March 15, 2018
Erich Burnett
String quartet pose with instruments
Members of Brentano Quartet Photo credit: Juergen Frank

Artist Recital Series program includes inventive settings of Renaissance madrigals plus a 21st-century twist.

The Brentano String Quartet consistently captivates audiences and critics with extroverted interpretations of traditional quartet repertoire, and adventurously expands beyond that world with performances of much older and much newer music.

When the quartet visits Oberlin this month as part of the Artist Recital Series, it will perform works spanning more than 400 years—from Renaissance-era madrigals to a 21st-century composition by Oberlin Professor Stephen Hartke, and finally a detour into the 20th-century Soviet Union.

The Brentano String Quartet performs at 8 p.m., Friday, March 30 in Finney Chapel.

The program opens with a series of instrumental settings of vocal madrigals written by Gesualdo and Monteverdi and arranged by Brentano first violinist Mark Steinberg. It continues with Hartke’s 2016 commission for Brentano, The Fifth Book, itself a set of madrigals intended for string quartet, written shortly after relocating from Southern California to Oberlin. The evening concludes with Shostakovich’s 1968 foray into twelve-tone serialism, the appropriately numbered String Quartet No. 12 in D-flat Major, Op. 133.

The ensemble’s penchant for shuffling eras can be heard in a CafĂ© Concert presented by New York’s WQXR radio: It opens with a nod to a Schubert quartet before transitioning into Fra(nz)g-mentation, a piece composed by Bruce Adolphe that was written in reaction to the Schubert.

Founded in 1992, the Brentano Quartet—which includes violinists Steinberg and Serena Canin, violist Misha Amory, and cellist Nina Lee—quickly earned acclaim as winners of the first Cleveland Quartet Award and a Naumburg Chamber Music Award, along with an invitation to the inaugural class of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society Two. It was the first ensemble in residence at Princeton University, where it taught and performed for 15 years. Brentano has served as quartet in residence at the Yale School of Music since fall 2014.

“The Brentano Quartet is without a doubt one of the greatest quartets of our time, as performers/interpreters, teachers, and mentors alike,” says David Bowlin, associate professor of violin at Oberlin. “I am thrilled that they will be sharing their gifts and insights with the Oberlin community.”

Hartke describes The Fifth Book as the fifth in a series of madrigals he has composed, three of which are for string instruments rather than voices. “I suppose that this largely has to do with the inherent singing quality of the strings,” he has written, “but also…with the fluid structural character of the madrigal as a genre that often responds in quite mercurial ways to the emotional unfolding of its text. These five movements are thus abstract madrigals whose larger outlines, shifts in mood, and various internal reminiscences are intended to convey a private, unspoken drama.”

Tickets Available Now

Tickets for the Brentano String Quartet at Oberlin are $35 ($30 for seniors, military, and Oberlin faculty, staff, and alumni), with $10 tickets available to all students. They can be ordered online, by calling 800-371-0178, or by visiting Oberlin’s Central Ticket Service at Hall Auditorium, between noon and 5 p.m., weekdays.

In addition, the ensemble’s members will lead four free, public master classes with Oberlin student chamber music ensembles between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Saturday, March 31, in locations around the conservatory. For master class locations, refer to the Oberlin events calendar.


An Oberlin tradition since 1878, the Artist Recital Series brings the world’s most acclaimed musicians to the Finney Chapel stage each year. It is one of the longest-running continuous concert series in America. The final concert of the 2017-18 Artist Recital Series takes place April 17 with a program featuring bass/baritone Gerald Finley and pianist Michael McMahon. Legendary mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne will lead her annual master classes with conservatory singers Friday and Sunday, April 20 and 22.

Oberlin Arts Guide

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