Some Strings Attached?

January 5. 2013

Concert Hall at Sibelius-Academy


Jaakko Kuusisto (b.1974): Miniö (vln, db) - world premiere


Gioachino Rossini (1792 - 1868) String Sonata No. 4 in Bb major (2 vln,vcl,db)

Allegro vivace




Antonín Dvořák (1841 - 1904): String Quintet in G major, Op. 77 (2 vln, vla, vcl ,db)

Allegro con fuoco

Scherzo/Trio, Allegro vivace

Poco andante




Sound theme

A program consisting of ensembles with only stringed instruments was a necessity in my doctoral concert series. The kinship of the sound production process ensures that every string player has a special ear for pure string ensembles. According to the musicians' experience, the string ensembles also seem to be exceptionally responsive to their venue acoustics. A duo, a quartet and a quintet provided a good assortment of string ensemble ring of different intensities.

The duo of a violin and a double bass gives a composer, as well as the players, an open field for exploring the ensemble sound. When Jaakko Kuusisto asked me if I had any special wishes for the coming piece I only had two: Let the bass be a bass and, please no tremolos sul ponticello.  

Rossini's quartets are, for obvious reasons, popular in double bassists' concert programs, but also, in fact, marvelous ensemble sound studies in which the double bass must adopt a particular role due to the absence of the viola range and the proximity of the cello.

If the duo and the Rossini quartet offer openness in their ensemble sound, the full string quintet is quite the opposite, especially in the case of Dvořak. A string quintet already has the strong elements of a string orchestra but retains the subtlety of a string quartet supported by the timbre of the double bass.  Dvořak's score is, at times, very tight and the composer takes full advantage of the dynamic resources of the ensemble. The challenge is to give the overtone resonance time and space to emerge and be heard. A fully romantic score can easily tempt the ensemble into over-intensive playing, which results in strong vibrato and percussive attacks that blur the harmony and hinder a good ring.