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Telegraph Quartet and Soprano Abigail Fischer Give World Premiere of Robert Sirota’s Contrapassos

Telegraph Quartet and Soprano Abigail Fischer Give World Premiere of Robert Sirota’s Contrapassos with Libretto by Stevan Cavalier Presented by the Sierra Chamber Society

Plus Two Encore Performances in San Francisco

Sunday, February 6, 2022 at 3pm – Sierra Chamber Society

Grace Presbyterian Church | 2100 Tice Valley Blvd | Walnut Creek, CA

Tuesday, February 8, 2022 at 12:30pm – Noontime Concerts

Old St. Mary's Cathedral | 660 California St | San Francisco, CA

Thursday, February 10, 2022 at 7:30pm – San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall | 50 Oak Street | San Francisco, CA

On Sunday, February 6, 2022 at 3pm, the San Francisco-based Telegraph Quartet joins forces with soprano Abigail Fischer to give the world premiere of composer Robert Sirota’s Contrapassos for Soprano and String Quartet with libretto by Stevan Cavalier. This work was commissioned by the Sierra Chamber Society, which presents the premiere performance at Grace Presbyterian Church (2100 Tice Valley Blvd) on February 6. Additional performances will take place on Tuesday, February 8, 2022 at 12:30pm presented by Noontime Concerts series at Old St. Mary's Cathedral (660 California St) and Thursday, February 10, 2022 at 7:30pm at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) (50 Oak Street). Originally scheduled for March 2020, this new work was part of Sirota@70, a celebration throughout the 2019-2020 concert season featuring residencies, performances, and premieres in honor of Sirota’s 70th birthday.

The concerts pair Contrapassos with Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132 and Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 2 Op. 10 for soprano and string quartet at the Sierra Chamber Society and SFCM performances, and the Beethoven only at Noontime Concerts. The Telegraph chose to play Beethoven’s Op. 132 because it features the “Heiliger Danksgesang,” the Holy song of Thanksgiving, as a way of bringing in the celebration of returning to live concerts this season.

Of the genesis of Contrapassos, Sirota writes, “As a composer, I have found that my best work invariably emerges from the fabric of relationships with others. I am fond of saying that I don’t compose pieces so much for instruments or voices, as for specific people.” Cavalier and Sirota connected after the Telegraph Quartet performed his third string quartet, Wave Upon Wave (commissioned by The Walter W. Naumburg Foundation for the 2016 Chamber Music Award winners, the Telegraph Quartet) on the Sierra Chamber Series in 2018 and soon thereafter began discussion of this new collaborative work. “Add to this that I have known the great soprano Abigail Fischer literally since before she was born, and you have the perfect alignment of relationships and collaborations,” says Sirota.

Stevan Cavalier explains, “Contrapasso is an Italian term from Dante’s time meaning a punishment made by inversion of a sin. For example, one who in life was mired in the vain pursuit of worldly goods, is condemned after death to wander eternally in boiling mud. In this poem, dreams may be regarded as the Contrapassos of waking life.”

Sirota adds, “The piece begins with memories of the quotidian joys of childhood, quickly turning to darkness and thoughts of early death by suicide, heart attacks in middle age, and final judgment. And yet throughout, there is the vigorous embrace of abundant life, of the beauty of our world, and of our striving for faith.”

About Robert Sirota: Over five decades, composer Robert Sirota has developed a distinctive voice, clearly discernible in all of his work – whether symphonic, choral, stage, or chamber music. Writing in the Portland Press Herald, Allan Kozinn asserts: “Sirota’s musical language is personal and undogmatic, in the sense that instead of aligning himself with any of the competing contemporary styles, he follows his own internal musical compass.”

