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 “ 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, 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; and the Henschel Quartett. A fervent champion of 20th-and 21st-century repertoire, the Telegraph Quartet co-commissioned John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 6 and gave its West Coast premiere in the fall of 2017 on San Francisco State University’s Morrison Artists Series. The Telegraph Quartet premiered Richard Festinger’s third string quartet, Icarus in Flight, a musical representation of climate change data from the year 1880 to projected simulations of 2080. The Quartet gave the world premiere of Robert Sirota’s String Quartet No. 3, Wave upon Wave at Weill Recital Hall for its Carnegie Hall debut in 2018, sponsored by the Naumburg Foundation. In spring 2020, the Telegraph will premiere a new work with soprano Abigail Fischer by composer Robert Sirota and librettist Stevan Cavalier, commissioned by Sierra Chamber Music Society.


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. In the fall of 2017, the Quartet traveled to communities and schools in Maine with Yellow Barn’s Music Haul, a mobile performance stage that brings music outside of the concert hall to communities across the U.S. 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.


Highlights of Telegraph Quartet’s 2019-20 season include the group’s debut on the Lincoln Center Great Performers series, a concert with acclaimed composer-vocalist Theo Bleckmann at San Francisco Performances, and performances at Gretna Music, Friends of Chamber Music, Morris Museum, Mill Valley Chamber Music Society, Chamber Music Houston, Chamber Music Society of Utica, Rossmoor Chamber Music Society, Music at Oakmont, Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech, and Chamber Music San Francisco.


While the Telegraph Quartet is indebted to numerous mentors and teachers, the group’s primary musical guidance and support has come from Mark Sokol, Bonnie Hampton, and Ian Swensen at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The Telegraph Quartet is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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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.

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.

This program is dedicated to that tune that won’t get out of your head! It begins with a young Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 18 No. 2, a work made up of youthful yet bold musical building blocks that always manage to get lodged in the subconscious. Next, Florence Price’s Five Folksongs in Counterpoint employs popular American folk tunes and spirituals, adding her own compositional complexity and richness to these simple tunes. George Rochberg’s String Quartet No. 6 completes the program. While the work as a whole draws on musical styles from the Baroque to the 20th century, Rochberg goes even further in some of the movements. The third movement is a reimagining of Pachelbel’s Canon while the fifth movement is a literal grab bag of themes by Beethoven (Op. 18 No. 2 makes an appearance!), Mozart, Schubert and others. Rochberg skillfully constructs a mosaic of earworms from centuries past to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

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 that 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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