Sunday at the Bijou: The Principal Quartet Explores Schubert, Prokofiev, and Brahms

While the growth of Knoxville’s classical music scene has been quietly satisfying for audiences, the growth of chamber music within that scene in the last five or six years has been nothing short of phenomenal. Providing the original foundation for that chamber music growth is the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra’s Principal String Quartet, an ensemble that has maintained its stature, while perfecting its own solid character and style. That group—Gordon Tsai and Edward Pulgar, violins; Kathryn Gawne, viola; and Andy Bryenton, cello—returns to the Bijou Theatre stage on Sunday for January’s installment of the KSO’s Chamber Classics Series.

KSO Principal Quartet

KSO Principal Quartet

The Principal String Quartet will take on works by Schubert, Prokofiev, and Brahms, the latter being represented by the last of his three string quartets, the String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 67. All three of Brahms’ string quartets were written in a relatively narrow timeframe from 1873 to 1875, yet the Op. 67 easily stands apart from the previous Op. 51 pair. The B-flat quartet is full of folk tune inspirations and, importantly, rhythmic and meter variations that subconsciously communicate sophistication tinted with playfulness.

The third movement, Agitato, takes on a particularly unique sonic quality—the violins and cello are muted, leaving the viola to carry themes in unrestrained solidity, if not sensuousness.

The finale movement returns to full voices, but with a rhythmic quality created from a set of variations in folk-like themes. In an odd twist, Brahms recalls a theme from the opening movement and manages to tie it in with a really charming conclusion.

In 1820, Franz Schubert began what may have been a full-length quartet in C minor. However, after writing a first movement and 41 measures of the second, Schubert abandoned the work, with the same mystery as encompasses the “Unfinished Symphony.” The work, called Quartettsatz when published and edited by Brahms in 1870, was premiered in March of 1867 in Vienna.

Prokofiev’s String Quartet No. 2 in F Major, premiered in 1942 in Moscow, separates the Schubert and Brahms, and in more ways than one. Prokofiev used as inspiration folk themes from the Kabardino-Balkaria region of the Caucasus Mountains where the composer had been tucked away for safety by the government. The work is a rich interweaving of soft and hard, lyrical and bitter, that rewards listeners with an intriguing structure of satisfying tonal twists.


KSO Chamber Classics Series: The Principal String Quartet
Sunday, January 10, 2:30 p.m.
Bijou Theatre, 803 S. Gay Street, Downtown Knoxville
Schubert: Quartettsatz in C minor
Prokofiev: String Quartet No. 2 in F
Brahms: String Quartet No. 3 in B-flat
Tickets and Information: or 865-291-3310 (Tickets start at $15)