Robert Sirota’s works have been performed by orchestras across the US and Europe; ensembles such as Alarm Will Sound, Sequitur, yMusic, Chameleon Arts, and Dinosaur Annex; the Chiara, American, Telegraph, Ethel, Elmyr, and Blair String Quartets; the Peabody, Concord, and Webster Trios; and at festivals including Tanglewood, Aspen, Yellow Barn, and Cooperstown music festivals; Bowdoin Gamper and Bowdoin International Music Festival; and Mizzou International Composers Festival. Recent commissions include Jeffrey Kahane and the Sarasota Music Festival, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, Palladium Musicum, American Guild of Organists, the American String Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, the Naumburg Foundation, yMusic, and arrangements for Paul Simon. Commissions for Sirota@70 in honor of his 70th birthday include works for Thomas Pellaton, Carol Wincenc, Linda Chesis & the Cooperstown Summer Music Festival, and Sierra Chamber Society.

Recipient of grants from the Guggenheim and Watson Foundations, United States Information Agency, National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, and the American Music Center, Sirota’s works are recorded on Legacy Recordings, National Sawdust Tracks, and the Capstone, Albany, New Voice, Gasparo and Crystal labels. His music is published by Muzzy Ridge Music, Schott, Music Associates of New York, MorningStar, Theodore Presser, and To the Fore.

Before becoming Director of the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in 1995, Sirota served as Chairman of the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions at New York University and Director of Boston University's School of Music. From 2005-2012, he was the President of Manhattan School of Music, where he was also a member of the School’s composition faculty.

A native New Yorker, Sirota studied at Juilliard, Oberlin, and Harvard and divides his time between New York and Searsmont, Maine with his wife, Episcopal priest and organist Victoria Sirota. They frequently collaborate on new works, with Victoria as librettist and performer, at times also working with their children, Jonah and Nadia, both world-class violists. For more information, visit

About the Telegraph Quartet: The Telegraph Quartet (Eric Chin and Joseph Maile, violins; Pei-Ling Lin, viola; Jeremiah Shaw, cello) formed in 2013 with an equal passion for the standard chamber music repertoire and contemporary, non-standard works alike. Described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “…an incredibly valuable addition to the cultural landscape” and “powerfully adept… with a combination of brilliance and subtlety,” the Telegraph Quartet was awarded the prestigious 2016 Walter W. Naumburg Chamber Music Award and the Grand Prize at the 2014 Fischoff Chamber Music Competition. The Quartet has performed in concert halls, music festivals, and academic institutions across the United States and abroad, including New York City’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s Chamber Masters Series, and at festivals including the Chautauqua Institute, Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival, and the Emilia Romagna Festival. The Quartet is currently on the chamber music faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music as the Quartet-in-Residence.

Notable collaborations include projects with pianists Leon Fleisher and Simone Dinnerstein; cellists Norman Fischer and Bonnie Hampton; violinist Ian Swensen; composer-vocalist Theo Bleckmann; and the Henschel Quartett. A fervent champion of 20th- and 21st-century repertoire, the Telegraph Quartet has premiered works by John Harbison, Robert Sirota, and Richard Festinger.

In 2018 the Quartet released its debut album, Into the Light, featuring works by Anton Webern, Benjamin Britten, and Leon Kirchner on the Centaur label. The San Francisco Chronicle praised the album, saying, "Just five years after forming, the Bay Area’s Telegraph Quartet has established itself as an ensemble of serious depth and versatility, and the group’s terrific debut recording only serves to reinforce that judgment." AllMusic acclaimed, “An impressive beginning for an adventurous group, this 2018 release puts the Telegraph Quartet on the map.

Beyond the concert stage, the Telegraph Quartet seeks to spread its music through education and audience engagement. The Quartet has given master classes at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Collegiate and Pre-College Divisions, through the Morrison Artist Series at San Francisco State University, and abroad at the Taipei National University of the Arts, National Taiwan Normal University, and in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Telegraph has also served as artists-in-residence at the Interlochen Adult Chamber Music Camp, SoCal Chamber Music Workshop, and Crowden Music Center Chamber Music Workshop. In November 2020, the Telegraph Quartet launched ChamberFEAST!, a chamber music workshop in Taiwan.

