Krakow "Cloth Hall"
Krakow “Cloth Hall”

The Alexander String Quartet is heading to Poland next month — only our second visit ever to this eastern European gem and a trip to which we look forward with great anticipation.

Poland is curiously more similar in size and population to our home state of California than any other western European country. It is also enjoying a surging economy albeit just a quarter the size of California’s own, but citing Joe Matthew’s recent commentary in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Poland’s investment in infrastructure and education is exemplary, dwarfing California’s efforts in similar areas.” By happy coincidence as we began to anticipate this exciting trip, we learnt almost a year ago, that our home town of San Francisco is twinned with Krakow, our European “Sister City.” Although the grand finale of the two week tour will wind-up with two collaborative concerts in Warsaw’s Royal Palace, we’ll get to begin with several days in Krakow where we’ll play two programs at the legendary renaissance Sukiennice. Better known to tourists as the Cloth Hall (similar to Leipzig’s Gewandhaus’s reputation) in the Main Market Square, it is home to Poland’s National Museum and in addition to a vibrant shopping center, it also hosts some of Poland’s most exceptional works of 19th century art.

Royal Castle of Warsaw
Royal Castle of Warsaw

Of very particular interest to the ASQ in Krakow is the fact that Beethoven’s manuscripts for both the Op. 131 and 132 Late Quartets are in repository at the famed Jagiellonian University Library. Thankfully, the XIXth Annual Beethoven Easter Festival, which is our host for this entire tour, has arranged for special exhibition privileges during our visit to Krakow. This could scarcely be more exciting for the ASQ, which has performed the entire cycle of Beethoven’s Quartets many times over more than three decades and recorded them all twice, for both BMG and most recently, for Both Op. 131 and 132 are programmed for our concert presentations in Krakow, along with Mozart, some early Beethoven, Shostakovich and Brahms quartets. Op. 131 and 132 will also be featured later during the tour which will also incorporate performances in Rzeszow and Gdansk and culminate in a pair of festive performances in Warsaw’s Royal Castle within the full context of the Easter Beethoven Festival. The ASQ particularly looks forward to collaborations in Warsaw with some of our most distinguished and favorite fellow musicians in quintets by Brahms with clarinetist Joan Enric Lluna and pianist Boris Berman.

During our sojourn in Krakow, we will certainly be visiting Krakow’s Academy of Music where we eagerly anticipate a masterclass with a half dozen of their finest student ensembles as well offering some open rehearsals at the local JCC. We will also visit the Polish-American High School among other institutions — all in close collaboration with the US Consulate in Krakow which is assisting in the coordination of our activities in this remarkable twinned Sister-City Celebration with San Francisco.

We also look forward to masterclasses at the conservatory in Gdansk where we also plan to make time to visit some of the most stimulating cultural attractions along the way, including the Solidariyy Museum in Gdansk. In the same vein, we eagerly anticipate a visit to the newly opened Museum of the Jewish People in Warsaw.

It’s particularly gratifying that we will be accompanied on this two week trip by a team of documentary film-makers from the celebrated DocFilm Institute from our home institution of SFSU’s College of Liberal and Creative Arts

The Ellen M. Egger Quartet
The Ellen M. Egger Quartet

A particular feature that we eagerly look forward to on this tour is that the ASQ will perform on an exclusive quartet of matched modern instruments made by the San Francisco/Cremona based luthier Francis Kuttner. Francis, besides many more in the interim, has crafted a superb quartet of instruments known now as the Ellen M. Egger Quartet in honor of the late dedicatee. The ASQ has been privileged for many years to perform and record regularly on this exceptional quartet of instruments, made in 1986. We are particularly pleased to be able to perform these important programs in Poland on this uniquely celebrated set of San Francisco manufactured instruments. It is also of note that in addition to Kuttner, the maker of ALL of the ASQ’s ultra modern bows, Berndt Müsing, founder of the ARCUS company will also be on hand during this exciting visit to Poland. Müsing’s bows, like Kuttner’s instruments have all be featured exclusively on the Alexander String Quartet’s extensive catalogue of recordings for Foghorn Classics over the past dozen years

We look forward enormously to this exciting trip. We are particularly happy and proud to have have received very welcome support toward the Quartet’s travel from (USAI) US Artists International, administered by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. USArtists International is made possible through support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

— Beethoven is paving the way once again —

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