The following is a list of works composed expressly for and given their world premiere by the St Lawrence String Quartet in the last seven years, listed in reverse chronological order. When possible, video or audio recordings are presented, otherwise liner notes, reviews, and/or the circumstances of the premiere are given.
Drag Down the Sky
for string quartet and baritone
Tango alla Zingarese
The concert’s first half continued with the premiere of Jordan Pal’s new Quartet...[Inspired by] Haydn’s Opus 20 Quartets which were reaction to social and political stresses of the later eighteenth century. In a programme note, Pal writes that these particular Haydn Quartets “remind us that music, like the world around it, is forever changing... highlight the impact society can have on shaping compositional techniques and aesthetics” and show “abandonment of the courtly Galante style, in favour of greater levels of dissonance, equality of voices, and innovative structures.” Overall, Pal’s Quartet is concise, brilliant music and stands up well even without considering the social and political ideology which are its basis. And the St. Lawrence Quartet players performed it superbly.
-Charles Pope, Jr., concertonet.com
for string quartet and percussion
Second Quartet (2014)
The Second Quartet is the third piece to result from [an] exceptionally fruitful relationship between a composer and his favorite chamber group. Speaking of their working relationship, Adams says, “String quartet writing is one of the most difficult challenges a composer can take on. Unless one is an accomplished string player and writes in that medium all the time—and I don’t know many these days who do—the demands of handling this extremely volatile and transparent instrumental medium can easily be humbling, if not downright humiliating. What I appreciate about my friends in the St. Lawrence is their willingness to let me literally ‘improvise’ on them as if they were a piano or a drum and I a crazy man beating away with only the roughest outlines of what I want. They will go the distance with me, allow me to try and fail, and they will indulge my seizures of doubt, frustration and indecision, all the while providing intuitions and frequently brilliant suggestions of their own. It is no surprise then for me to reveal that both the First Quartet and Absolute Jest went through radical revision stages both before and after each piece’s premiere. Quartet writing for me seems to be a matter of very long-term ‘work in progress.’
- from John Adams's website earbox.com
for string quartet
Matheson’s String Quartet is an impressive piece of work. Thirty-two minutes long, it is brimming with ideas; the richness of their number is palpable. It is also composed in an accessible style, but not a dumbed-down one. The composer’s intention of accessibility is nicely summed up by the movement titles, which Matheson (he was in attendance) told us he came up with just that day. They are: “All leap and no faith”; “Y ‘heart’ X”; and “Pure chocolate energy.” This isn’t Pierre Boulez. Matheson, who recently composed a violin concerto for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, obviously has a talent for writing for strings. The String Quartet is, perhaps first and foremost, beautifully orchestrated, the combination of instruments used to create one wondrous color after another. Motor rhythms and repeated patterns juice forward progress; these ideas move through tonal progressions, reaching plateaus of more static material (at least in the first two movements) – meditative, starry-skied, rapt. The quick finale is a syncopated romp. The St. Lawrence seemed to play it for all its worth.
-Timothy Mangan, Orange County Register, February 20, 2014
String Quartet no. 7
for string quartet and soprano
Centerpiece of the program at Carmel’s Sunset Center on Friday, April 25, 2014, was an impressive world premiere of a work for string quartet and soprano by American composer George Tsontakis. This was the third commission of a series of four entitled “Arc of Life”, inspired by video artist Bill Viola’s “Going Forth by Day”, and was dedicated by Amy Anderson, President Emeritus of Chamber Music Monterey Bay, to cellist Margaret Rowell and conductor/composer Michael Senturia, two of her former music teachers at Berkeley. Professor Senturia was happily present at this performance.
Although Tsontakis has named the piece String Quartet No.7, and begins it with a mood-setting introduction for strings alone (the St. Lawrence String Quartet doing the honors), the addition of the soprano (Jessica Rivera) increasingly transformed it into a major vocal work. Three poems provided the text, all concerned with the Death end of the Arc of Life, and yet the overall effect was not unduly gloomy, thanks to the pure and even quality of Ms. Rivera’s voice, and the imaginative variety of the string accompaniments and interludes, delivered with conviction by the St. Lawrence quartet.
-David Beech, peninsulareviews.com (full review)
String Quartet in Five Movements
Samuel Carl Adams
[Samuel Carl Adams] has done it again with String Quartet in Five Movements, which was composed for the St. Lawrence, who premiered it in June at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C,, and gave the piece its West Coast debut Sunday at Bing. It’s an absorbing work, matching fine-spun sound with the richness of silence and creating for the listener — at least this listener — the sense of being at the edge of a dream-state.
-Richard Scheinen, The San Jose Mercury News (full review)
for String Quartet and Orchestra
The work was commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony for the orchestra's centennial. Its world premiere was given at the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall on March 15, 2012, and was performed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet and the San Francisco Symphony under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas. However, after the premiere Adams heavily re-wrote the beginning of the piece; this revised version of Absolute Jest was first performed in Miami Beach on December 1, 2012, by the St. Lawrence String Quartet and the New World Symphony under the composer's direction. The SLSQ has performed the piece all over North America and Europe with the San Francisco, Baltimore, and Toronto Symphonies, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the LA Philharmonic.
for string quartet
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
When the family heirs to the legendary Galimir String Quartet (three sisters and a brother) gathered to commemorate the centenary birth years of these famed performers, they chose Ellen Taaffe Zwilich to commission for this honor. The composer, who has also worked professionally as a violinist, responded with a one-movement odyssey entitled Voyage, cross-breeding her own characteristic style with glimpses of Viennese waltzes and other Galimir flavor.
The work was given its world premiere by the St Lawrence String Quartet on the South Mountain Concerts series on Sunday, October 7, 2012, and performed throughout the USA during the 2012-2013 season.
for string quartet
for soprano, piano and string quartet
[First] Quartet is John Adams's second full-sized work for the medium and his first without electronics... It was a stunning St. Lawrence String Quartet peformance of John's Book of Alleged Dances at Stanford University in 2007 that inspired Mr. Adams to compose a piece for them, leading to the world premiere at The Juilliard School and a subsequent tour. String Quartet was commissioned by The Juilliard School with the generous support of the Trust of Francis Goelet, Stanford Lively Arts, Stanford University, and The Banff Centre.
-Boosey and Hawkes
for clarinet and string quartet
Classical composers have incorporated numerous traditions into their music, including Czech folk tunes, jazz, blues and tango. David Bruce goes further afield with a work inspired by South African gumboot dancing, a form that originated during apartheid.
Since workers were often prohibited from talking while they labored, miners — who wore Wellington boots because of frequent flooding — communicated by slapping their boots in certain patterns, the origin of the rhythmic, energetic gumboot dance. On Thursday at Zankel Hall the St. Lawrence String Quartet and the clarinetist Todd Palmer gave the premiere of Mr. Bruce’s lively “Gumboots” for clarinet and string quartet, a Carnegie Hall commission.
-Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times (full review)