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Naumburg Honors Telegraph Quartet and Robert Sirota

The love of music coupled with financial resources has endowed dozens of amateur musicians with immortality over the centuries. (Think Rasoumowsky or Waldstein) One such benefactor of more recent vintage was the amateur cellist Walter W. Naumburg who in 1925 established the Naumburg Foundation, a philanthropy whose list of award winners through the International Naumburg Competition reads like a Who’s Who in Music. The 2016 Naumburg Chamber Music Award was given to the Telegraph Quartet of San Francisco.

Telegraph Quartet with Robert Sirota
Robert Sirota (right) with Telegraph Quartet
Photo by Debra Kinzler

In a sold-out performance at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, this vibrant ensemble presented the world premiere of a Naumburg commission, Robert Sirota's String Quartet No. 3 (Wave Upon Wave). They also performed works by Arnold Schoenberg and Leon Kirchner, weaving a fascinating musical thread among the three composers. Schoenberg was the teacher of Kirchner, who in turn taught Sirota.

Their concert was dedicated to the memory of Mark Sokol and Robert Mann.

While composing his quartet, Sirota wrote a little poem entitled “Wave Upon Wave,” the idea of which became the touchstone of his musical work. In his program note, he writes: “With Wave Upon Wave, my third string quartet, I conclude a trilogy of quartets begun with Triptych in 2002. Each of these works is in essence a long journal entry reflecting a response to our times. My first quartet, Triptych was an extended meditation on 9/11. In contrast to the elegiac Triptych, my second string quartet, American Pilgrimage, completed in the spring of 2016, is a celebration of the rich diversity of the American landscape and the American spirit. Now, given the uncertainty of this moment in our history, rife with threats of tyranny, environmental catastrophe and the human potential for evil, I find myself turning inward to examine the topography of the human heart: our vast potential for creative energy, idealism and altruism.”

Describing the quartet as “harrowing,” the reviewer for New York Music Daily wrote: "Of the three works on the bill, it was the most chillingly cinematic. Terror growing amidst bustling crowds, a sinisterly marching fugue of sorts, lingering funereal ambience and a cruelly reharmonized snippet of a Presidential anthem brought to life Sirota’s search for hope within the human soul….The incessant dynamic push-pull and inventive pairings between voices mirror Kirchner’s work: he would be proud of this. It doesn’t have the sheer terror of Sirota’s unforgettable Triptych, his 9/11-themed first string quartet, but it’s close.”

All three string quartets are published by Muzzy Ridge Music (ASCAP).

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