Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Danish String Quartet closes U.S. tour with appearance in Rockport

Danish String Quartet. Caroline Bittencourt photograph

Danish String Quartet. Caroline Bittencourt photograph

Rune Sørensen wants to learn Polish, fix his car and cook dinner. Not typical ambitions for a violinist in a string quartet.

But first, Sørensen and his mates in the Danish String Quartet will tour America, culminating on Nov. 18 in the group’s last stop, at Rockport Music’s Shalin Liu Performance Center. And then—actually, next fall, after some more performances and recording dates—Sørensen can learn Polish.

That’s when the quartet has planned a six-month sabbatical. Cellist Fredrik Sjölin will steer his OE32 sailboat around the west coast of Norway. Violist Asbjørn Nørgaard will move to Brazil. And Sørensen can putter with his cars, cook up some Frikadeller, and work on a new language—“my fiancée is Polish,” he says—giving him a very good reason.

It will be a long-anticipated break in the busy life of the esteemed quartet. Travel is a must for international musicians from Scandinavia—“I feel like America is a second home,” Sørensen says, and the group has been on the road continually since their formation a decade ago.

The quartet has just finished three years in residence with New York’s Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center 2, a stint that has raised their stateside profile greatly. Appearances at Jordan Hall in the Celebrity Series, and at other New England venues including a stellar performance at the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival, have made the engaging quartet a popular concert choice locally.

This tour—which began early this month and covers the United States—includes the program they will play in Rockport: quartets by Haydn and Beethoven (the first Razumovsky), and Hans Abrahamsen’s “Ten Preludes.”

Haydn and Beethoven—audiences should know these composers works by now. And Abrahamsen’s music, audiences should get to know.

The Danish composer, 65, has gone through multiple styles, but is known now from the strength of simple and emotional works like his set of canons for chamber orchestra “Schnee” (Snow), and the orchestral piece “Nacht und Trompeten” (Night and Trumpets). Abrahamsen wrote a number of works in the ’60s through the ’80s, then took a long hiatus before returning to composition. 

His song-cycle “let me tell you,” championed by conductor Andris Nelsons, was premiered in Berlin in 2013, and performed in Boston in 2016. It features the rapturous soprano Barbara Hannigan, and the piece won Abrahamsen the $100,000 Grawemeyer Award in 2016.

“Ten Preludes” comes from Abrahamsen’s earlier period. “We fell in love with this piece long ago,” Sørensen says. “It’s ten little preludes that paint a picture, kind of an old school idea. But the expression is hardly old school. They are individual works, but when you listen together they make a strong impact.
“I won’t give it away,” he says of the impact, “but in a weird way, it makes people laugh. The character, the mood, the state of mind—all kinds of emotions you go through in 20 minutes. You experience a lot. It’s relatable. People understand it, on the first listen. One quote about the piece sticks with me: ‘It reminds me of something I’ve never heard before.’

“It’s not in a key signature,” Sørensen says of the cycle, “but Abrahamsen says himself that it’s one long journey toward C major. Whether you can hear that or not, people will realize that C major is a presence.”

Adding a Beethoven quartet to the program would be a given at this stage in the Danish String Quartet’s career. “We’ve just come off our first Beethoven cycle,” he say, referring to a complete set of the sixteen quartets that the group performed at their own DSQ Festival in October. “We will play some more too, before the anniversary year (the music world will celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 2020). Then we will put those quartets away for a while.

“For now though, it’s fresh in our minds and fingers,” he says. “And we love to play Haydn, for lots of reasons. He is the founder of the string quartet, and gave Beethoven inspiration. It’s a pleasure to play this music, with its great ideas all the way through.” 

The Danish Quartet performs music of Haydn, Abrahamsen, and Beethoven at the Shalin Liu Performance Center on Sunday, Nov. 18 at 3:00 p.m., part of Rockport Music’s Classical Series. For tickets and information visit www.rockportmusic.org or call 978-546-7391.

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