’s difficult to convince an audience to come into a hall, but we’re taking all the precautions that are geared toward trying to keep people safe,” Rishik said.


Vienna Holiday Concerts

WHO: The New Hollywood String Quartet

WHEN: 8 p.m. Dec. 17 and 18, 4 p.m. Dec. 19

WHERE: Rothenberg Hall, The Huntington Library, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino

COST: $120 for all three concerts, $50 each 

INFO: newhollywoodstringquartet.com/vienna-holiday-concerts