Jupiter String Quartet to open Aspen Music Festival season

Jupiter String Quartet members (from left) Nelson Lee, Meg Freivogel, Daniel McDonough and Liz Freivogel.
Courtesy photo


What: Jupiter String Quartet, presented by the Aspen Music Festival and School

Where: Harris Concert Hall

When: Thursday, June 28, 7 p.m.

How much: $55

Tickets: Wheeler Opera House and Harris Hall box offices;

More info: The program includes works string quartets by Schumann, Beethoven and the world premiere of ‘Imprimatur’ by Kati Agócs.

The first concert on the Aspen Music Festival and School’s calendar for summer 2018 brings a familiar group of strings players back to the stage at Harris Concert Hall.

The Jupiter String Quartet, which opens the festival with a recital Thursday night, spent two formative summers here early in its career. The group has since gone on to win major prizes, play Carnegie Hall and appear at music festivals around the world.

“It was one of the most important places we went in the summertime when we were forming our ensemble,” cellist Daniel McDonough said. “It’s such a large faculty and such a long festival that you can get a variety of input and then try to digest it.”

The quartet will be in residence at the Aspen Music Festival for a week at the Center for Advanced Quartet Studies — which brought the Jupiters here on fellowship in 2003 and 2004 — teaching the current class of fellows in Aspen.

“It’s a very intensive place to work,” McDonough said. “It’s nice to be giving back to that.”

The quartet sprang to international prominence after its summer here in 2004, when the Jupiters won the Banff International String Quartet Competition and the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. The tight-knit family group — consisting of violinists Nelson Lee and Meg Freivogel, violist Liz Freivogel (Meg’s older sister) and cellist McDonough (Meg’s husband, Liz’s brother-in-law) — have returned for several residencies and recitals in Aspen since then.

Thursday’s recital includes the world premiere of “Imprimatur” by Canadian composer Kati Agocs, co-commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival and School.

“It’s spiritual in some way and there’s this kind of timeless and ecstatic quality to the quartet,” McDonough said of the new work. “She has her own voice. But it reminds me of the music of Benjamin Britten or Messiaen.”

Running about 15 minutes and played without pause, it is the second string quartet Agocs has written. She calls it “a meditation on spiritual lightness” and writes in her program note: “The piece explores how a single idea imprints itself upon the memory through rapturous re-imagination.”

The Agocs premiere will be bracketed by Schumann’s first string quartet and Beethoven’s 14th. The Jupiter String Quartet frequently performs new work by contemporary composers alongside such canonical pieces.

“It’s so important to continue to champion works of new composers, especially women composers, composers of under-represented populations in our field of music,” McDonough said. “Ninety-five percent of what’s played is by men who died 150 years ago. There’s a relevance to hearing new voices.”

Performing brand-new works alongside more familiar compositions, McDonough believes, also nudges audiences to hear the old pieces with new ears.

“To hear Kati’s piece next to Beethoven makes the Beethoven a new experience somehow,” he said.

The quartet actually learned the Beethoven quartet here in Aspen 15 summers ago, when the Jupiters were on fellowship here. McDonough recalled performing it in a student recital at Harris Hall, where they will return Thursday to open the 2018 festival.

“That’s the wonderful thing about Beethoven — and all music, I suppose — is that it can change over years, over a lifetime,” he said, “and you never get tired of working on it and never stop learning new things from it.”