The Telegraph Quartet adapted to the challenging times presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and performed virtual concerts presented by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Crowden Chamber Music Workshop, Noe Music, Noontime Concerts, Music in Corrales, and Intermusic SF. For Earth Day 2020 (the 50th anniversary of Earth Day), the National Academy of Science in collaboration with the ClimateMusic Project hosted a virtual performance by the Telegraph Quartet of Richard Festinger’s Icarus in Flight. In 2020, Telegraph launched an ongoing online video project called TeleLab, in which the ensemble collectively breaks down the components of a movement from various works for quartet. For more information, visit

About Abigail Fischer: Versatile vocalist Abigail Fischer has made a vibrant career soloing with ensembles such as the Kansas City Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, Rhode Island Symphony, Virginia Symphony, Boston Baroque, and Mercury Orchestra Houston. With the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Fischer performed semi-staged versions of Strauss' Salome and Midsummer Night's Dream. Missy Mazzoli's first opera, Song from the Uproar, written for her and the NOW Ensemble, is a one-woman show that has been seen at Los Angeles Opera, Chautauqua Opera, and at Cincinnati Opera.

Known for her “serenely captivating” work in opera, “and disarming intimacy,” (The New York Times) Fischer has performed two daring alternative productions of Carmen in Boulder, Colorado and Rockport, Maine and reprised the one-woman show Toshio Hosokawa's The Raven in Bolzano, Italy for her Italian stage debut.

Fischer has sung the title role in Rape of Lucretia with Opera Memphis, has premiered Lee Hoiby's This is the Rill Speaking with American Opera Projects, has sung Cenerentola with Union Avenue (in Italian) and Salt Marsh Opera (in English), and Angels in America with LA Philharmonic. One of her favorite pieces is Lieberson's Neruda Songs, which she performed with the Columbus Symphony.

Other recent premieres at the “suddenly indispensable” Prototype Festival have included Mrs. X.E. in Du Yun/Royce Vavrek's Angel's Bone (which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Musical Composition) and The Mother in Stefan Weisman/David Cote's Scarlet Ibis. With Gotham Chamber Opera, Fischer performed Testo in Monteverdi's Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and Eva in Martinu's Comedy on the Bridge.

Recordings of Fischer's includes the operas Song from the Uproar (Missy Mazzoli), The Judgement of Midas (Kamran Ince); the oratorios Haydn Lord Nelson Mass (Boston Baroque), Katrina Ballads (Ted Hearne); and the chamber works Mothertongue (Nico Muhly), The Quality of Mercy (Patrick Castillo), and numerous works of John Zorn.

A graduate of Eastman School of Music (MM), and Vassar College (BA), Lorenzo di Medici in Florence, Italy (Certificate in Italian language and literature), Fischer also traversed the summer scenes of Tanglewood Music Festival, Aspen Music Festival, Marlboro Music Festival, Songfest, and the Chautauqua Voice Program, among others. For more information, visit

About Stevan Cavalier: Stevan Cavalier M.D is a retired pediatrician and published writer. Dr. Cavalier graduated from Amherst College, earning a B. A. cum laude in English, winning the American Academy of Poet’s Prize along the way. He is founder, director and pianist emeritus of The Sierra Chamber Society, an ensemble of San Francisco Symphony members and distinguished guests, now in its 34th concert season. As a lyricist, Dr. Cavalier has collaborated with contemporary American composer, Robert Sirota, who has set his poem, Contrapassos, to music as Contrapassos for Voice and String Quartet, to receive its world premiere in February 2022. Sirota and Cavalier are currently collaborating on a second project, a video panel discussion entitled What it is to be a Contemporary American Composer slated for release in late 2022. Dr. Cavalier is artist and photographer. His artwork has been displayed in solo and group exhibitions throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

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