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Brentano String Quartet, photo Juergen Frank

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Brentano String Quartet to Open Middlebury Bach Festival April 28

April 15, 2017

Concert Program to Feature Bach’s Art of Fugue

Middlebury, VT—Acclaimed American ensemble the Brentano String Quartet will perform on Friday, April 28 at the Mahaney Center for the Arts as the opening event of the seventh annual Middlebury Bach Festival. The concert will feature J. S. Bach’s Art of Fugue, interspersed with dramatic recordings of related texts by writers ranging from Lewis Carroll to Carl Sagan. Professor of Music Larry Hamberlin will give a free pre-concert talk for interested audience members.

The Brentano String Quartet last performed on the Middlebury College Performing Arts Series in 2002, when the ensemble celebrated its tenth anniversary by commissioning ten composers to pen companion pieces for Bach’s Art of Fugue. Middlebury was a commissioning partner on that project. It seems only fitting that the quartet returns now to play Bach’s Art of Fugue itself.

First violinist Mark Steinberg elaborates on the complexity of the work: “The Art of Fugue is an intense meditation by Bach on a single theme, which is viewed from every imaginable perspective over the course of sixteen fugues and four canons. Our [performance] aims to leaven the rich density of this composition by bringing other media into the mix: several “fugal” readings by writers as diverse as Carl Sagan, Lewis Carroll, and May Swenson, and a play by Itamar Moses written in fugal form that we will perform ourselves.”

The readings that precede each section of music have been recorded by noted British actor and director Mark Wing-Davey, best known for his role in the radio and tv versions of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and as chairman of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. The readings present diverse perspectives on music, science, and more, comprising texts on Cubism (Christopher Green), the DNA molecule (May Swenson), and the cosmos (Carol Sagan), as well as an except of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.

About the Brentano String Quartet

Since its inception in 1992, the Brentano String Quartet has appeared throughout the world to popular and critical acclaim. The quartet has performed in the world’s most prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall in New York; the Library of Congress in Washington; the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam; the Konzerthaus in Vienna; Suntory Hall in Tokyo; and the Sydney Opera House. The Quartet had its first European tour in 1997, and was honored in the U.K. with the Royal Philharmonic Award for Most Outstanding Debut.

The New York Times extolled the ensemble for its “luxuriously warm sound [and] yearning lyricism” and the London Independent raved, “…passionate, uninhibited and spellbinding.”

The quartet is known for especially imaginative projects combining old and new music. Among the quartet’s latest collaborations with contemporary composers is a new work by Steven Mackey, “One Red Rose,” commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Other recent commissions include a piano quintet by Vijay Iyer, a work by Eric Moe (with Christine Brandes, soprano), and a new viola quintet by Felipe Lara (performed with violist Hsin-Yun Huang). In 2012, the quartet provided the central music (Beethoven’s Opus 131) for the critically-acclaimed independent film A Late Quartet.

The quartet has worked closely with other important composers of our time, among them Elliot Carter, Charles Wuorinen, Chou Wen-chung, Bruce Adolphe, and György Kurtág. The quartet has also been privileged to collaborate with such artists as soprano Jessye Norman, pianist Richard Goode, and pianist Mitsuko Uchida.

Since 2014, the Brentano Quartet has served as Artists in Residence at Yale University. The Quartet also currently serves as the collaborative ensemble for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

The quartet is named for Antonie Brentano, whom many scholars consider to be Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved,” the intended recipient of his famous love confession.

This concert is sponsored by the Middlebury College Performing Arts Series and the Middlebury Bach Festival, and is part of the Nelson Chamber Music Series. Full information about the Bach Festival is at

The concert by the Brentano String Quartet will take place on Friday, April 28, 2017 at 8:00 P.M. in the Olin C. Robison Concert Hall of the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts. The pre-concert lecture will begin at 7:00 P.M. in Room 221. The Mahaney Center is located on the campus of Middlebury College, at 72 Porter Field Road in Middlebury, just off Route 30 south/S. Main Street. Free parking is available curbside on Route 30 or in the Center for the Arts parking lot, in rows marked faculty/staff/visitors. Assigned seating tickets are $25 for the general public; $20 for Middlebury College faculty, staff, alumni, emeriti, and other ID card holders; and $6 for Middlebury College students. For more information, or to purchase tickets, call (802) 443-MIDD (6433) or go to



Photo captions:

The Brentano String Quartet will perform Bach’s Art of Fugue April 28 at the Mahaney Center for the Arts. Photo Juergen Frank.

The Brentano String Quartet will perform Bach’s Art of Fugue April 28 at the Mahaney Center for the Arts. Photo Peter Schaff.

Mahaney Arts Center
Middlebury College
South Main St./Route 30 South
72 Porter Field Rd.
Middlebury, VT 05753
(802) 443-3168 phone
(802) 443-2834 fax