Telegraph Quartet

"soulfulness, tonal beauty and intelligent attention to detail ... an incredibly valuable addition to the cultural landscape." – San Francisco Chronicle

"With precise tuning, textural variety and impassioned communication, the Telegraph players burned this masterpiece into one's memory." – The Strad

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 has adapted to these challenging times and remains strongly committed to sharing its music. Recent and upcoming livestream concerts include performances 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. Amid the ongoing COVD-19 pandemic, Telegraph launched an online video project called TeleLab, in which the ensemble collectively breaks down the components of a movement from various works for quartet.

Concert Programs

The Telegraph Quartet is pleased to announce new concert programming for future seasons, offered for 2021-22 and beyond.

The group also remains strongly committed to making music during these challenging times, and can offer high-quality virtual livestreamed or pre-recorded performances with live Q&A sessions. In addition, the Telegraph is available to perform live concerts for socially distanced audiences in central and northern California throughout the 2020-2021 season.

All three works on this program are bursting at the seams with brilliance and vigor. Florence Price’s Five Folksongs in Counterpoint, written in the 1920s but only rediscovered in 2009, is a powerful contrapuntal rendering of five popular African-American spirituals and folk songs, in which Price mines each song, creating an intricate reimaging of the original. The Jamaican-British composer Eleanor Alberga juxtaposes flashing rhythmic gestures with striking power chords in her formidably virtuosic second string quartet. In his first and only string quartet, Ravel showcases the luminosity of his unique color palette, joyfully playing with aural color as vividly as any visual artist of his time.

Return to Life
All of these works contemplate the theme of returning to life after periods of illness or turmoil. Grażyna Bacewicz composed her fourth quartet several years after the end of World War II, during which time she lived through the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. The work opens with a kind of sorrow-tinged hope that builds to a joyous, Tchaikovsky-esque third movement. John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 6 begins with the first violin offstage, gradually returning throughout the first movement to rejoin the quartet, at times persuading, antagonizing, or pleading with the other three members of the quartet throughout the piece in its attempt to enter back into their society. Harbison was inspired in part by the concept of returning to one's usual routines and community after a period of sickness or absence, a feeling made all the more universal by the pandemic. Beethoven's autobiographical masterpiece, Op. 132, completes the program, featuring the transcendent third movement, the “Heiliger Dankgesang” or “Song of Thanksgiving,” which he wrote in thanks for his return to life after a serious illness of his own.

Divergent Paths

The works on this program could not be more different in style or use of the string quartet as a medium and yet it is astounding to realize that Ravel and Schoenberg wrote them within two years of one another. Both of these compositions and the overall style of the composers themselves serve as a snapshot of the wealth of musical styles that would burst out of the turn of the 20th century and evolve exponentially over the course of that century.

Both composers are reacting in very different ways to the romantic tradition that came before them. Ravel’s String Quartet was written just as he was finally finding his voice as a composer, having been swept up into the color world of Debussy’s “Impressionism,” and more literally inspired, in part, by Debussy’s own quartet. It is a clear break from the excesses of German-Romanticism, while looking back farther to the Apollonian structure of classicism. Ravel uses the quartet medium to find a space and vibrancy, using clear, etched themes set against a backdrop of colorfully evocative environments.

In stark contrast, Schoenberg described his first string quartet as a culmination of the end of that very German-Romantic musical tradition that Ravel was trying to eschew. Greatly inspired by Wagner and Mahler, Schoenberg manages to pack an unending wealth of musical themes and tortuous counterpoint into the four voices of the quartet, creating a kind of Wagnerian epic in chamber form. It has both a Dionysian excess and a rigorously worked-out overarching structure that ties the entire work together in almost one breath. Schoenberg believed that he had expended all of the possibilities of late romanticism in this work, and so felt he had no choice but to forge a strange new path forward out of the remnants of that tradition. That path would reshape much of the 20th century’s musical image and add greatly to that ecosystem of diverse musical styles.

Out of the Shadows
Each of the composers featured on this program had to make their way out of the shadows of overbearing circumstances that could have eclipsed them. Grażyna Bacewicz composed her fourth quartet several years after the end of World War II, during which time she lived through the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. Eleanor Alberga, a Jamaican composer working in England, has made a vital career composing vibrant and colorful works, like her second string quartet, breaking into the classical scene largely dominated by white European composers of the past. And Brahms, himself one of those European composers of the past, had to overcome his own anxieties created by the legacy of his idol, Beethoven, in order to write this second of three string quartets published in his lifetime. All three composers managed to find a way to allow their voices to be heard clearly despite the pressure bearing down on their personal and professional lives. Each of these works is a poignant testament to the fruits of that struggle, whether the struggle was personal or societal in nature.

War and Peace
The works on this program highlight how three very different 20th-century composers were affected by the cataclysmic events of World War II. Grażyna Bacewicz composed her fourth quartet several years after the end of World War II, during which time she lived through the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. In this work, Bacewicz’s compositional style develops to show both the cautious hope for a better future, perhaps tinged with the doubt and darkness of the years before. While Erich Korngold did not experience the horrors of the War firsthand, his life was still dramatically changed by it: as a Jewish composer, his home was taken and his family was forced to flee to the United States. Korngold refused to write concert music, writing only film scores, until Hitler was defeated. When Hitler was overthrown, Korngold celebrated with the creation of his first post-War concert work, String Quartet No. 3, an odyssey spanning the gamut between the despair of that tyranny to the celebration of victory over it. Benjamin Britten’s journey would take him in the opposite direction: a staunch pacifist, he was on a concert tour of the U.S. when the War came to the shores of England. His sojourn would last several years, but he finally felt compelled to return to his homeland in 1942 to do his part for the War effort. During the summer of 1945 when he composed his String Quartet No. 2, Britten pleaded with the American violinist Yehudi Menuhin to allow him to tour liberated Europe with him, performing for the victims of the Holocaust in the newly discovered concentration camps. Britten’s String Quartet No. 2 was written partly in response to these experiences. While all three works came into being during post-War peacetime, each of the composers’ experiences during the War undeniably affected their artistic approach and outlook and the consequences of those experiences shine through in this program.
Counterpoint and Counterparts
The Telegraph Quartet performs three works which deal in the incredible contrapuntal possibilities of the string quartet medium. The program begins with Brahms, a self-proclaimed perfectionist who would only publish three string quartets in his lifetime despite having written over twenty of them which he would later destroy. Having gone through this self-imposed gauntlet, Brahms manages to capture the lushness and yearning of his orchestral works into the tight counterpoint of the string quartet, while adding harmonic richness to the form. Next, Florence Price takes the simplicity of American folk songs and spirituals and works those melodies against each other to create a tapestry of counterpoint and interaction. Finally, in the writing of his String Quartet No. 15, one of five profound late string quartet works, Beethoven sets the paragon for how the voices of the quartet interact with one another, creating moods both ebullient and brooding.

The Telegraph Quartet performs Brahms’ String Quartet in A minor, Op. 51 No. 2, Florence Price’s Five Folksongs in Counterpoint, and Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132.


Journeys with Abigail Fischer, soprano

This program explores the psychological and spiritual struggles and discoveries within three unique works. Robert Sirota’s tortuous and wistful Contrapassos for soprano and string quartet, with lyrics by Stevan Cavalier, is a modern-day odyssey probing the depths of one soul searching for salvation in his dreams, inspired in its form by Dante’s Divine Comedy. A pivotal work in Schoenberg’s career, his second string quartet with soprano signaled a breaking point in the composer’s artistic vision, very likely brought on by a crisis in his personal life: while composing the work, he became aware of an affair between his wife, Mathilde, and a family friend, Richard Gerstl, an aspiring Austrian painter. This trying emotional experience pushed Schoenberg to break with conventional styles and musically “breathe the air of another planet” as put by the poet Stefan George whose text he used in the transcendent second half of the work. Schoenberg composed a piece that looks back on the overly ripe romanticism of the past, while staring unflinchingly into the new sound worlds of the future. Similarly, Beethoven took his own journey in String Quartet No. 15, this time from the depths of illness into renewed health. While composing this work, Beethoven fell ill and when he finally regained his health, he expressed his gratitude by composing the “Heiliger Dankgesang” or “Song of Thanksgiving,” the third movement of the work, and one of the most hopeful and joyous moments in the history of the string quartet repertoire. The work as a whole shifts between the unrest of doubt and the yearning for salvation. All three of these works express a journey of discovery and awakening, on which turmoil and struggle are necessary.

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Photo courtesy of the artist
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